R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 1 of 3

Gerraint got an arrow and set it down on the table that held the chess pieces they were using to represent the enemy formation. He set the point right at the space between the two legions.  “Greta says we need a flying wedge.  Look at the shape of the arrowhead.  The knights of the lance can hold that shape.  All we have to do is stay between the lines.  We will break through and divide and circle back to hit the Romans from the rear.  Even the vaunted Roman phalanx cannot stand up to heavy cavalry, especially when attacked from the rear.

“Claudus has kindly left us this rise and these woods. He expects a dawn attack, but we should have no trouble rearranging our men under cover of darkness.  Hoel’s footmen will move here, to strike the Roman left flank.  Arthur’s footmen will move here, by the lake to strike the Roman’s right flank.  With attacks on their sides and rear, the Romans will crumble, but they will have only one place to run.”

“Yes,” Hoel said with a slight touch of worry.  “Right up this rise to where we are presently standing.”

“That is why we leave a thousand of our men, all our best archers, hunters here between the two groups of foot soldiers.  I have a thousand more, excellent archers, with axe men and men good with a blade to back them up.  Do not ask where they come from.  Do not ask about the knights of the lance.  Just trust they are on our side.”  Gerraint took a breath.  “I want this over.  I miss my family and I want to go home.”

“Where are these men of yours?” Grummon immediately asked.

“Trust me.  I have wings to fly that you know nothing of.  Eyes that see further, ears that hear better,” Arthur and Percival joined him at the last.  “And a reach longer than ordinary men.”

“Aha,” Feswich imagined the flaw.  “But you have forgotten the Roman cavalry.  As we fall on the backs of the Roman foot soldiers, they will fall on our backs to great harm.”

“You let the knights of the lance take care of the Roman cavalry.  When we divide to attack the Romans from behind, the knights will continue straight at the Roman horses.  I expect that struggle will not take long.”

“I have seen three of your knights,” Hoel said.  “Show me what you are talking about.”

Gerraint nodded toward the tent door and Arthur said, “Come.”  They stepped out and found two hundred horses standing in perfect rows and so perfectly still and quiet, everyone gasped, audibly, except Gerraint, and maybe Arthur. The Knights dipped their lances to the ground as the one knight had to Gerraint, Arthur and Lancelot in the forest. Then, without a word, they dismounted and fell in unison to one knee, holding tight to their shields, and their huge horses did not budge one inch.

“They will hold the formation,” Gerraint said. “All we need to do is ride between the lines.”  Gerraint smiled before he jumped.  Feswich started to reach for a Knight’s visor to see what lived inside all that metal. “No!  Don’t do that.  You don’t ever want to do that.  It is a great sin, and certain death to look upon a knight.”

Feswich paused.  The church presently only had a foothold in Amorica so the concept of sin was not widely understood, but the words certain death sounded plain enough. He wanted to say something, but Gerraint spoke over him.

“Please go prepare for the dawn attack, and ask Yin Mo to meet us in Arthur’s tent.  We will be there as soon as we can, and thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Arthur echoed.

The knights said nothing.  They mounted again in unison, peeled off row by row and headed back into the woods.  Only Gerraint seemed to notice, but it appeared that the knights had been standing on top of some other soldiers and tents with no affect and without those soldiers seeming to have noticed.  But by then Arthur began to lead the others back into Hoel’s tent to finish the conversation and finalize their plans.  Gerraint said nothing.

Two hours later, Gerraint, Percival and Arthur returned to Arthur’s tent and Arthur said it was a good thing they had the fort as a fallback position, if needed.  Percival started on an entirely different track.

“You know, now having seen real knights, every young man in Britain, Wales and Cornwall will aspire to be knighted. Probably everyone in Amorica, too.”

“I assume that was where the word knight came from,” Arthur picked up the thought and directed his non-question to Gerraint.”

“Yes,” he said.  “And history.  Soon enough every young man in Europe will want to be knighted.”  And he entered the tent and yelled.  “I said a hundred, like in Greta’s day.”

Yin Mo, now an elderly elf with a long white beard and hair reminiscent of Meryddin, looked unfazed.  “You said no more than Greta’s day, and there will be no more.”

Gerraint frowned.  He remembered Greta in the Temple when the battle took place, so she was not in a position to complain about there being more than a hundred. Gerraint wanted to yell again, but he figured he got committed, and Yin Mo was the expert on the Knights and their capabilities.  Gerraint decided not to pry.  He said simply, “Thank you,” and the elderly elf gave a small bow and faded slowly from sight until he disappeared.  Percival spent the rest of the evening squinting.  He did not mean anything bad by it.  He just tried to understand, but Gerraint had forgotten Yin Mo had such oriental features, and that was a very strange sight in Arthur’s part of the world.

Arthur’s men and Hoel’s men moved like union garbage men at four in the morning.  Bing, bang, crash.  Surely, they were telegraphing their plans, Gerraint thought. The archers had all been selected and they took up their position.  The horsemen saddled up and stood around, Hoel’s men in particular talking in uncertainty.  Many said this would not work.

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

The horse looked bigger than any horse they had ever seen, its nostrils flared, and its breath came in great puffs like mist in the dawn of early spring.  The horse looked covered in a blanket that sported great crosses embroidered in the fabric.  The rider appeared covered head to toe in plate armor so that no part of his flesh could be seen.  He sat on a saddle with a high front and back, and stirrups for his armored feet. And he sported the biggest, longest lance they could imagine, with a simple flag tied to the lance that showed a figure eight on its side, the symbol for infinity.

“About eight hundred years ahead of yourself, wouldn’t you say?”  Gerraint was the first to speak.  The Knight lowered his lance and touched the ground in Gerraint’s direction.

“Who is this magnificent looking warrior?” Lancelot seemed enthralled.

