R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 1 of 2

Arthur moved the army by the obvious route toward York.  He figured if Colgrin had any sense, he had scouts out spying Arthur’s progress, and a whole army would be kind of hard to hide.  Gerraint, Arthur, Meryddin and the old men went over the map again and again, looking for some way to limit their exposure, but it seemed impossible until Arthur pointed to the open hill beside the Ure River.

“We can turn aside here in the forest of Bedegraine and come out here on the hilltop.  As long as we set our camp within the trees, we might stay hidden a few days anyway.”

“Might.  Maybe. Could be,” Meryddin did not actually object.

“Slim chance,” Peredur said.

“But still a chance,” Pelenor sounded optimistic, which surprised the group.  “You have men keeping an eye on the Picts and Kai and Loth have joined to chase them from behind.  No reason they can’t chase Caw toward the Ure.”

“This will, by necessity, be a different kind of battle,” Gerraint mused out loud.  “Lancers are not effective in the woods.”

“A company of stout hunters would certainly help our cause,” Arthur said, with a long look at Gerraint.

“But most of our men are hunters,” Pelenor said. “Have to be these days since it got colder.  The growing season has gotten short and the snows of winter have gotten deep.”

“This will be bows and arrows,” Meryddin agreed with a sharp look at Gerraint.  It was not the first such look Gerraint got from the man.

“It would be good if we could catch them between us and the river,” Peredur seemed in general agreement.  “They will have nowhere to run with their backs to the water, and we will have the high ground.”

Gerraint answered Arthur and avoided Meryddin’s eyes. “I’ll need to think about it.”

Two days later, Gerraint went into the woods, Uwaine, his faithful squire behind him.  “Now, don’t be scared,” Gerraint said.  “No matter what happens, they won’t hurt you.  You have to trust me.  You always have to trust me and this is a good time to start.  Do you understand?”

Uwaine nodded.  “Should I shut my eyes?”

“No, Percival,” Gerraint called him.  “You must always keep your eyes open so no enemy can sneak up on you.”  He turned to the woods and hollered.  “Pinewood!” and a man dressed like a hunter, but with a tunic that showed the lion of Cornwall stepped from the trees.

“My Lord.  So you know, I have a rather large company of hunters anxious to help.”

Gerraint shook his head.  He would not put them at risk for a transient human event.  “Got any dwarfs and dark elves on tap?”

“Right here,” a dwarf with a long black beard that covered his face and chest apart from his bulbous nose and two bright eyes, and dressed in chain armor that fell to the ground, and hefting an oversized ax for his height, stepped out beside Pinewood.  Gerraint knew him immediately, though they had never met.

“Bogus.”

Uwaine shrieked and stepped more behind Gerraint, but kept his eyes wide open.  At least Pinewood appeared human.

“My squire, Uwaine,” Gerraint made the quick introduction.  “Lord Pinewood and Lord Bogus.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the little ones said, and Uwaine tried to smile for them but his tongue appeared to be tied.

“Now, to business.  I know that you and Dumfries’ people have all sorts of enchantments to scare the poor humans and keep them out of certain places, particularly in the woods.  What I am asking is for a hedge on either side of the Picts and Scots that will guide their forward motion toward the Ure.  In a perfect world, they should end up by the river right below our current position, with Kai and Loth right behind them.  Pinewood, I need you to visit Kai and Loth and direct them to the battle point.  You can take a few hunters with you as long as they wear the lion of Cornwall.  But that means you have to remove all your tricks and traps after the Picts have moved in the correct direction and before Kai and Loth arrive.  We don’t want poor Kai scared witless.  Now, can you do this?”

“Easy,” Bogus said.  “Especially since they are headed in that direction anyway.  But where then do you want us in the battle formation.  On the south end opposite Kai and Loth so we can close the trap?”

“Nowhere,” Gerraint said.  “The lancers and RDF will dismount and take the south end.  I do not want you to expose yourselves.  You are not allowed any casualties; do you understand?”  Pinewood and Bogus nodded, but looked terribly disappointed.

Uwaine tugged on Gerraint’s tunic.  He looked down at that face which said, “What if the Picts swim the river?”  Gerraint smiled.  He thought much the same thing.

“Okay.  You can take up positions across the river, and any Picts or Scots smart enough to escape that way, you have my permission to chase them all the way back up to the wall. I would think a couple of ogres, some goblins and maybe a troll should do the trick.  Meanwhile, when the battle starts, Bogus, I want your people to set a circle around York.  I want no one to get in or out of that place until we get there, so Colgrin has no way of knowing what is happening.”

“You are confident of victory?” Pinewood asked.

Gerraint nodded.  “But only because you folk have never been much for following orders.” Bogus and Pinewood both grinned, slightly.  “But Bogus, especially if we are victorious as I hope, Colgrin better not find out. That is one order you better pay attention to.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes lord.”  Bogus and Pinewood bowed, and Bogus vanished back into the woods in only a few steps, while Pinewood got fairy small, much to Uwaine’s delight, and flew off at top speed.

“Son,” Gerraint said, sounding very much like master Pelenor.  “This is one thing you are not allowed to talk about.  You must never mention dwarfs or fairies or anything of the kind to anyone.  Okay?”

“Don’t worry.  If I told my mother she would think I lost my mind.  But…”

“But what?”

“Can we do that again sometime?”

R5 Gerraint: Trouble

Arthur spent the next couple of years finally making that grand tour.  He hardly got everywhere.  North Wales and the south Welsh coast did not get much attention, but only because they did not have enough time before the trouble started.

In those days, Ederyn said Percival got to that vulnerable age, so he took him off on a number of independent adventures, including a six-month trip to the Highlands in the British northwest where there were reports of dragons.  Sometimes, it became just Arthur, Peredur and Meryddin on the road, but most of the time Pelenor and Gerraint joined them.

Both Arthur and Gerraint were coming of age. Arthur quickly developed the habit that, as soon as he stepped into a Lord’s manor house or fort or home, he said, “I am not here to get married.  I am not looking for a wife, so please don’t suggest such a thing or I will be very cross.” Gerraint, who finally started to become that imposing figure at a touch over six feet tall, with impressive muscles and in excellent shape, simply could not master being the strong, silent type. He routinely mumbled, “If I knew you were coming I would have baked a cake.”

They all gathered for Cordella’s wedding to Sir Melwas, High Chief of Lyoness.  Melwas noted how much Percival had grown, which made Percival growl.  Gerraint had to put up with Cordella telling him a thousand times how much she hated him before she hugged him and told him she loved him and flitted off happily to find her new husband.

They went to Somerset and Glastonbury to visit Mesalwig who stayed home, tending his ailing father.  Arthur finally knighted him, which is what he had been calling it ever since Gerraint’s slip of the tongue.  It did not mean much to Mesalwig at that point.  The old man appeared to be dying, and all the others could do was give their condolences.

“That flu, as you call it, is pretty widespread among the people.  Most don’t die, but some do,” Peredur mused aloud.

