M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 3 of 4

Someone, not Charles because he died in the first strike, got to his horse and decided the battle had been lost.  He rode off, and near two thousand Franks followed him. Arthur and Bohort met in the center, and Arthur said something that raised Bohort’s eyebrows.

“Now we chase them.”

“What?  For how long?”

“All the way to Paris if necessary,” Arthur said.

“They will never stop unless they are forced to sit and make peace,” Gerraint added.  He and Arthur discussed it.  Arthur had been against it at first until Percival pointed out that if Amorica had a guarantee of peace, Lancelot might be willing to lead some of his men back to Britain.

“But who will hold the land and defend the border?” Bohort asked.  He felt trapped in the idea of defending the land and could not see alternatives.

“The best defense is a good offense,” Gerraint said.

“Can I quote you on that?”  Bedivere asked.  He and Uwaine had come up to join the conference.

“The Franks have two armies on the German border, north and south, in Swabia” Arthur said, having already talked to Lord Birch.  “They have more men in the Atlantique province and an army down in Aquataine, by the Burgundian border.  It made good sense for the Franks to let the sons of Claudus do the hard work against Amorica.”

Gerraint looked at Bohort, his friend.  “My scouts tell me the road to Paris is wide open and undefended.”

“Your scouts?” Bohort asked, and then remembered.  “Oh.”

“We go,” Arthur said, and he started out at a trot.  His men turned with him.  Only Gerraint, Uwaine and Bedivere waited on Bohort to make a decision.  They listened to the man swear, before he shouted.

“Bedwin.  You and your men bring the prisoners up to Lionel and then you can follow.  Tell Lionel to hold the line and kill any Franks who try to escape.  We will be a week.”  He saw Gerraint shake his head and hold up two fingers.  “Make that two weeks.”  He turned to Gerraint and could not help the sarcasm.  “After you, your majesty.”

“Thank you, your majesty.”  Gerraint returned the compliment, and the sarcasm, but with a smile.

Lancelot was not content with holding the line with the foot soldiers.  They had plenty of serviceable horses taken from Charles and deGuise.  He found seven hundred men who were reasonably good on horseback, and that gave him and Bedwin a thousand to follow Arthur.

Lionel spent the time grousing.  He did not want to have to guard three thousand Franks for the next two weeks. Arthur’s men had no interest in doing that, either.  Lionel spent a week carting all the Frankish leaders and chiefs to the nearest jails and prisons.  The rest of the Franks he kept there, on the fields, in the open.  He let them build fires, put up tents and gave them blankets.  He also gave them food to cook, once a day at noon.  But that was it.

The elves Ringwald and Heurst found Lionel early on and offered to hold the line at the trees in case any Franks got the idea that sneaking off into the woods as a way of escape.  Lionel was grateful, but he had to ask, “Does Gerraint know you are volunteering?”

“We don’t have to ask permission,” Lupen, the grumpy old fairy King said.  “We might get in trouble if we overstep our bounds, but I have met you, and you seem a reasonable man for one so very young.  I am sure you can keep this between you and me.  I mean, he can hardly complain.  He has Birch and young Larchmont flying all over the countryside.”

Lady LeFleur stepped up and spoke more to the point.  “Manskin, the King of the dark elves will watch the Frankish perimeter between sundown and sunrise.  Best you keep your men back in the night.  Ringwald and Heurst will stay in the trees during the day.  I understand your orders are to kill any who try to escape.”  Lionel nodded.  “I can assure you; none will escape by the forest or in the night.  Come along, Lupen.”

“Dear.”  The fairies left, and Lionel got down to planning.

Arthur’s foot soldiers pushed as far into Frankish lands as was reasonable, about half a day’s march.  They found a place where they could ambush the enemy on the road, and they waited in case Arthur reached a point where he had to make a hasty retreat.

Lionel kept the men in the center, to guard the prisoners, certainly, but also to guard the border.  He sent five hundred men to the lake, with orders to secure the road that lead to the port town, and also to patrol the coastal road.  DeGuise found a way down that coastal road with a thousand horsemen.  Lionel did not want any repeats.  Lionel also sent five hundred to the base of the Bringloren, the forest of the Banner Bain, to keep an eye on the Atlantique province and to hold the southern coastal road.  The Franks in the Atlantique were still an occupation force and that meant they pretty much had to stay where they were, but Lionel imagined they might try an end run in the south the way deGuise did in the north.  Then all of those men waited for Bohort, their King to return.