“One of the knights of the lance from Avalon, the same place Excalibur came from,” Gerraint answered.

“Good sir knight,” Arthur started but Gerraint interrupted.

“No.  They don’t talk.  A vow of silence.”  He added that for Lancelot and took a step forward.  “And the answer is no.  No way. Tell Yin Mo no way.”

“No way what?” Lancelot asked.

“Is he volunteering to help?” Arthur, who had been around Gerraint for some time and knew better how to read his shorthand speech, guessed.”

“Yes,” Gerraint answered roughly.  “And a thousand more just like him if I let him.”

“But that would be perfect.”

“No.  It was bad enough endangering the kobold, brownies and fee under Lord Birch, but they were just scouts and kept their bows in the background.  They didn’t attack the enemy directly.”

“But.”

“No.”  Gerraint hesitated.  “Tell Yin Mo I will think about it.  Now please, if you don’t mind.”  He waved off the Knight who raised his lance, turned his horse, and in a few paces disappeared into the trees and the mist.  Even the sound of the horse crunching through the leaves vanished.

###

When Percival and his crew returned in the afternoon, there were six riders instead of five.  Bohort and Lionel went straight to Lancelot.  They had a lot to catch up on.  Gawain and Uwaine still talked about something.  Gerraint did not pry.  The sixth horse took his attention.  It was Meryddin, but he looked old and drained.  Gerraint greeted him normally, and he returned the greeting, but Meryddin made no indication that he thought Gerraint might be anything other than the fourteen-year-old boy he first met outside of Londugnum.  Arthur would barely talk to the man, and when he did it came out in cold, short words.

Percival, not really knowing why Arthur would not be overjoyed to see the old man, sought to reassure Meryddin.  “Be patient,” he said.  “Arthur will come around.”

Meryddin sighed and said he had an appointment. He took the big staff he sometimes carried and stepped into the woods of the lake.

“I wonder how the Lady of the Lake will find him,” Arthur whispered.

“Maybe she will keep him out of our hair for a while,” Gerraint whispered back and said no more about it.

Two days later, the horsemen of Claudus and his advance troops arrived.  It took all that day and all the next for the rest of the legions to catch up.  They immediately took up a defensive position across the open fields, dug trenches and built fortifications around their camp and auxiliaries, but left the field free so the legions could form up and move freely in phalanx formation.  Looking at the way they camped, it became clear they would form up in a kind of upside-down “V” shape, one legion to either side, like the open jaws of a great lion, one man called it.

“More like the paws of a great bear,” Hoel said, when they went into conference.  “The weak point is at the top of the formation where the majority of their troops angle away from each other.  That is the temptation, to attack the center only to have the paws of the great bear close and crush us.”  Hoel had two old men with him, Lord Feswich and Lord Grummon.  Both were in their late forties, Hoel early fifties, and they spoke like they were old and wise and well-seasoned warriors.  Arthur, by contrast, had not yet turned thirty. Gerraint, a year younger, and Percival three years younger at just twenty-five.

“This time, when we hit the enemy from the side and rear we will only drive them to cut deeper into our own men,” Lord Grummon added.

“Excuse me,” Gerraint said.  “But as I understand it, last time you abandoned the plan and went chasing after pockets of Roman Cavalry.”

“That was important,” Lord Grummon defended himself. “We had to make sure the Romans did not regroup,” he said, but then fell silent.

“Maybe we could have the men attack only one legion head on,” Feswich tried thinking.

“And leave the other legion at our backs?” Hoel rejected that idea.

“Well, at least this time we have the advantage in horses,” Feswich said with a nod to Arthur.  “We should be able to deal with the Roman cavalry well enough.”

“That is not what the horsemen must do,” Arthur finally spoke.  “And the foot soldiers need to do something different as well.”

“What?” Feswich shook his head.  “Footmen fight footmen and horse men fight horse men. You are young, but I tell you that is the way it is done.  The stronger arm gains the victory.”

Arthur ignored him and looked at Hoel who looked willing to listen.  “Chieftain, you invited me to your company to take advantage of my experience.  You know we have fought Saxons, Angles, Picts, Scots and the Irish, and we have never lost a battle.  That is because we have not followed the old way of doing things. Listen, and I will tell you how we must fight this battle.”  Arthur paused.  Hoel nodded and kept his men quiet.  Arthur returned the nod and turned to Gerraint.  They had discussed it, but Gerraint could best explain it.  Besides, it would be his knights of the lance out front, and Arthur could step in if needed to negotiate any objections.

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

MONDAY

Claudus:  Arthur and Gerraint order the battle formation.  The Knights of the Lance are ready.  Claudus and his revived Romans await the attack.  The fighting will be fierce.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 2 of 3

“But wait,” Gerraint frowned once again before he shouted, “Arthur!”  Then he leaned down, took Lancelot’s arm, and lifted him from his knees.  “Come along, Lancelot,” he said.  Lancelot stood, but looked like a man in a daze.

“But Sir, you know my name, but who are you that I may address you properly.”

“My name is Goreu, but Arthur and the others all call me by the British version, Gerraint.”  He lifted his voice again.  “Arthur.” Then he paused and sniffed, and he knew exactly which direction Arthur would be found.  Like a dwarf’s nose, he thought, good for finding your way underground amidst all those mines and tunnels, and he wondered what else he had been gifted with.

“Who is this Arthur?”  Lancelot asked.  “I have heard of an Arthur called the Pendragon, a war chief across the sea who is unequalled in battle…”

“That’s him,” Gerraint interrupted.  “Hush.  Come on.” Gerraint led Lancelot through the trees until they came to a place where they could watch.  Rhiannon, in all her splendor, stood on top of the waters of the lake and held out a sword.  She walked across the water and Arthur looked too stunned to move.  When she arrived, Arthur went to his knees.  He handed her Caliburn.  She handed him Excalibur.  “The big brother sword,” Gerraint whispered to himself.  Lancelot nudged him to say he should be quiet and more respectful.