“Mostly the old and the very young,” Meryddin added, and there were a few towns the group was not allowed to enter because the epidemic was severe.

Overall, they did a pretty good job of covering Britain, including a trip all the way up to Edinburgh to visit Loth.  This became Arthur’s first time above Hadrian’s wall, and his first view of the Scots.  He said the Scots did not look or sound much different from the British, and even some of the words were the same.  He also got his first look at some Picts, though they had to be pointed out to him because they also dressed and acted like the Scotts and only their language gave them away, it being significantly different.  Arthur confided to Gerraint privately that he felt surprised by the Picts. He heard they had blue skin.

“Blue face paint, but only when they go to war,” Gerraint said.  He knew that much.

From Edinburgh, they traveled down the whole of Hadrian’s wall to the west side where Kai made his home at Fort Guinnon. That stood as the western anchor to the wall; the farthest south the Picts, or Scotts for that matter, were permitted to go.  Of course, Scotts and even some Picts regularly traveled past the wall, but they were mostly traders and merchants who not only had a bustling trade with Loth and Kai, but with the people of the north, all the way down to York.  It was not like the old Roman days.  They had peace in the north and Arthur, for one, hoped it stayed that way.  Sadly, that dream got shattered in the year 500 when Kai and Loth both sent word that an army of Picts and some Scotts started gathering just north of the Antonine wall under a war chief named Caw.  The Norwegian shore stayed quiet for the last ten years, so Colgrin of York got the idea the time was ripe.  He made a pact between his Jutes and Saxons and the Picts and Scotts to capture the whole northland for himself.

“Damn!” This time Arthur did not look happy, but he had five hundred men trained in the RDF, so he was not unprepared.  He sent a hundred each to support Kai and Loth, and a third hundred to keep an eye out for the Picts and keep an eye on Hadrian’s wall. A fourth hundred he sent to link up with Sir Bedwyr at Oxford.  They were to keep their eyes on Essex and see if the Saxons should decide to move north.  He hoped the beating they took at the River Glen might discourage that idea.  The last hundred, mostly the young and unseasoned stayed at Caerleon and helped gather supplies and settle men as the Lords brought their troops in over the next three months.

While they waited, Gerraint turned twenty-one and Arthur immediately knighted him.

“Well, son, now that you are a young lord, got any plans?” Pelenor asked.

Gerraint just threw his arms around the man and hugged him.  He whispered, “Thank you.”

Pelenor hugged him back and whispered, “You’re welcome,” in response.  Then they separated because Pelenor got particularly uncomfortable with those sorts of shows of affection.

“Yes, actually,” Gerraint said.  “A friend of Morgana prevailed on her, so she prevailed on Arthur, who prevailed on me.  Allow me to introduce a squire of my own.  Uwaine is thirteen.”  He stepped aside and showed a young lad who looked nervous in the presence of such preeminent men and Knights of the Round Table besides, as everyone started calling them.

“Lord!  You were a brat at that age,” Pelenor said.

“Yes you were,” Peredur agreed.  “Almost as bad as Arthur.”

“Congratulations,” Ederyn said.

“Son,” Percival, who turned nineteen, stepped up to the boy.  “Don’t be scared of him.  If he gives you any trouble, you just let me know.”

“Hey Goreu,” Arthur shouted.  “Try not to get weird on him until he is older.”

Poor Uwaine did not know what to say.

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 3 of 3

In the morning, Gerraint, Pelenor, Peredur and Meryddin accompanied Arthur to a parlay with Bearclaw and his lieutenants. Arthur spoke quietly as they rode out.

“Meryddin said you could come because you are an imposing sight.”

“What?” Gerraint joked.  “I’m now the big, dumb guy there to intimidate the enemy by my mean stare and bulging muscles?”

“Mostly, yeah,” Arthur went along with the idea. “Percival’s going to be upset at being left out, you know.”

Gerraint nodded, but said no more.

Once there, Arthur suggested the Saxons leave Britain and return to their own land in Essex.  “You’ve been sitting against this river for more than a month when you could have moved north.  Now that the army has arrived, moving north is not an option.”

Bearclaw laughed.  “You see, Goatlib, my son.  This British boy thinks he has us surrounded.”  He laughed again and his lieutenants laughed with him.  “The army I see is not nearly as big as the force mustered in the old days by Uther.  I heard some of your Lords were not happy with you and you wasted all your men fighting among yourselves.”

“And so you sat here for a month waiting to find out how strong my arm is?”

“Bah!”  Bearclaw spat.  “We don’t waste good men on arguments.  Brecca wanted to move to the shore and crawl up the coast like a coward.  Edgard wanted to slink away, back the way we came. But we settled things and only two men died.”

“Who died?”  Arthur had to ask.

“Brecca and Edgard,” Bearclaw gave the obvious answer and looked very pleased with himself.  “Now, you go away.  Have your partridge and mush and we will fight in the morning.  We have twice your number and good German steel.  The fight should not take long.”

Both sides went back to their lines, and Arthur laid out the battle plan in less time than it took to parlay.  Gerraint had a thought.

“You know, partridge and mush sounds pretty good.”

The Saxons came out from the river’s edge in the morning.  They had camped on the open field where they expected to do battle.  In those days, battles were always fought in the open air, where it was said, real men of fortitude could stand face to face.  The truth was, fighting over hills and especially in the woods, it became too easy for men to get lost and turned around, and maybe even cut or skewer their own.  Certainly, every group Bearclaw sent into the woods never came back.

Arthur dressed up his foot soldiers first thing, and made sure they understood their part in the drama.  Kai and Loth had both sent contingents from the north that arrived in the night.  That gave Arthur fifteen hundred regular men or about half the estimated number of Germans. He let the Celts and the Germans yell at each other for a time before he moved the horsemen to the front.

Arthur had four hundred and ninety-seven horsemen, all well armored and outfitted with lances.  More than half were trained members of the RDF, but behind them were the Lords and their squires.  Pelenor, Gerraint, Peredur, Arthur and Meryddin rode to the front.  When they stopped, they gave the horses a chance to settle down.  The Germans stopped yelling their war cries and watched.  When Arthur yelled “Lances,” they came to point at the enemy with far better unity than the first time.  The RDF let out one big “Ha!” and then fell silent.

Percival came riding up to stop beside Meryddin, and Ederyn, who failed to keep the young man at the back, came up beside him. Pelenor kept mumbling “relax, twist and yank,” over and over.  He got very good at hitting the targets dead center, but he sometimes forgot the follow up, in particular the relax part.  More than once, he found himself shoved off the back end of his galloping horse and deposited roughly on his rump.

“Drive them into the river,” Arthur yelled.  He got ready to call the charge when Percival and Gerraint interrupted, in unison.

“For Arthur!”

The RDF, the squires, and those Lords who were not caught off guard echoed, “For Arthur!”  And this time when Arthur yelled charge, it was barely heard as the horses went rumbling forward.  The foot soldiers did their best, but they would be a few minutes extra before they reached the enemy lines.