Gerraint lead the way down the Paris road, having done something similar back when they faced Claudus.  He drove the Franks ahead of him as refugees and burned the villages.  He only killed a few of the men who resisted.  Most of them he disarmed and drove off with a warning that they should be grateful being let go this one and only time.  The few he killed made the point.

There were two towns with walls on the route, but he bypassed them, not wanting to slow things down.   He gave warning that if they did not get satisfaction from the Frankish Kings, they would be back to burn the town and kill any who resisted.  He left them alone, but he set Larchmont as rear guard to watch for any enterprising young Lord or townspeople who might be tempted to come out and follow them.  At the same time, Gerraint hoped word that they wanted to talk with the king went ahead of him.

The two thousand Franks who escaped and rode away from the battle, and sometimes some locals with them, set numerous traps and ambushes along their route.  Lord Birch did not get fooled.  Those traps and ambushes were invariably turned on the Franks with dire consequences for the Franks.  Gerraint hoped that word went out front as well, and apparently, some information went ahead of them, because as they approached Paris, they found the villages deserted by the time they arrived.

While Gerraint watched over their progress, Bohort and Arthur argued until they hammered out an acceptable peace.  Arthur insisted they have some negotiable points where they could be seen giving the Franks some of what they wanted.

“The object here, as I see it,” Lancelot mused out loud.  “Is to get a peace agreement that both sides will keep, not to make a stone around the neck where one side has all the advantage over the other.”

“Border watch is sensible,” Arthur insisted.  “Representatives of the Franks that regularly renew the pledge of peace.  I would not suggest it, but I imagine they will insist on something.”

“I’m not sure I can be comfortable having Frankish Lords on my border, looking over my shoulder,” Bohort said.

“We have to be honest about this,” Lancelot continued.  “The Franks would leave their other borders at risk, but they could call up twice what the Saxons brought to Badon if they wanted.”

“There are ways to work things out, especially if there are men committed to peace on both sides of the border,” Arthur said.

“Marriage is a classic way to peace,” Uwaine said, and all eyes turned to him.  “Or so Gerraint tells me.”

“Saxon wife,” Percival pointed at Uwaine.

“Oh?” Bohort was interested.  “Does she?”

“Yes,” Uwaine said.

“Two sons and two daughters,” Percival added, and then Bohort had to think through some options.

“Gentlemen.”  Gerraint stuck his head into the big tent.  “We have news from Lord Birch.”  He got followed by a man dressed in plain hunter’s fare, but everyone knew he was not a plain hunter.

“Childebert, King in Paris has appealed to his brother Chlothar in Soissons for help.  The army in Austrasia is on the Frisian border, but Chlothar has some five thousand men at his call, mostly antrustiones with their pueri and they will be at Paris in about a week.”

“He has what?”  Bohort did not understand the terms

“Aristocrats, lords and rich men, often on horseback, with their peasant soldiers.” Percival explained.  He had taken the time to discuss thing with Gerraint who understood these things.

“The trustees are the king’s personal bodyguards.  They don’t have near the training, but you might think of them as Frankish RDF,” Uwaine added.  He listened when Gerraint talked.

“I don’t know,” Arthur said. “Childebert already has a reported four thousand men and another two thousand on the walls of the city.  That is already a match for our numbers.”

“By himself, Childebert might be able to turn us away from Paris,” Lancelot concurred.

“No.  You are missing the point,” Gerraint said.  “Chlothar is the brother you want to make peace with.  Theudebert, his son. rules Austrasia with Chlothar’s blessing.  Chlothar has already taken Orleans, since the death of his brother, Choldomer.  Childebert rules Paris and the immediate area, but he is surrounded by land ruled by Chlothar, and he knows it.”

“But with five thousand men added to what Childebert already has and we don’t stand much of a chance,” Bohort sounded calm about it.

“If we turn back now, the Franks will see that as weakness,” Lancelot countered.

“We have made our point, that we can hurt them,” Arthur said.