When the exchange got made, a few words also got exchanged before Rhiannon stepped back.  Gerraint heard, though he tried to not listen since it seemed private.  He thought, elf ears to go with the dwarf nose.  He only hoped his actual facial features were not changed.

Rhiannon slowly became translucent, then transparent, until she vanished altogether.  “And she took my sword with her,” Gerraint mumbled before he waved.  “Arthur!”  Lancelot looked oddly at Gerraint, like he felt confused about how he should take this strange man.  Arthur did not help when he waved back and waved Excalibur.

“Big brother sword,” he shouted.  “Who is your friend?”

“Lancelot.”

”Hey.  I know a couple of cousins of yours that will be happy to see you.”

“I’m sorry?”  Lancelot shook his head against the confusion.

“Bohort and Lionel,” Arthur said, and Lancelot jumped, and for the first time he smiled.

“They’re alive?  I thought everyone got killed on that day.  How can they still be alive?”  He stopped walking so the others stopped.

“That happened almost five years ago,” Gerraint said. “You were much younger.  Do you remember that day?”

“I remember the battle,” Lancelot said firmly. “I remember the Romans in their phalanxes stretched across the plains from horizon to horizon, and our more ragged line of foot soldiers stretching out to be able to face the Romans one to one. I sat on horse beside my father, and Bohort and Lionel beside theirs, and all the Lords of Amorica sat on horse, the sons beside their fathers

“The foot soldiers charged the phalanxes, but they held firm.  We charged the Roman cavalry and great blood was spilled that day.  It all felt so confusing.  I didn’t know what was happening, when my father took an arrow and fell from his horse.  I raced to him and got him up on a stray.  I pulled him back to the edge of the forest where he collapsed and lay dying in my arms.  Then three Romans rode up, and I ran into these woods by the lake.  They dismounted and followed me in, but I had my knife and my father’s old sword.  I caught them, one by one.  I—I—I am not sure what happened after that.

“I awoke in the Lady’s castle.  Lady Nimue is the bravest soul I know.  She healed my wounds and tended my heart, and taught me how to fight.  Every Sunday at dawn we rode to a nearby village where the parish priest schooled me in my letters and in the faith.  I learned as well as my mind and arms could learn.  The Great Lady told me I had to prepare for the last battle, the Armageddon for Arthur.  For a long time, I did not know what she meant.”

“Armageddon,” Arthur looked up at Gerraint.  “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Rhiannon, the one he calls Lady Nimue.  All Celtic goddesses are a bit prophetic.  It comes from having a mother who is plugged into the future the way she is.”

Arthur pointed at Gerraint with a question written across his face.  Gerraint merely nodded an affirmative answer.

“But her name is Nimue, the Lady of Lake Vivane,” Lancelot insisted.  “She would never lie about such a thing.”

“How about we call her the Lady of the Lake?” Gerraint suggested.

“The Lady of the Lake.”  Both Arthur and Lancelot agreed.

“But Bohort and Lionel survived the battle? And what of Howel?”  Lancelot became eager for news.

“Alive and well,” Gerraint said.

“Let me see,” Arthur said.  He had spent the time they were standing attaching Excalibur to his belt.  He wanted to ask Gerraint if it had any magical properties, and looked a bit disappointed later when Gerraint told him that it was only as magical as the arm that wielded it, but for the moment he had to catch up Lancelot with five years of history, the first and main thing being the last time the people of Amorica faced the Romans.  He started them walking again as he spoke.

“As Hoel tells it, in the end, the Roman cavalry did not have the fight in them nor the numbers to sustain the battle.  They splintered and began to run, and many of the Amorican nobles and their retinue of horsemen were well suited to hunt them down. I assume the three that found Lancelot were like the others, trying to get away from the battle.  Anyway, it was Howel, Bohort and Lionel that rallied a large portion of the men to stick to the original plan.  They struck the flank and the back of the nearest Phalanx and slowly but inevitably, the Roman line crumbled.  The Romans who ran caused the other formations to come into disarray, and Hoel’s people were able to take the day.”

“Magnificent.  I am so glad, and my people are free.”

“It’s not that simple,” Gerraint said.  “Claudus waged a guerilla campaign these last four or five years, and just about overran the country.  Hoel appealed to Arthur, and here we are.  But Claudus is bringing up two full legions from Aquitaine, and I suspect these will be veterans of the Frankish and Visigoth campaigns.  These will not be so easy to turn.”

“The great battle,” Lancelot said with a faraway look in his eyes.

“I beg your pardon,” Arthur said.  “I am not ready for Armageddon just yet, if you don’t mind.”

They stopped at the sound of a horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?  What happened?  Arthur!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not all,” Rhiannon hedged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

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

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

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

“This is Frankish land.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

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

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 2 of 3

Two weeks later, Gerraint, Uwaine and old Sergeant Paul dismounted at the command tent which had been set up at the southern edge of the Amorican forest of Bringloren.  Bringloren was an ancient and more pristine wilderness than the northern forest of Vivane.  In Vivane, many apple trees had been seeded and large sections had been cut to build villages and for planting.  Uwaine wondered how the people could grow anything in that rocky, sandy soil, but the people managed.  The Vivane seemed user friendly, as long as one stayed away from the mysterious Lake Vivane.

The Bringloren got avoided.  They named it as the place where the old Celtic gods and ancient kings were buried, and said their ghosts still haunted the woods. They said there were wraiths and spirits who delighted in getting people hopelessly lost and then sucked out their souls.  The discarded bodies were left where the ogres and goblins could eat them and the trolls could suck the marrow out of their bones.  Gerraint did get wind of some ghouls and a few other nasty things in the woods, but they avoided the large, armed party.  He also found any number of little ones, and spent the last two days in negotiations.