To their credit, about a third of the Saxons, or about a thousand, tried to hold their ground.  They got skewered, and those who were not killed outright, were finished as soon as the footmen arrived.  The rest of the Saxons did flee to the river and most of them swam for their lives.

Arthur stopped at the river’s edge where the trees lined the water.  He signaled, and Captain Croyden lead his RDF a half-mile up river to a point where they could ford across.  The good Captain had been charged to make sure the Germans went back to where they came from.  He later reported that a number of them hit the Essex border and still did not stop running.  That was a few days on foot, so there is no telling what could be believed.

“It won’t always be this easy,” Peredur told Arthur.  “They will find a way to counter the lances.”

Arthur nodded, but he had three things to keep him busy.  First, he needed to find Bearclaw, which was not hard.  The man lay among the dead in a large pocket of men that tried to stand up to the charge.  Unfortunately, Goatlib was not there, and Arthur imagined Bearclaw’s son might be one to watch.

Second, Arthur needed to choose a number of men for inclusion in the Round Table.  He started with Peredur and Ederyn, who were happy to be included, and Pelenor, who did not go in for those sorts of emotional moments, but also felt secretly happy to be included.  Captain Croyden and three members of the RDF that he singled out for extraordinary acts of bravery in defense of the locals against the Saxon raiders were given the title, “Sir,” along with several of the older Lords who were known to be stout believers and defenders of the church.

Mesalwig of Glastonbury appealed for inclusion, but he only turned twenty, and Arthur decided that a man needed to be twenty-one and fully grown to be joined to the table.  Mesalwig went away angry, but it could not be helped because he was still technically a squire.  Besides, his master, Badgemagus the Welshman, still held to many of the old ways and had no desire to be included.

Melwas got included, though Arthur said it was mostly for Gerraint’s sake.  “But hereafter,” Arthur made it clear.  “Just being in battle and fighting for the realm is not enough.”  Melwas fought bravely and did his duty, but no more than the rest on that day.  “We are looking for extraordinary men who perform as Gerraint has said, above and beyond the call of duty.”

“Still, it was good to include some of the most important Lords in Britain and Wales.  There are almost twenty now, and that should make the table attractive to any young men coming up in the ranks,” Percival thought out loud.

“And you knighted two second sons and a commoner among the RDF, and that will give your army something special,” Gerraint added. “Extraordinary valor will be honored, even among the common people.”

“What do you mean, knighted?” Arthur asked.

Gerraint put his hand to his mouth and spoke through his fingers.  “What is the third thing we have to do.”

“My turn,” Arthur said.  “Last time you dragged us off to Cornwall.  This time I am dragging you off to York.  We will take the younger members of the RDF with us, not to threaten Colgrin but simply to say we are watching.”

“I think I will bring Sergeant Paul and the men from Cornwall if you don’t mind,” Gerraint said.

“I could bring the contingent from Lyoness,” Melwas offered.

“No,” Arthur turned him down.  “We don’t want to look like an army.  We just want enough to guard against possible treachery, not that I distrust the Jute.”

“Besides, Sir Melwas” Gerraint grinned.  “You have to visit Thomas of Dorset.  Gwillim told me Thomas is joining his uncle and will Captain one of the family’s seven merchant ships out of Southampton.  Tell him I sent you and he will give you a special deal on something nice for Cordella.  Then you can perform that act of valor and charity and tell her that you love her.”

Melwas returned Gerraint’s grin.  “I can do that.”

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

MONDAY

Colgrin the Jute, Lord of York, is charged to keep an eye on the Norwegian shore.  Instead, he makes a treaty with the Picts in the north.  He intends to take north Britain for himself, and Loth and Kai alone are not able to stop Him.  Monday, trouble with the Picts.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 2 of 3

Soon enough, Arthur found a number of young Lords who became interested in joining the RDF.  It often turned out to be the second and third sons, as Gerraint had originally suggested, and they came with their own horses and some equipment. That was a great help to the treasury, even if they had to be fed.   Gerraint also pointed out, “if one of these should prove themselves worthy of admission to the Round Table, granting them the title “Sir” should cause less consternation among the Lords than granting title to a bunch of commoners.”  Arthur nodded, but he clearly did not feel too concerned about that.

Arthur had plenty of lances made, though not nearly as long and heavy as they would be in the centuries to come.  This time he had the hand-guard built right into the lance and put no barbs on the point.  The straight point would be something that could put a hole in an enemy, be pulled out with a relaxed hand, a twist and a yank, and used again on the next enemy.  He also had armor made, strong chain on leather, and helmets all modeled after his memory of the armor and helmet of the Kairos.  Gerraint imagined it as the first military uniform in history, but deep inside he knew it wasn’t.

All of the Lords and their squires came to Caerleon now and then.  Pelenor thought it would make things easier when Arthur got old enough to take what he started calling the grand tour of the land.  The squires, of course, went straight for the lances and the practice grounds, and this time their lords were not slow to join them.  Arthur began to think that these men would form the backbone of his army, and he was not wrong.  Indeed, heavy cavalry would rule the battlefield until the invention of gunpowder.  But Ederyn always reminded Arthur that in war, the footmen would still be the vast majority of his soldiers—and the enemy soldiers, too.  There were not enough horses for everybody, and even if they had the horses, most men did not know how to ride.

In the spring of 497, Storyteller’s estimate, Arthur turned nineteen and got ready to be certified for claustrophobia if he didn’t get out in the countryside for some fresh air.  Gerraint, now eighteen, sat at the chessboard across the table and concentrated, because he thought he might be winning.  Pelenor and Peredur sat at the other end of the long table quietly catching up over a bit of beef and a tankard of ale.  Meryddin also sat quietly, mumbling to himself now and then, and staring out a window in the Great Hall.  He had been saying for some time that they had trouble in the East, and it appeared to be pointed north, but he could not pinpoint it exactly.  No one else presently disturbed the tranquility of the moment until Percival burst in the doors and yelled, his sixteen-year-old voice still cracking on the high notes.

“The Saxons are coming out of Essex.  They have their eyes on York and on cutting off the whole coast.”  Everyone jumped and said “What?” except Meryddin who said something like “I knew it,” and Arthur who said something completely different.

“Salvation!”  He threw the chess board up in the air and scattered the pieces everywhere, mostly because he was losing.  Ederyn arrived a moment later to explain.

That very evening, Arthur sent out the call.  The Lords prevailed on him this time to allow a whole three months for the force to gather.  Arthur was willing, but only because he had two hundred fully trained men in the RDF, and another hundred in various stages of the training program.  True, most of the trained men were home, working their farms, or in the towns and cities, but they were sworn to be in Caerleon within a week once the call went out.

In truth, it took three weeks to gather and supply the two hundred, but that still felt remarkable, considering.  After another week, they were in a position to harass and slow the enemy, and that happened a full two months before the rest of the army was due to gather.  When Arthur finally arrived with the army, now four whole months gone by, because it took an extra month just to get across the width of Britain, Captain Croydon had a most interesting report.