“You are still missing the point,” Gerraint interrupted.  “We talk to Chlothar.  Tell him we only want to make an acceptable peace.  As long as the Franks leave us alone, we will leave them alone.  Look at the advantages for him.  He will have one border he won’t have to waste men defending.  In fact, as a friend, Amorica can open up trade for the Franks with Cornwall, Wales, Britain, even Ireland.  That can bring riches to his lands.  Amorica still has a fine fleet.  It can help guard the Atlantique against Visigoths and Vandals, and the Channel against Saxons, Frisians, and Picts.  Look, with Amorica as a friend, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  You just need to explain that in a way he will understand.”

“But so many men,” Bohort did not sound convinced.

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

MONDAY

First, they have to make peace with the Franks.  Then Arthur and his men are stuck in Little Britain for the winter, and find no help for the home-front.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 2 of 4

“Larchmont!”  Gerraint called.  “Birch!”  The two fairy Lords appeared, because they had to, but they came disguised as hunters so the other men present might not flinch too badly.  “What resources do we have?”

“The usual,” Birch said.  “Not too many spooks, the soil being what it is.”  By spooks, Birch meant goblins, trolls and the like who lived underground and avoided the sun.  The granite and thick, sandy soil of Amorica did not lend itself to underground living.

“How about in the Banner, er, the Bringloren?”

“There are some.  What do you have in mind?”

Gerraint outlined his ideas and ended with, “Of course, Arthur may adjust things when he gets here, but this is the plan for now.  As for me, I am going to spend the next three days in prayer that this plan might actually work.”

It took a week to get everything set, but that was because the signal stayed in the hands of the Franks.  DeGuise got his men to the hill called Bain Rock.  When ready, he was supposed to light a smudge fire on the rock, one with lots of smoke that could be seen for miles.  That would be the signal for the Franks, and also for the British and Amorican soldiers.  But then it rained for three days and remained overcast on the fourth day.  Gerraint spent the time wondering how badly deGuise cursed the initiative of the young Lord who attacked the port.  If he tried to do an end run and surprise the Amorican army, that move ruined that option.  DeGuise, no doubt, feared that enough delay would allow Arthur to unpack and join the fray.  Gerraint wondered how badly deGuise cursed the weather over those four days.

Gerraint also wondered how much those days put deGuise’s men on edge.  They were behind enemy lines and every day increased the danger of being found.   Plus, Gerraint had some special things he activated just for the Franks.  There were bumps in the night, strange noises, lights, always in the distance, and men who ventured too far from the camp always disappeared.  DeGuise shortly stopped sending out scouts.

Meanwhile, Lancelot’s men abandoned the center without making it a show.  Gerraint had goblins with fires in the night and elves in the day, so from a distance it would look like the army still camped there.  In fact, while the northern half gathered by the lake and the old burned down fort that Arthur built, the southern half gathered just above an old, Roman style house where the occupants still spoke Latin and went daily to mass.

The battle would be on Margueritte’s farmland, a mere hundred and fifty-eight years before Margueritte got born.  In that place, the old Roman improved road came from Paris and cut through the Vivane forest on its way to the point end of the peninsula where Bohort had his residence.

Bohort came out from his capital and brought an additional five hundred horsemen, his version of the RDF, which Gerraint saw as his personal guard.  He kept them, and Lancelot’s horsemen, about fifteen hundred altogether, up the road, ready to ride to battle on the signal.  Lancelot himself had the fifteen hundred-foot soldiers north of the Roman house, about an hour’s march below the expected battle.  Lionel had the other fifteen hundred Bretons, as they called themselves, up by the lake, well hidden in the woods.  Arthur’s footmen, a final fifteen hundred, settled in behind deGuise and prepared to follow them through the woods to the battle.  Arthur himself, with Gerraint had the rest of Arthur’s men, about twelve hundred horsemen, by Arthur’s fort, on the road that came down from the port town.

The trap was set, now all they needed was clear weather.  It came, by Gerraint’s count, on the fifth day.  The sun topped the eastern horizon and there did not appear to be a cloud left in the sky.  The heavy smoke that went into the sky from Bain Rock became easily visible from the field.

The Frankish commander, a man named Charles, moved his men sooner than Gerraint expected.  He imagined the man would wait a couple of hours to be sure deGuise got in position, but he did not.  He had three thousand men on horse and two thousand on foot, which Arthur pointed out was a great investment in horse flesh for the Franks.  The time was coming when the only men who could afford to fight from horseback would be the Knights and Lords who had the means to keep riding horses.  Soon enough, armies would again be a preponderance of foot soldiers.  But these Franks were still coming out of their Hun influenced Germanic roots where tribes bred horses and some young men were raised on them.  They were only, slowly becoming a nation of farmers and Lords.