He found a tree village of Kobold who came west with the Franks from the forests along the Rhine.  Heurst was the chief and happy to help.  They were also friends with a troop of brownies that migrated to the continent from the swampland of Somerset when the Romans pulled out of Britain. Their chief was Ringwald and he thought his troop might lend a hand.  The trouble was, neither Heurst nor Ringwald knew the Atlantique coast.  For that, they had to visit the fairies in the Glen of the Banner.

The fairy King, Lupen, proved old and grumpy. “Those humans can kill each other off as far as I am concerned,” he said.  But Queen LeFleur, and many of the young fairies knew the territory well, and not unlike some young humans back home, they were anxious to take on the adventure.  LeFleur herself, seated on Gerraint’s shoulder for safety, took him into the caves and burial mounds of the kings.  Gerraint left Uwaine and Sergeant Paul on the surface with Heurst, Ringwald, a middle-aged, sensible fairy male named Birch and a young one named Larchmont to watch over them.  He went to visit the goblins.

They met some Pixies in the caves along the way. They seemed nice enough to Gerraint, but LeFleur buried her face in Gerraint’s long hair and called them “batwings and corruptibles.”  Down in the deeps, the dark elves were the worst sort of goblins, having little to do other than steal sheep and scare any humans foolish enough to wander into the forest.  The land, not exactly being rich in minerals or metals, made the dwarfs move north long ago, though Gerraint did hear the sound of a distant hammer the whole time he was there.

The goblin chief, Manskin, said no way he had any interest in what the up-world people were doing.  “But, we will do one thing for you.  Any humans who try to run north won’t get very far.”  He grinned a grin full of teeth and bits of last night’s supper, but Gerraint stared hard in the goblin’s beady eyes until the goblin chief got very uncomfortable.  “We will turn them back south,” he added in a shaky voice.  “Just like you want.”

“You better,” Gerraint said, not that he expected any of Claudus’ people would escape to the north or dare the forest, and not that he expected the goblin chief to keep his word once Gerraint moved on. “You know my rule about eating people.”

“Yes Lord,” the goblins all said.  “Yes lord.”  Hats finally got removed and several goblins bowed.  “We’ll be sure to tell the trolls down the way as well,” Manskin added, as Gerraint left.

Gerraint whispered to LeFleur when they got near the surface.  “You can uncover your eyes now.”

When he picked up Uwaine and Sergeant Paul, they were more than ready and rode more swiftly than necessary back to the camp where Bohort waited.

“We will have help scouting the land ahead and guarding our flanks as we move,” Gerraint said, as he went into the tent.  Bohort looked at him and then looked at Uwaine because Sergeant Paul started laughing again.  He spent the last two days laughing.

Uwaine simply said, “Don’t ask.  You don’t want to know.”  As he spoke a bright spark of light zoomed past their faces and went into the tent.  “Trust me,” Uwaine added, and he went off to check on the disposition of the troops.

The troops entered the first three villages from the north, gathered the villagers and told them to flee south while the troop burned their homes.  “Tell Claudus he is not welcome in Amorica.”  That became the only message.  Since it turned mid-May, they could hardly burn the crops, but they could trample them.  They found the warehouses for the grain and barns for the sheep and cattle, and after taking what they wanted for their own needs, they slaughtered and burned the rest.

The fourth village brought them a distance inland, and it looked like the villagers were armed and guarding the north end of town. Gerraint brought his troop by secret elf paths so he could enter the village from the south.  Resistance did not last long.  One young man named Alden became the first casualty among Gerraint’s troops, and he was remembered.

Coming from the south worked well on villages five and six, but when they came to the seventh village, one not far from the sea, the found the ways north and south both blocked.  It turned to mid-summer by then and they had heard nothing from Amorica. Bohort worried a little, but Gerraint kept telling him that no news was good news.

In this armed village, Gerraint came up with Uwaine, Sergeant Paul, Bohort and Lord Birch, all on horseback.  They had discussed it.  When they stopped just outside of bowshot, Gerraint took hold of Lord Birch’s reigns.  The fairy got small and fluttered up to the north barricade.  He raised his voice for the gawkers.

“You have until tomorrow sunrise to be gone or die.” Gerraint felt no point in mincing words, and Birch flew back to his horse, returned to his big size which made him look like an ordinary enough man, and they rode back to the camp. Gerraint thought no telling how many of his soldiers caught a glimpse of Birch in his true fairy form, but no one ever said anything.

By dawn, the village had emptied.  That felt fine.  Gerraint did not like the killing part.

Things continued into the fall where they came upon the first true town complete with a city wall.  The architecture looked purely Roman, and though most of the people were Gaelic, they thought of themselves as Romans and that was what counted. The townspeople and soldiers that manned the walls wore Roman armor and carried Roman spears and bows and characteristic short swords, which were really only good in close combat in phalanx formation.  But this seemed where many of the people who fled south ended up, so the streets of the town were overflowing with refugees who had nowhere else to go.

Gerraint was not about to see his men killed trying to take the town.  He called for the six, an affectation from the Pictish campaign.  Six mules carried the halves of three small catapults.  Twelve other mules had been overloaded with the round balls of flammable pitch and tar tied up with strong twine. The catapults could only throw the balls about twice bowshot, but fortunately this city wall only stood about ten feet high.

Most of the town had been made of wood.  They had limited stone, some cobblestones, stone courts and columns, and even a bit of Roman concrete, but most of it had been made of wood, and even if it got covered in plaster, it would still burn. Gerraint thought it only fair to give warning.