“We arrived in time to drive a raiding party from one village, only to find they were spread all over the countryside, looting and burning villages, towns and farms as they went.  They were not much of an army.  More like a loose collection of Saxon raiders.  We set patrols and a strategy of picking off the small groups one by one.  Soon enough, they began to run on sight of us, and like cattle, we were able to herd them together.  They united at last under the banner of a man named Bearclaw, a Saxon with a nasty disposition, and they are bunched up along the banks of the Glen River, here.”  He pointed to the crude map his men made of the area.  “Since that time, for the past month, or almost six weeks, they have been arguing. Any small groups sent out to get food and supplies have been dealt with, but for the last few weeks they haven’t even dared to do that.  They seem stuck, living off weeds and river fish, I guess, and the occasional horse meat which won’t do their cavalry any good.”

“Casualties?”  Arthur asked.

“We lost two-dozen, very fine and very brave men. Another dozen are out of action, being wounded, but we hope they may recover.”

“We must visit them,” Percival said to Arthur, but he looked at Gerraint, and wondered if there might be anything he could do, like let Greta the healer help.

“Before that,” Gerraint spoke up to avoid Percival’s eyes.  “What news of York?”

Captain Croyden had prepared for the question. “We have a squad of men, in rotation, that have kept a close watch on the fort there.  So far, Colgrin the Jute has made no move to link up with Bearclaw. He is pledged to you, so he may be loyal, but then he has made no move to stop Bearclaw either.”

“He has a good and large contingent of soldiers there watching the Norwegian shore, but he doesn’t have nearly enough to face down an army,” Pelenor said.  “Maybe he felt it best to watch the Danes and deal with Bearclaw if he had to from behind his stout walls.”

“Maybe.”  Arthur studied the map.  “Too bad we have no way into the Saxon camp and no way of knowing what has them bogged down for a month.”  He also looked at Gerraint, but it was only a glance before he turned back to the map with a shake of his head.

Arthur made his camp on top of a rise where he could look down on the Saxons and the river.  He had seventeen hundred men, which proved better than during the rebellion, but still not near the estimated potential.  The Saxons and Angles combined, even after their losses over two months, had closer to three thousand.  “As Melwas says, it is a challenge.”  Arthur spoke long with Meryddin, and for the first time, Gerraint heard them arguing.  He thought it a good sign that Arthur started gaining his own mind, but he supposed that depended on what the argument was about.

Gerraint felt tempted to get off his seat, enter the tent and interrupt, but he got distracted by the approach of Melwas. Melwas became the chief of Lyoness, now that his father had passed away.  He came prepared for this war with fifty good men who he said were all volunteers. Gerraint’s stepfather, by contrast, sent twenty under a grizzled old sergeant who had taken the Christian name of Paul.   It seemed a pittance, a token compared to what Cornwall could provide, but Gerraint satisfied himself by saying at least it was not nothing.

“Can I talk to you?”  Melwas looked uncomfortable.  Gerraint felt tempted to say something outlandish, something very Festuscato to lighten the moment, but he knew this would be serious.

“Of course,” he said.  “What about?”

“It is about your sister.”  Gerraint just listened.  Melwas took a moment to come out with it.  “She will be sixteen shortly,” he said.  “Your mother said I needed to talk to you, and not just her and Lord Marcus, you being her only sibling and all.”

Gerraint knew where this was going, but he needed to hear it out loud.

“You know, sixteen is considered an acceptable age to marry.”  Gerraint frowned ever so slightly, but Melwas felt sensitive.  “What?”

“A man is considered fully grown when he turns twenty-one.  You are what, Twenty-five?”

“Twenty-four.”

Gerraint nodded.  “A woman, on the other hand, is considered mature when she turns eighteen.”

“Cordella is very mature for her age.”

“So, you are asking me because I am eighteen? Do I look like a woman to you?” Gerraint stood six feet tall, more than big in a five-and-a-half-foot world.

“No,” Melwas admitted.  “But your mother seemed unwilling to make a decision.”

“Cordella is her baby.  Mothers cling to their babies.”  Gerraint stopped talking and waited, but Melwas did not appear to have anything to add.  “My opinion, but mother and Marcus have to decide, but my opinion is she should wait until she is eighteen.  She will hate me for saying that, but you are a mature man.  She should be fully grown as well.  Just my opinion.”

Melwas nodded slowly.  “I can understand your thinking.”

“Good,” Gerraint said and grabbed the man’s arm gently. “Maybe you can explain it to me. Oh, and just one more thing.”

Melwas smiled a little.  “Yes?”

“Tell me, does marrying my sister count as an act of valor or an act of charity or both?”

Melwas’ smile got big just before Meryddin came stomping out of the tent and tromped off to be lost among all the tents.  He looked red angry.  Arthur followed with a word.

“I told him I was leading the charge and nothing he could say would talk me out of it.”

Gerraint shaded his eyes against the sun as he looked up.  “So, we are charging?”

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 1 of 3

Gerraint got no satisfaction at home.  His mother loved him and his sister missed him, but his stepfather Marcus, who styled himself the High Chief of Cornwall, though the title was not his to take, tolerated Gerraint at best.  He showed grace to the older men, Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn, and he acknowledged Arthur and pledged to send help the next time the call came; but even Percival noticed the man said nothing about what kind of help or how much.

About the only interesting thing during the visit became the arrival of Melwas the younger.  Melwas, the elder, high chief of Lyoness, was an old man and unable to travel.  He designated his eldest son, fully grown at twenty-one, to represent him at every opportunity.  Melwas the younger seemed eager to send troops to the call.

“I wanted to,” he said.  “But Father and Lord Marcus said we needed to wait and see what happened.  I am sorry I missed it all.”

“Don’t worry son,” Peredur spoke kindly.  “Given the turn of things, with enemies on all sides, I cannot imagine the next call will be very far away.”

Melwas said he heard about the Round Table and asked what he needed to do to become a member.  No one asked him how he knew about the club, but they understood he must have had some source at the battle who told him about Sir Kai and Sir Bedwyr.

“It is a Christian table,” Gerraint explained, and Arthur listened.  “As long as you confess your faith, you want only two things to prove you are worthy. One is an act of valor or courage which may occur in battle, but does not need to.  The other is evidence of keeping the ideals of Christ through an act of charity or piety or in defending the poor, the weak and defenseless. These two things may be shown in a single act, but usually are not.”  Gerraint paused and looked at Arthur, but Arthur nodded, so he continued.  “These two things show that a man is worthy of the Round Table, because they show the strength of a man’s arm, but more importantly, they show the strength of a man’s character.”

Melwas frowned a bit and rubbed the stubble on his chin.  “What you ask is hard.”

“It is,” Gerraint agreed.  “But the table will seat only the best, and I don’t think you would want it any other way.”

Melwas made a decision.  “I accept the challenge.”  Then he smiled and so did Peredur and Ederyn who listened in.