“I feel it is my Christian duty and an act of charity to give warning to the innocents.  Move south before dawn, and you will live.  If you go west or east or north, you will be shot and killed.  Move south while you can.  In fact, I recommend you run.”  He went back to his camp and ordered the men to rest.  The kobold had the west and the brownies had the east, and Larchmont and his fairy volunteers, invaluable in scouting ahead and scouting the land, stood between Gerraint’s men and the town and would not let anyone pass.

By dawn, they saw a regular stream of people pouring out of the south gate and on to the main north-south road.  There were two main Roman roads in the Atlantique province and both were north-south.  The coastal road ended in the north at the southern edge of the Bringloren forest where it met up with the southern road through Amorica.  The main road went all the way from the Aquitaine up along the edge of the Vivane, near the lake, and to the north coast of the Channel.  There was a third road, an inland road, but it had not been well kept since Roman days.  It marked the boundary between the lands of Claudus and Frankish lands.  The poor villages along the inland side did not run at Gerraint’s approach.  They went straight to surrender, watched their homes burn, and set about rebuilding after Gerraint left.  Gerraint decided that at least it would keep them too busy to think about joining Claudus’ army.

The townsmen and soldiers in this particular town still stood on the walls when Gerraint started the bombardment. Flaming balls got lofted over the wall and splattered flame wherever they hit, and it made a grease fire, hard to extinguish.  The small catapults got moved regularly to be sure they hit every part of town they could reach.  Gerraint and Uwaine sat on a grassy knoll and watched.  Lord Birch, and eventually Bohort and Sergeant Paul came to join them

Uwaine sipped from a water skin before he asked his question.  “So, how do you tell the difference between a kobold and a brownie, or one of Deerrunner’s elves for that matter?”

Gerraint sat up a bit.  “It’s an art, not a science,” he said.  “But basically, the kobold are more rugged and the brownies more plain folk, if you follow me.”

“A fair description,” Lord Birch said.

“Deerrunner’s people are elves from the Long March out from Elfenheim.  They are generally a little taller than the others, the brownies being maybe the shortest on average, but in a real sense they are all elves.  None of them would get mad at you for calling them elves.”  Uwaine shook his head.  He still didn’t get it.  Sergeant Paul merely laughed.  Bohort had a different thought.

“Lord Birch.  What does the schedule look like?”

Lord Birch pulled out a small piece of velum to check.  “The inland road and then back to the coast.”

Bohort nodded.  “I wish Claudus would get his act together, as you Brits say.”

“Only Gerraint says that,” Uwaine said.  “But I agree.  This is getting boring.”

Sergeant Paul stood and yelled at the nearest catapult crew.  “A little more to the right.”

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 1 of 3

Gerraint came into the great hall at Caerleon wondering what was up.  Enid stayed in the nice home they bought in town, feeding one-year-old Peter and having all the fun.  Worse. She started making sweet little noises in the night and getting very touchy-feely, which suggested she might be pregnant again.  Gerraint did not want to miss that.  He hoped whatever this was, it would not be something that would send him far away from home.

“Gerraint!”  Several men hollered as he came in and he mumbled something about “Norm!”  He glanced at the door that lead to the back rooms and the now greatly enlarged room that held the Round Table.  Gerraint guessed this would not be Round Table business, which meant an appeal from someone not part of the club.  He could not imagine.  The world had been at relative peace for the last five years.

“What’s up?”  Gerraint got to ask his question.

“Sit.  Sit.” Arthur said.  “Hush.”

“Gwyr is about to read the letter,” Tristam said.

Gerraint looked at the table.  His old master Pelenor looked ready to nod off.  Peredur and Ederyn looked sprightly enough. Percival, seated beside them looked so serious.  Kai looked pensive.  Bedwyr grinned.  Gerraint sat next to Gwillim and Gwillim’s brother, Thomas the Sailor, but as he thought about it, he would have guessed Kai would be the grinning one.  Kai came all the way down to Caerleon from the north to show off his new, young bride, Lisel.  She was much younger than Kai and blonde in the worst cliché sort of way. Enid and Gwynyvar said spending time with the girl felt like going into battle.  Constance, Bedwyr’s wife, and a proper woman of grace who had eight years on Enid, said Lisel did not have enough brains to be stupid.  Gwynyvar and Enid professed they were shocked to hear their thoughts expressed aloud.

Gerraint looked again at Kai.  He definitely looked pensive, but then Gwyr started reading.

“You may not yet be aware of Claudus, a cruel and wicked man who is the latest to dream of reviving the glory of Rome. This one, unlike the host of others, may have both the military skill and cleverness to succeed.  Beginning in Provence, he has taken Septimania and Vasconia, carved out a chunk of Aquitaine including Bordeaux, and taken all of the Atlantique coast for his kingdom.  He has halted the Franks in their inevitable advance, and beat the Visigoths back over the mountains.  Now he has trained his eye on Amorica.  I believe it is his plan to swallow up our pleasant land before turning against the Franks in Paris.

“It was some years back when my father Budic gave sanctuary and comfort to your father Uther in the days of Vortigen the Usurper. What is more, he gave Uther the means and support to raise an army to return to Britain and remove the plague from your land.  Now, we are the ones in need, and I have sent my son Howel to you in the hope that you will remember the kindness my father showed to your father.  Furthermore, I request that you may seek out those men who fought for your father and stayed in your good land, and that you may tell them of our need and ask if they may be willing to come home to aid us in our fight. We are hard pressed, and I appreciate whatever help you may deem right and proper.”  Gwyr looked up from the paper before he finished.  “He signed it, your faithful friend and ally, Hoel.”

“Is Howel outside?”  Kai asked straight out.

“He is,” Arthur said.  “But I would hear your opinion first.”  Arthur looked around the table and no one especially had an opinion. His eyes ended on Gerraint, and the other eyes at the table looked as well.  Gerraint stood and threw his gloves to the tabletop.  He paced for a moment and made noises like a man in pain. Everyone stared at him when he yelled.

“All right!”  He lowered his voice and leaned on the table.  “Okay.”  He calmed himself.  “So, when do we sail for Amorica.”  All the men present tried talking at once, but Arthur just grinned like maybe he became the man with a trophy wife.  Kai looked distraught.

Things did not take long to straighten out.  But Kai mentioned that the Scots were getting above themselves, like maybe they defeated the Picts.  And worse, Loth in some ways appeared to be encouraging them. He thought he better stay at Guinnon. Bedwyr got prevailed upon to stay at Oxford as well.  Arthur told Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn that they would have to keep vigilant while he was away.  Then Arthur decided to take only volunteers with Gerraint being the first lest he decide to stay home with that lovely wife of his.  Finally, Arthur instructed Gwyr to put something in the letter encouraging those who came from Amorica and fought for Uther, or their descendants, to consider returning to Amorica to fight for Hoel.

Once that got settled, Arthur called in their visitors.  There were many details to work out, not the least procuring the ships and supplies they would need, but the basics were done and he was able to greet the men as honored guests.

Howel, at eighteen or nineteen, got escorted by a mere six soldiers, one of whom at least appeared to be a well-seasoned sergeant named Grist.  Howel came accompanied by two brothers, both Chiefs in Amorica, called Bohort and Lionel. Lionel was Howel’s age, or maybe twenty.  Bohort, the elder at twenty-three or four, did most of the talking.  Gerraint felt suddenly old at twenty-seven.  Then he thought of being home with Enid and the baby. Then he thought of Enid being all touchy-feely.  And then he thought he better pay attention.

“It is worse than you may have heard,” Bohort said. “The Romans of Claudus are playing with us like a cat with a mouse.  They strike here, but by the time we arrive they have vanished to strike there.  They will not give pitched battle, but once. They are softening us up and wearing us out.  They have overrun two thirds of the land this way, by nibbling us to death.

“One battle?”  Percival asked.

“On the plains near the mysterious Lake Vivane, he tested our strength in battle.  That happened four years ago.  We won the battle and won the test, but I figure he just sent some expendable troops and did not really care who won, though I am sure he would have been happier with a victory.  I lost my father and his brother in that battle.  My young cousin, just sixteen got lost in the woods around the lake.” Bohort took a moment to shake his head before he continued.  “That was when Claudus hit on the strategy of eating us alive, piece by piece.  I don’t know how much longer Hoel may hold out.”

“It is settled,” Arthur announced, and that was that.

Gerraint stepped outside and Uwaine met him on the steps.  “About time,” Uwaine said.  “I was really going mad this time.  When do we go?”

“Preparations.”  Gerraint shrugged.  “Then I go, but where you go will be up to you.”  Uwaine raised an eyebrow, so Gerraint answered his question.  “I have prevailed on Arthur to knight you and Gawain before we sail.”

“So?  That changes nothing.  If you have taught me one thing, it is the safest place in battle is right next to you.” Gerraint made no answer.

###

Six months later, Thomas of Dorset contracted a hundred ships for a minimal fee to deliver a cargo of two thousand men and horses to Amorica.  Roughly a quarter of those ships would continue in the months ahead to supply the troops.

“We don’t want to beggar our hosts,” Gwillim said.

Gerraint stayed in Cornwall where he moved his wife so she could be around his mother, her own mother having died a year earlier. Marcus Adronicus started making noises like he had become an old man and Gerraint needed to be prepared to take over. Gerraint could not worry about that. All he wanted was a safe delivery of his second son, James, and the knowledge that Enid was in good hands. With that assured, he took three hundred of Cornwall’s finest, a good Festuscato number.  They were men all trained to the horse and the lance, and he sailed them out of Plymouth to catch up with Arthur.

Arthur was in the field, in a big tent with Hoel, and discussed things.  Percival sat out front, and his take was, “Don’t go in there.”  Uwaine also sat up front, but he only shook his head.

Gerraint took a deep breath.  “Wish me uck-lay.”  He explained before anyone asked.  “I’m practicing my Pig Latin for use on the revived Romans,” not that anyone understood what he was talking about.  He went in.

There were greetings and pleasantries before Arthur explained the situation.  “We are having limited success in driving the forces of Claudus back.  We have almost doubled Hoel’s numbers, and with the RDF, trained to move quickly and quietly, we have routed out a number of pockets of the enemy.  They have come up and overrun village after village, but then remain hidden in the wilderness.  They require the poor, decimated villagers to supply them with food, sending men from their hidden camp to collect it.  We have had some success in following those men back to their base and then we have gone in and finished the job.  But the men of Claudus, like Saxon raiders, are in many small groups and scattered all over the countryside.  Mostly, they simply hide whenever we come near with a large force and reappear after we have gone.”

“But we are succeeding, slowly, but succeeding,” Hoel said.

“Yes, but at this rate we may be bogged down here for two or three years.  Now, my plan is to take a third of our force and invade the Atlantique.  In that way, Claudus will be forced to call out his army, and we can finish this much more quickly.”

“But if you take so many, our efforts here will be badly hampered and we may soon be back to stabbing at ghosts,” Hoel objected.

Arthur looked at Gerraint and knew to wait while Gerraint thought.  Hoel fidgeted.  At last, Gerraint spoke as plainly as he could.

“So, I have come up with three hundred fresh troops, the veterans being mostly RDF trained and able to bring along the young ones. My men, one way or the other, will not be significant here, but I see no reason why Cornwall cannot turn the tactics of Claudus against him in the Atlantique.  I have people who know something of the province, and while it would not be an invasion, it may be enough to force Claudus’ hand.”