“Tell me true,” Peredur said to Gerraint and Arthur. “How did you two become so wise?”

“Almighty God,” Percival suggested.

“Him.”  Arthur pointed at Gerraint.

“Reading the backs of cereal boxes,” Gerraint said, and Arthur and Percival glanced at each other before they spoke in perfect unison.

“You’re weird.”

They traveled from Plymouth to Exeter, a nicely walled town, about as far as Rome ever penetrated into Cornwall.  Rome referred to the area as Devon, but it stayed under the Cornish King.  In Exeter, the city fathers, and especially the city mothers, gushed over the three young boys.  Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn conferred for a long time in that place, but whatever it was, it seemed something they hoped they would not have to worry about for a couple of years yet.

Percival and Arthur, though mostly Arthur, spent their time teasing Gerraint about how much his sister, Cordella, seemed taken with young Melwas.

“Good grief.  She’s only twelve.  He has to be twice her age,” Gerraint complained.

“Nine years,” Arthur counted, but still the boys had no idea what the Lords were on about.

From Exeter, the group made for Tintangle where Arthur got to meet his distant cousins, Tristam’s mom and dad.  “This is good,” Pelenor announced.  “We should travel the whole land this way.  He can meet the Lords of the land, and they can all meet Arthur.  That should make the ties stronger should a need arise.”  Peredur and Ederyn agreed, but they prevailed on Pelenor to wait until Arthur put some age on and made a better appearance.

“More man-like and less boy-like” Ederyn put it.

With that in mind. the group crossed the channel to Caerleon, where Arthur became terribly bored for the next three years. Gerraint and Percival were taken out all the time by Pelenor and Ederyn for some reason or another, or even for no particular reason at all.  Peredur took his squire out twice, once to show Arthur the homes of Pelenor and Ederyn, which Arthur already knew.  Arthur felt glad to see his adopted mother.  Meryddin forced them to take a dozen guards from the fort for that trip.  The other time was a quick trip to his older, half-sister’s house.  She lived in southern Wales, a day’s journey, which Peredur turned into three.

Poor Arthur felt like he was in prison, and to some extent, he was.  Gerraint called it protective custody.  Meryddin did not want Arthur out of his sight, and maybe more important, he did not want him out of his influence.  Peredur at least insisted on taking the young Pendragon to church every Sunday, and Arthur felt grateful for the chance to breathe.

Morgana came to visit Arthur at Caerleon several times. She spent most of the time arguing with Meryddin, and sometimes in rather rude and crude ways.  It was not until that one time when Meryddin got called away on Druid business up to Iona for a month, that Arthur became able to take a quick trip to visit Morgana in her own home.  He realized then that she had fully accepted that they were brother and sister, and she imagined, as his only true family, that she was going to defend him from the corrupting influence of that half man, which is what she called Meryddin.

“Too late for that,” Gerraint said later, and he wondered what the other half of Meryddin might be.  He did suspect that it was more like a quarter something, but he had no idea what that quarter might be.

One thing Arthur accomplished in those days was the selection and training of his RDF.  He brought in the best hunters, and taught the young men about the land, and how to move swiftly and unseen.  He brought in masters of various weapons, including a few Germans, and taught them how to fight and defend themselves regardless of what might be arrayed against them.  He taught them how to read, write and count, at least well enough to pass messages and estimate an enemy’s strength.  He also taught them to look for an enemy’s weaknesses.  Gerraint kept his mouth closed.  He dared not tell Arthur that normally teenagers and school did not mix.

Meryddin let Arthur play at soldier, since after all, that would be his purpose.  He claimed Arthur was to defend the land and bring peace and prosperity, but it seemed a thin disguise.  Clearly, Meryddin expected Arthur to reduce the people around the Gaelic lands to servitude and slavery.  Then, within the Celtic lands, Meryddin worked hard to restore the preeminence of the old ways.  He had some success among the Welsh, and in the North where the Scots had contact with the locals.  He proved less successful in Cornwall and Britain, especially the Midlands, Leogria and Somerset where the church remained strong.  He despised Arthur’s Christian Round Table, and in the years to come, he regularly attended the meetings to make his views known, though he certainly never confessed faith in the Christ.  Arthur allowed Meryddin as the one exception, he said, and the Lords understood it as a gracious act toward the old man, whom they respected, but often ignored.

R5 Gerraint: Rebellion, part 3 of 3

Finally, the army, such as they had, moved out of Caerleon and headed for Salisbury.  That got reported as the place where the rebels waited.  Arthur and Gerraint got the impression that the rebels hoped to come up and lay siege to Caerleon, but Arthur’s men began to show up much sooner than the rebels expected, thanks to the sixty-day deadline, so that idea got abandoned.

Meryddin explained for the boys.  “The way this game is played, the first army that is ready moves to a ground of their choosing and gets the advantageous position. They send messengers inviting their enemy to come out and play.  Sometimes, an army will come out, but choose a different place.  Then messages go back and forth, maybe for months, until the inevitable neutral ground is chosen.”

“But why do people tell the enemy where they are? Why don’t they try to catch them unprepared?” Arthur asked

“It saves two armies tromping around the countryside, destroying crops and stealing livestock for months, looking for each other.”

Arthur understood, but shook his head.  There had to be a better way.

The plain of Salisbury was what it was called, mostly a flat, open plain; but there were still plenty of groups of trees here and there that punctuated the landscape, and they were covered with multi-colored leaves, it being autumn.  The eleven Lords set their camp at the top of a rise which appeared something like a shallow ridge with a gradual slope.  They brought their many men to the bottom of the rise for battle and stuffed them between the two woods that flanked the ridge on either side, making the battle line about ten men thick.

Pelenor pointed.  “They will have horsemen in both of those woods, I’ll bet, ready to ride out on our flank when we first touch the line in battle.  They likely have horsemen at the top, just over the rise as well.  They are the ones in reserve who can move rapidly to the line in case it should start to break down.  This is the way battle is done, and we have the attack position.  Now, our footmen will charge their line of footmen and our horses will try to keep their horses in the woods away from the flanks.  We will also have some in reserve to react and go to the place their reserves go.  After all, if our men are breaking through their line at some spot, we want to make that happen.  That can be the difference between victory and defeat.”

Gerraint only half listened.  His eyes turned back, searching for the men from Cornwall and Lyoness.  He wrote letters, personally, and spoke most kindly to Marcus, his stepfather, but no one came.  He felt depressed.

Gerraint looked at Arthur’s footmen arrayed in a line of their own, about ten deep.  He imagined the line would get rather ragged after charging across that long field. He looked at the horsemen around him and knew there were as many on the other side.  But as things were about ready to start, he said, “I have to go.”

“What?  Where are you going?  Gerraint! Boy get back here!”

Gerraint felt bad for three seconds as he trotted up beside Arthur who waited out in front of the footmen.  Peredur followed Arthur and Ederyn came with Percival. “Pelenor is being stubborn,” Gerraint said, as fifty squires but few of the Lords showed up at the front.