“How can you know the province?” Hoel asked. Gerraint saw that Arthur understood, but he had to give Hoel his best, human answer.

“Cornish sailors have been trading all along the coast for generations.  Amorica has been our chief trading partner after Wales and Britain, but many have also traded down the Atlantique and learned the area.”

“Not much portage there,” Hoel said.

“But some,” Gerraint answered and quickly changed the subject before Hoel thought too long about it.  “I said turn the tactics of Claudus against him, but I don’t plan to leave small groups hidden in the woods to keep the people oppressed. More like true Saxon raiders, I plan to burn the villages and their crops and food supplies and drive the people south as refugees.  Hundreds, hopefully thousands of refugees fleeing south out of the Atlantique province should force the hand of Claudus well enough.”

“A good plan,” Arthur agreed.  Hoel looked like he might object.  Gerraint could read the man’s mind, thinking that the addition of Gerraint’s men could speed up the success they were having in Amorica, but Gerraint got up to leave before Hoel could fully frame his thoughts.  Gerraint knew his three hundred would not hold the pass for long, but they might wreak havoc in Persia.

R6 Gerraint: Enid, part 1 of 3

After the campaign against the Picts, which the members of the Round Table called Cat Coit Celidon, Gerraint got bored.  It turned to spring, in the year 505, and Arthur brought Gwynyvar to Cadbury to frolic.  That was what Gerraint called it.  They were frolicking among the flowers and giggling.  Gerraint was not a fan of giggling.

Arthur seemed determined to please Gwynyvar in whatever way he could.  Guilt, Gerraint thought, especially when Gwenhwyfach produced a son she named Medrawt. The boy looked dark, nothing like his blond locked father, but Loth shrugged it off as some Welsh flaw and set about raising the boy in the ways of the north.

Gerraint, on horseback, watched a particularly annoying frolic.  Uwaine, now a young man near eighteen, sat faithfully silent beside him when Gwynyvar, astride a spritely bay, popped out of the nearby woods with several ladies, their horses prancing, or as Gerraint thought, making pirouettes around her. Gwynyvar laughed and smiled and looked very happy.

“Sir Gerraint,” she said.  “Why so dour a face on such a beautiful day?”

“Not dour,” he responded.  “Just concerned as always about the welfare of the people and the poor who have no such wildflowers of their own to dance with.”

Gwynyvar did not entirely succeed in putting on a more serious face.  “You sound like a man with a mission.”

“Yes.”  And Gerraint decided he definitely needed a mission, as Greta suggested.  “Tell your husband we will stop briefly at Caerleon before we proceed to the South Welsh shore.  Now that we have reduced the pirates and Hueil and Caw are no more, I am anxious to see how the people may be prospering.”

“With a good will, and I wish you Godspeed,” Gwynyvar said, and directed her ladies to where they could frolic in closer quarters with the men.  Gerraint turned up his nose as he turned his horse and Uwaine voiced a thought.

“About time.  I was going to go mad.”

“Getting verbal in your old age?” Gerraint said. “Just for that, we should visit your mother.”

“Morgana might be there,” Uwaine pointed out.

“Okay.  Maybe we won’t.”

The south Welsh coast, though so close to Caerleon, remained one of the places Arthur never visited.  In those early days, the people of the coast were constantly fighting off pirates of one sort or another, and Arthur kept saying he did not know what to do about pirates, and he had no ships.  Since gaining some very good ships and some quality sailors under Thomas of Dorset, Arthur never considered the coast.

The people of the coast were kind and appreciative of all they said Arthur had done for them, especially in destroying Hueil, the Saxon terror.  Gerraint assured them that he was only visiting the coast to see to their welfare and he had no interest in taxes.  After the third village, though, he decided to take a page from Meryddin’s book.

“Don’t tell them who I am.  My name is Goreu and don’t call me sir.  We are a couple of warriors returning from the wars, that’s all. And whatever you do, don’t mention the Round Table.”  Uwaine understood, not that he was likely to talk to anyone unless spoken to.

The pair traveled in this manner for a time, and spoke as little as possible about the wars.  People especially wanted to hear about the end of the Saxon and Pictish pirates who had plagued them for so many years.  Here, Gerraint first heard about Heingest, son of Hueil, and how he married an Angle Princess and they had a son named Octa.  They sounded as bad and dangerous as it could get, especially Octa being perhaps in a position to unite the Angles and Saxons.  That would be especially bad.  But that went in the back of Gerraint’s mind for later. Presently, he enjoyed the ale and the hospitality, and inevitably found some men who fought for Arthur, some of whom knew who he was, but were willing to keep his secret.

It got late one afternoon when Gerraint and Uwaine topped a rise and spotted a rundown manor house beside the crude road.  They found a half-dozen men there who looked like soldiers, rousting out an old man and an old woman.  They saw a young woman on horseback commanding the men, and a little person on a horse too large for him whose occupation seemed to be to echo the woman’s commands, with a few choice swear words added.

“Hardly fair,” Uwaine said.

“The couple looks rather fragile,” Gerraint agreed, but as he spoke, two of the men dragged a young woman out of the house and the woman on horseback began to threaten the old couple by vowing to harm the young woman.  Uwaine blinked and then had to catch up.  Gerraint did not even wait for his horse to stop before his feet hit the ground and Salvation jumped to his hand.  He disarmed two of the guards with one blow and then his foot found the hip of one of the men holding the young woman.  His sword went to the other’s throat and he said, “Back up before I get angry.”

The soldier instantly let go, raised his hands and took two steps away from the giant in his face.  The young woman fell to her knees and lowered her head and eyes. Uwaine, meanwhile had the rest of the soldiers cowed, so Gerraint leaned down to take the young woman’s hand.  “My Lady, please stand.  I am merely a simple soldier on the road.”  She took his hand and stood, but his eyes were already turned to the guards.  “And I have no tolerance for men who abuse women.”

“They were simply doing what they were told, as all good soldiers should.”  The woman on horseback spoke sharply.

“And may I ask the Lady’s name that she sees fit to order men around?”  Gerraint snapped right back as he sheathed Salvation.

The little man spoke up.  “Filth!  You are not worthy to address the Lady.”  He had a whip and let it fly, but Gerraint caught it with his arm and yanked it from the little person’s grasp.

R5 Gerraint: Cat Coit Celidon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

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

*

R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 2 of 2

At once there came a flash of light and a tall woman, the most beautiful woman Arthur had ever seen, stepped up beside him and waved her arm once.  The fog cleared off in an instant, like waving her arm created a great wind, though Arthur felt no wind.  The clearing revealed six blue painted Picts, crouched like hunters, but utterly unmoving.

Meryddin got revealed, standing still as a statue on the edge of the forest.  The woman stepped up for a closer look. She saw the grandfather, a djin, a lesser spirit of evil that terrorized people to the point where they died of fright and then it sucked out their souls.  He had gone over to the other side, but before he went, he allowed a young woman to live.  She had a son who soon enough ate his mother.  His reign of terror came to the end at the hands of the people, a Frankenstein-type mob, but not before he impregnated a fifteen-year-old girl.  She had a son, Meryddin, one quarter djin.

Suddenly it made sense.  By the time Meryddin turned ten, his mother, then twenty-five, looked more like fifty.  She had no life left to tend the boy.  He went into the hands of the druids who worked their mightiest spells to bind the thing inside the boy.  They were partially successful, and Meryddin seemed normal after that.  But he never lost the ability to see and hear at great distances, though he could not exactly control it, and his power of illusion stayed great.

The woman turned when Arthur turned and saw, not Gwynyvar, but Gwenhwyfach.  The woman knew Gwenhwyfach participated in Meryddin’s scheme, and she took a deep breath before she acted.

“Go home, trollop,” the woman said, and Gwenhwyfach disappeared from that place.  Arthur stared at the woman until she gave her name.  “Danna.”

“Goddess,” he responded.

“No, Gerraint,” she smiled for him.  “And it would seem strange to be my own goddess, but he is a Christian now.”

“Yes.”  Arthur came more to himself and nodded.  “As am I, but…”  He quickly looked around.  He felt mortified by what he did and it showed on his face.

“No one saw,” Danna said.  She waved her hand again and Arthur became clothed.  “For you it will be like an unpleasant dream, but you must remember it because there will be consequences.”  Another wave and Arthur appeared back in his tent, on his bed, asleep.  Then the goddess turned to the others.  She started with Meryddin, and when she opened his eyes they almost popped from his head on sight of her.

“I see you,” she said.  “I see what is inside of you, driving you.  Will you see it?”

Meryddin’s tongue came loose.  “You cannot be here.  How can you be here?  My goddess, do not turn against your servant.”

“I will show you,” Danna said.  “This is in your heart.”

Meryddin got set free even as the vision formed. He saw himself as a child slowly draining the life of his own mother.  He saw his father eating his own mother and he screamed.  He saw his grandfather and ran, wild abandon in the dark, with no thought for his life, and indeed, no thought at all beyond his fear. How far he would run and whether or not his mind would ever be whole again, even Danna could not say.  His influence over Arthur ended, but his wickedness continued and she did not have the right to intervene.  There would be consequences, but in the meanwhile, she could do something about the six Pictish statues

Danna looked at the men and thought the compulsion should pass in a week.  One madman per night should be enough.  She waved her hand once more and all six men appeared, five in villages along the coast and the sixth in the city that would one day be called Aberdeen.  They attracted an immediate crowd, night or not. Danna made sure of that.  Then the men spoke, but the only thing they could say was, “We should not have gone beyond the wall.  Now we are all dead.”  And they said it whenever they opened their mouths.

Danna turned to the forest and said, “Hear me.” That voice echoed through the Highlands, rippled across the lakes and blew like the cold wind in the remotest islands of the north.  “The time has come.  The iniquity is complete.  The Picts will be no more.  Do not hinder the men from the south.  Arthur must have his way.”  Then Danna vanished instantly and Gerraint returned, Salvation in his hand as it had been when Danna filled his shoes.

Gerraint looked up at the stars and moon, now clearly visible since the fog pushed off.  He returned his sword to its place and climbed off wall.  Uwaine stood there, but the boy did not see.  Just as well, Gerraint thought, and he thought of those men saying the same thing over and over for seven days, if they should live. He spoke out loud.

“My name is Inigo Montoya.  You keelled my Father.  Prepare to die.”

Uwaine nodded.  “Weird,” he said.

Arthur found Gerraint at dawn, said he had the weirdest dream and since he could not find Meryddin and since Gerraint was king of weird he wanted to share it.

Gerraint interrupted.  “I did not see anything through that fog, and there is no power on earth that can make her tell anyone.”  He paused when he saw a tear come up into Arthurs eyes.  “Meryddin ran away,” he added.

Arthur grasped at that change of subject.  “What do you mean ran away?”

“He got scared.  He ran, off into the forest, into the wilds of the Celidon.  I don’t know if we will see him again.”

“Scared?”

 “He saw himself, what he really is.  He might not be in his right mind.”  Gerraint shook his head, sadly.

Arthur sniffed, dried his eyes and stepped to the tent door.  “We have a job to do.”  He stiffened, and Gerraint could not even guess what might be running through Arthur’s mind.  “We can’t run away,” Arthur said, and he lead twelve hundred men into the wilderness of Caledonia.

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

TOMORROW: Cat Coit Celidon. Don’t miss it.

*