“He will come around,” Arthur said with full confidence that this would work.

“Pinewood has the big group of horsemen in the woods on the right.  Bogus and Dumfries poisoned the horse feed in the smaller group on the left.

“Poison?”  Percival did not like the way that sounded.

“Not to kill them,” Gerraint assured him. “Just some mushrooms to make them sick to their stomachs so they can’t be ridden.”

“Not help to be counted on in the future, I take it,” Arthur said.  Gerraint said nothing.  “We do need to fight our own battles.”

“I hope none of the hunters gets killed,” Percival said, softly.  Gerraint felt the same, but again made no comment.  Instead, he actually stood up on the back of his horse like a crazy teenager and he shouted as loud as he could.

“Never let it be said that on this day, the squires showed more courage than their Lords.”  He plopped back down in time to hear Arthur yell.

“Lances.”  The movement looked pretty ragged, not exactly military precision, but it only took a moment for the boys to have the sharp end pointed at the enemy.  “Get a good grip,” Arthur added.

“For Arthur!”  Percival shouted, and the squires responded in unison

“For Arthur!”

Arthur just said, “Charge!”  The boys screamed and shouted as the horses quickly worked their way up to full speed.

“What?  What?” To his credit, Pelenor became the first of the mounted Lords to follow, one step ahead of Meryddin, and he caught up with the boys on their slower nags.

Gerraint saw the enemy line of footmen waver. They were not sure what was coming, but when they saw all the sharp points headed in their direction, and not knowing that these were not full grown men, they broke and ran.  Some started to climb the rise, but they could not climb that shallow rise as fast as a horse.  Many men got cut down, some in the back, and mostly by the Lords who followed with their swords drawn; but most of the enemy ran for the trees to either side which made it impossible for any horsemen there who might have been thinking of riding out.  By the time Arthur’s foot soldiers arrived, there seemed little for them to do other than take prisoners, and more than one remarked on how good it was to see the horses go first for a change.

The horsemen in reserve put up no struggle, but a few of them tried to escape.  Pelenor and Meryddin were right on them, and it all happened so fast, they did not get far.

Arthur dismounted at the top.  Percival had the flag.  Gwillim and Tristam helped him plant it so the dragon could flutter in the wind.

“Victory!”  Arthur shouted.

“Arthur!  Arthur!” Percival started the chant again and the squires joined with a good will.  None of the squires had been badly hurt apart from Gwillim’s brother, Thomas of Devon, who took a nasty cut in his leg.  Arthur hugged Percival and swung him around like he did when Percival was little.  Percival dutifully pretended to get dizzy, but Gerraint interrupted the celebration with a word.

“Arthur.  You have to hold court.”

Arthur gave Gerraint a mean but happy stare, before he put on his serious face.  Bedwyr and Kai were there with some of their men, and they had Loth and seven of the rebel Lords captive.  The boys had discussed what Arthur might do if this circumstance arose, but it was mostly to present options.  Gerraint well understood that at this point, Arthur would have to decide things for himself.

When Arthur walked over to the men, Loth went straight to one knee and lowered his eyes.  “Pendragon, I was utterly wrong,” he said.  “By your ease of victory today, you have proved yourself more worthy to follow in your father’s footsteps than any man alive.  I owe you my head, but I swear by Almighty God, if you spare my life, I do hereby pledge my life, my sword and my land and people to you, whenever you may call and whatever you may need.”  Loth kept his eyes lowered and the other seven Lords fell to one knee as well in a sign of surrender.

Arthur looked at Kai who smiled and nodded.  He looked at Bedwyr who could not hold his tongue.

“You took a great risk charging the way you did.”

“Hell!” Loth said, without looking up.  “That was bloody brilliant.”

Arthur tried not to grin.  “I accept your pledge.  What say you other Lords.”

“We swear, I swear.”

“The round table we are building will be a Christian table.  When you have proved yourselves worthy by an act of valor and an act of Christian charity in defending the poor and the weak, then you will be welcome at my table. Remember your pledge.  In the meantime, the lives of the three Lords who fled the field are forfeit.  Their lands and positions will be given to men more worthy.  There will be no cowards at the round table.”

Gerraint nodded.  Some had to lose their lives.  It made the point that Arthur would not be a pushover.

“Please stand,” Arthur said, and the rebels got slowly to their feet.  “Bedwyr and Kai, please kneel.”  They did not knowing anything about it, but they complied.  Arthur pulled Caliburn and stepped up to the two.  When he raised it to their necks, a few gasped, but he simply tapped their shoulders the way Gerraint suggested and he practiced on Percival.  “A new title. For Bedwyr, who by his quick thinking saved my life and the life of my party in the wilderness, and Kai, who argued mightily on my behalf in the great north, I grant you the title, Sir.  Arise Sir Bedwyr and Sir Kai.  You are the very first members of the round table and are welcome in my house at anytime.”

The men with Kai and Bedwyr cheered, not that they understood, but because it seemed the appropriate thing to do.  Loth tipped his head to each of the men.  “Sir Kai.  Sir Bedwyr.  Someday I may be worthy.”

Arthur put Caliburn back and turned because Gerraint started walking away.  “Hey! Arthur called.  “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to Cornwall to see my mother and ask my stepfather why no one from my home came here today to fight.  That is unacceptable.”

“Hey, you can’t just go off like that.  Hey, wait up.”  Arthur and Percival both ran after him, and the collected Lords and men laughed softly and grinned a little.  For all the wisdom in Arthur, he remained a teenager.

Peredur and Ederyn caught Gerraint and made him stop. “You can’t just ride off like that,” Peredur said.  “At least not alone.”

“True,” Ederyn added.  “That would make Pelenor very angry.”

Gerraint frowned.  Greta could run off.  Why couldn’t he?  But then he was just a squire after all.

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

MONDAY

The Saxons out of Essex decide to do some boy testing of their own.  Don’t miss The River Glen, Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Gerraint: Rebellion, part 2 of 3

The twenty approaching riders slowed on sight of the campfire.  They let their horses walk forward while everyone stayed hidden.  The man out front turned twice in the road before he made his pronouncement.  “They have ridden on, back toward Caerleon.”  The enemy might have ridden on as well, but a squirrel startled a horse hidden in the woods and it neighed.

“Now.” Pelenor shouted and fired his first arrow. Five arrows followed.  Three missed, and the other two wounded two men, one in the arm and one in the leg.  Pelenor prepared to fire again when a half-dozen arrows came out of the trees beyond the camp.  Whoever those men were, they were dead shots.  Arthur’s crew got off one more arrow in the time the strangers fired three. When Bedwyr and his four men came charging back, swords drawn, war cries flying, they saw a few survivors riding away as fast as they could.

Six men, all dressed as hunters came from the trees and bowed to Arthur before they approached Gerraint.  They all wore the lion beneath their cloaks so the older men understood.

“Lord.”  The chief hunter bowed low.  “We do not forget.”

“Thank you, Pinewood,” Gerraint named him, just before the thunder took all of their attention.

“Arthur!”  They all heard the voice.

“Meryddin?”  Arthur looked up and all around, but of course Meryddin was not there.

“I see a hundred enemies bearing down on you. You must flee,” Meryddin’s voice said.

“Get the horses,” Pelenor shouted.  “Put out the fire.”

People jumped, but while they finished packing, Gerraint got to ask.

“Meryddin can sometimes see things and speak at a great distance,” Arthur explained.

“And hear?”  Gerraint did not really ask.

“And he can make people see and hear things that are not really there,” Arthur finished.

When they were ready, Bedwyr volunteered to stay behind with his men to delay the enemy.

“No, Lord,” Pinewood interrupted.  “We have our bows and plenty of arrows.  We might not delay them much, but we should be able to slow them down.”

Arthur looked at Gerraint and Gerraint nodded. “Lord Bedwyr, you need to ride with us.” Arthur sounded decisive.

“Your duty is to protect the Pendragon and see him safely back to Caerleon,” Gerraint suggested.

“Well said,” Peredur smiled at the squires, and Bedwyr made no objection

They rode hard, back the way they came the day before, and Gerraint had time to wonder who Meryddin was to have such special powers.  They rode all morning and into the afternoon, this time without stopping for a leisurely lunch, and they spotted the hundred, which Gerraint thought looked more like two hundred, when they came to the open fields outside the town.  The great gate looked open in the small city wall, and they passed through untouched.  The watchmen shut the gate as soon as they were safe, and then they all went up to the top of the short stone and wood wall to look down on the enemy.

They saw a number of soldiers from the fort alongside the watchmen.  Just in case, they said.  Meryddin also stood there.  He grabbed Arthur and dragged him off to the fort, and did not stay to see the hundred turn and ride back out of sight.

“They have decided not to test the walls,” Ederyn said.

Pelenor looked up and down the well manned wall. “Smart move,” he said.

In the evening, several scribes sent by Dubricius penned letters to call up the fighting men for war.  Peredur pointed out that it would not do to send a call to arms to a chief who might be in rebellion, “Like a call to fight against himself,” he said, and the others saw the wisdom in that.  So, while they worked on a list of men they knew were faithful, Arthur and Gerraint sat around the chessboard.

“How long before we can move to meet the enemy?” Arthur asked.

Pelenor looked up and spoke with a straight face. “Maybe six months.”

“He didn’t even blink saying that.”  Gerraint dropped his head to the table and banged his free hand several times.

“I suppose we could push it to three months, but we don’t want to go without the full complement of men and prepared,” Pelenor said more thoughtfully.

“Thirty days,” Arthur suggested.

“Your move.”  Percival tapped Gerraint on the shoulder.

They finally decided sixty days, because the rebels were already gathering, and had been for some time.  The older men insisted any less would be impossible. It would not give them time enough to gather the food to feed an army, or make the spears necessary for those who might come unprepared.  Meryddin argued on the side of the boys.  He said the way this game got played, often it was the first to gather the semblance of an army who won, and sometimes without ever getting to the battle.  He strained his far sight to try and discern what the enemy might be doing.  He also sent out Druids to spy and report back.  They were the ones who identified eleven Lords who made a pact, though really there were only ten that were certain because Kai kept trying hard to convince Loth to stay out of it.

“Mostly Welsh,” one man reported over supper in the Great Hall.  “Mostly Lords still committed to the old ways.”  He probably should not have said that part.

Meryddin held back his anger with the words, “This is not the time for that.”  But Arthur could tell Meryddin was not happy.  When he mentioned it, Gerraint wondered when might be the right time for the old ways.

Arthur, Gerraint and Percival spent those months drawing up rules for the round table and the RDF, which is what they were calling the rapid deployment force.  Gerraint told the others how the rapid cavalry of the Franks, Visigoths and Vandals, and especially the Huns ran right over and destroyed the great Roman legions. “The day of the foot soldiers would never end, but it would never be the same as it was,” he said.  “Horses are the thing, and lances.”  With that in mind, they drew up plans for battle, that is, if the Lords of the Pendragon and the rebels should ever happen to meet in battle.

“But the Lords and old men will want to control the order of battle,” Percival groused.

“Not if we move before they are ready,” Arthur said. He had a plan for that.

They visited Bishop Dubricius on Sunday, and in fact made it a regular habit.  Percival said they ought to always go to church.  Arthur wanted the excuse to get away from Meryddin for a time.  Gerraint was willing, but sort of in the middle on the issue.

One day, Percival went dressed in his new tunic, white with a big, red cross painted on the front.  Arthur said it looked silly.  Gerraint said Percival was making himself into a target for archery practice, and he poked the boy with his finger where the cross met.  Percival showed some steam.

“I am a Christian and so is my mother and my father,” he squeaked.  Peredur stood right there and he put his arm around his boy.  He and Ederyn often went to church with the boys, and even Pelenor went, sometimes.

The Bishop took that moment to walk up and offered his insight.  “Arthur. I’ve been thinking about this round table club of yours and I understand one of the key ingredients is to make sure everybody is on the same page.”  All three boys nodded.  “Well, I think you need to decide if the club is going to be Christian and support the ideals of grace, charity, and mercy and defend the poor, the weak and the needy, or if the club is going to be pagan.  You know very well that those two ideas do not get along.”

“Christian,” Percival said quickly.  Gerraint held his tongue and deliberately did not look at Arthur so as not to influence anything.  Besides, he got busy trying to imagine what a pagan and Druid round table might be like, and he did not like what he imagined.

“Christian,” Arthur said, and Gerraint never asked about that decision.

Gerraint had the carpenters build a protective, hand cup toward the end of the longest spears he could find.  He had gloves made in boy’s sizes so they could grip the spears tight, under their arms.  He dared not invent Velcro, but he thought real hard about stirrups.

When the Lords began to arrive, Arthur grabbed the squires for some rapid training.  Soon, there were as many as fifty young men racing around the huge open court of the fort, the place where a whole legion of Romans used to gather in ordered ranks before moving out.  The boys brandished their makeshift lances and struck at the targets Arthur had set up, mostly at man-eye level.  There were any number of near misses in those weeks, but fortunately, none of the actual men walking around got skewered.  Most of the men just sat back and watched the game and laughed.  By the end of that time, some were taking bets on which of the boys would hit the target and which would miss.

R5 Gerraint: Rebellion, part 1 of 3

Arthur spent a year at Caerleon, fixing up the fort which proved as large, though not in as good a shape as the Bishop reported. Most of the men there were stationed under Uther, and now were well into their age.  With Peredur to guide him, Arthur let the eldest go for a small tract of land and a smaller pension.  Meryddin did not worry about the old men.  He set about recruiting young, untrained men yearning for adventure.  Gerraint took credit for putting that idea into the Druid’s head, and barely avoided offering the phrase “Be all that you can be.”  To be sure, it fit with Meryddin’s thinking, which as far as Gerraint could tell looked like a strong central government with high taxes.  But a strong central government was not the world they lived in.

They brought the administration up from Cadbury where the clerks had been dutifully collecting and recording the receipt of tax money for the past twelve years.  Of course, many of the Lords stopped paying at some point, not seeing any reason to continue to support a Pendragon who did not exist.  Precious little money got collected over all those years, but then the accounts did not exactly match, so Arthur let a large number of those men go as well.

Arthur came into the great hall one afternoon wearing a brand-new tunic, white with a bold dragon on the front.  Everyone ignored him.

Meryddin stood in the corner arguing with Ederyn about the training of the recruits.  Meryddin wanted them on horseback as much as possible.  Ederyn kept saying the foot soldier remained the basic element of any army.  To his surprise, Gerraint agreed with Meryddin.  Cavalry swept across the old Roman borders at an alarming rate and crushed everything in its way.  Just as well that Ederyn had as much chance of winning an argument with Meryddin as a ship had sailing directly into the wind.  Gerraint then considered lateen sails, but dismissed them.  He was not there to mess up history.  Besides, Gerraint stayed too busy arguing with his Master, Pelenor.

“You will get more money with low taxes than with high taxes,” Gerraint insisted.

“Now son, that doesn’t make any sense,” Pelenor responded, and threw his hands in the air in frustration.

“Think about it,” Gerraint came back.  “A man will pay a reasonably low tax, but most of a high tax will end up in the barn, hidden under the hay.”

“Then we will check under all the haystacks in Britain,” Pelenor said with a sigh.

Gerraint let out his own sigh of frustration. Pelenor just didn’t get it.  He dared not get into the notion that lower taxes spurred economic growth.  Meryddin would have squashed that idea as soon as it escaped his mouth.  Meryddin did not want economic growth.  He wanted subservience and a population dependent on his whims.  The man had some Brunhild in him, and because of that, Gerraint smiled when he found something he disagreed with Meryddin about.

Meanwhile, Peredur and his son Percival looked at the dais and debated the relative merits of raising it another foot or so in height so Arthur could be sure to look down on all of his guests, and Arthur shouted.

“Hey!  I like cavalry.  Set the taxes half way between.  I don’t want to look down on anyone.  That would be offensive.  I’m just a kid.  Give me a big table on the floor where me and all the Lords can see each other face to face, like maybe a big, round table.”  Arthur grinned.  “Now, what do you think?”  He modeled his new tunic.

“Nice.  Okay. Cute.  Good.”  No one showed any enthusiasm, and they went right back to what they were arguing about.

So, after a year of that, having found an honest accountant, and one good man to Captain the fort and train the new men, Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn wanted to go home.  Naturally, their squires accompanied them.

All three Lords lived in the British Midlands, not far from Caerleon.  Peredur and Pelenor had been good neighbors and good friends their whole lives.  Not many neighbors in Britain could say that. Ederyn lived just down the way from Peredur, technically in the province of Leogria.  He would be taking Percival there, but Percival would not be far from home.

“Why don’t we stop in my place first for a while?” Peredur suggested.  “It would give Percival’s mother a chance to see her son, and Pelenor, you always said you liked my wife’s dumplings.”

“There is that.”  Pelenor looked briefly like his mouth started watering.

Ederyn did not mind.  His wife died a few years ago from the flu, so he moved in no particular hurry.  He had servants, who were in fact slaves, who kept the place, and did so honestly no matter how long he stayed away.  Gerraint knew Ederyn was lucky in that respect, but that thought made him fear for the future.  He understood that Meryddin would eventually have his way all across Europe.  The Lords would be granted or buy or simply take more and more land and the free people in the big towns and cities would become peasants, and the people on the land would have no choice but to contract with the landowner for their service and become serfs.  Actual slavery would all but disappear as an unnecessary expense, but it would be small compensation.

Shortly after a long and filling lunch, the group came to a forest.  Gerraint only once wondered if this might be a haunted forest.  No such luck, he decided.  A mere half-mile in, and they came to a small clearing where Peredur suggested they spend the night.  It only turned three in the afternoon, but once the squires got the tents up and the fire blazing, they had the horses to rub.  Gerraint started in again on the idea of a rapid deployment force.

“We need a whole troop of men that can be called out on little or no notice.  They should be good at moving quickly and quietly to wherever the trouble may be. They should be trained to scout out the enemy without giving themselves away.  And most important, they should know when to engage the enemy and when to harass a large foe while regular troops are called up.”

Arthur put down his brush for a minute.  “You realize that would be a big expense.”

‘No,” Percival interjected.  “Let the squires do it.  We will all be young Lords eventually.”

“We would still need a small force at Caerleon to go out with whatever young Lord might be there at any given time.” Arthur mused.  “That expense might be manageable.  But the question is, how will we convince the Lords to do it, and at their own expense?”

“That’s easy,” Gerraint said.  “When they come of age and have proved themselves in some worthy deed, invite them to be members of the special club.  We won’t have to ask people to join.  No one will dare accept the shame of being left out.”

“I suppose the young Lords won’t have anything better to do than stay home and work as servants to their fathers for who knows how long.”  Arthur started thinking.

“And think how many second and third sons there are,” Gerraint added.

“Hey, I know!”  Percival got excited.  “You could use that round table idea of yours where all the young lords can see eye to eye.”

“Face to face,” Arthur corrected.  “But I think they will need more than an invitation, like when they join they should get a title of some sort.”

“Sir,” Gerraint said, but then he held his tongue because he realized he was in danger of interfering with history.

“Boys,” Pelenor came up from the fire.  “Give it a rest.”

The squires went back to rubbing down the horses before supper.

In the morning, the boys got up early and again they cared for the horses first and got them ready to travel before they started cooking for themselves.  That smell woke the men, and they stumbled out of their tents which the squires immediately took down and packed.  It looked like it would be a good morning.

While Pelenor contemplated thirds for breakfast, they heard the horses.  Everyone grabbed their weapons and hid as well as they could.  There came a moment of trepidation before they breathed relief. Bedwyr appeared with four soldiers from the Oxford fort, which sat right beside Bedwyr’s lands.

“Arthur!  Master Pelenor!”  Bedwyr shouted, even if they were all right there.  “We must ride.  There are rebels hard behind us.”

“Rebels?”  Peredur did not believe it.

“Some dozen Lords have secretly agreed they would have no Pendragon rather than a boy,” one of the soldiers said, while Bedwyr dismounted and tried to hurry the others.

“No time for that,” Pelenor said as they heard more horses coming on.  He sent Bedwyr and his soldiers down the road while his group got bows.  “Get those horses under cover,” Peredur helped. “Find good cover, but don’t fire until I fire.”

Ederyn bent down to Percival and said, “Just like we practiced.”

R5 Gerraint: The Test, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Angels?”

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

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

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

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

“Who is the Storyteller?” Percival interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And Tristam?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

Until next week

*

R5 Gerraint: The Test, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You promised.”

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

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

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

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

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