Charles brought his men up the road and spread them out to charge.  The horses thundered, right up to the edge of the forest, but they found campfires burning, tents set in order, all the signs of a military camp except men or weapons.  Arrows came from the woods, shot with deadly accuracy, but only one or two hundred.  Charles quickly backed his horsemen out of range.

“Bring up the footmen,” he yelled, and he sent them into the forest, knowing horses were no advantage among the trees.  Then Charles and his sub commanders conferred about what to do.  Some probably wanted to go ahead and invade down the Roman road as planned, but Charles likely felt concerned about leaving the bulk of the Amorican army at his back.  No doubt, many said wait until deGuise arrived, and in typical German manner, like the Saxons and Angles in Britain, the argument went on for some time.

Gerraint, of course, knew none of this.  All he could do was speculate, worry and pray.  They never had a plan where everyone got so spread out and where a timely arrival felt so crucial.  Even with the smoke fire to start the action, it would be hard to get so many men coming from so many directions, coordinated.

“We need some radios,” Gerraint mumbled.

“This will work.”  Percival leaned over Arthur’s horse to reassure Gerraint.

The look on Arthur’s face said, “Maybe.”

They found Lionel and his footmen moving into place.  Arthur and his men also moved up to be ready to charge, but they had to wait for Bohort to be in position to charge from the other angle.  Their twelve hundred horse against three thousand would not end up pretty.

“Lancelot will be there,” Percival said.  “He is probably already there if I know Lancelot.”

Gerraint nodded, but he became worried about the woods.  The elves and fairy Lords whose arrow fire drew half of the Frankish foot soldiers into the woods worked well enough, but then they were supposed to get out of the way and let Arthur’s men deal with the rest.  Fifteen hundred was probably not enough against deGuise’s thousand horsemen and the thousand footmen in their path.  the other half of the Frankish foot soldiers stayed in the fake British camp and kept low in case there were more arrows from the trees.

What Gerraint did not know was his little ones overstepped their orders, not that he got surprised.  A great mist—a thick fog came up in the woods and confused the Franks on foot as well as deGuise and his men who were leading their horses through the trees, coming from the other direction.  They dared not ride in the fog, and the horses by then were just as spooked as the riders by the noises and lights around them, and occasional animal roars that did not really sound quiet like animals.

When the line of horsemen and footmen met in the fog, there were several incidents and several killed before they figured it out.  DeGuise knew they had to get out of the fog and into the open.  He turned the footmen and they began to hurry.  That was a good thing, because, Arthur’s men were keeping back about twenty or thirty feet from the shrinking line of fog.

The instant the Franks began to come from the woods, Lancelot charged from one direction and Lionel charged from the other.  Some Franks tried to stay behind the trees, but they were easily taken by Arthur’s men coming through the woods.  Plenty of Franks died that day, but the most, by far, surrendered, including deGuise.  They no longer had the nerve.

One enterprising young Lord under deGuise managed to gather a hundred horsemen and rode off to help the Frankish cavalry who were being pummeled.  It didn’t help.

As soon as Lancelot’s men crossed the road, Bohort decided he could not wait for the Franks to get organized and up on horseback.  He charged, but since his men were in a line and strung out down the road through the forest, he was slow to impact the Franks.  Arthur, on the other hand, looked only once at Gerraint.  Percival lowered his lance and the men behind them followed suit.  Then Percival and Gerraint shouted, “For Arthur!”

The men responded with a deafening shout, “For Arthur!” and they charged, led by three old men, Arthur at sixty-one, Gerraint at sixty, and Percival, the youngster, at fifty-eight.  Their troops poured from the northwest and hit the Franks when many of the Franks were still on their feet.  They made a crushing blow that busted open the Frankish ranks and made a hole straight through to the other side.  And then, Bohort got at them from the southwest.  His strike, not quite as telling, but by the time he bogged down as the Franks got to horseback, Arthur had turned and came in this time from the southeast.

M4 Gerraint 3: The Frankish Peace, part 1 of 4

Gerraint went reluctantly to Amorica.  Arthur had gathered roughly twenty-five hundred men willing to make the trip, a far cry from the thousands that used to gather.  Six hundred were from Cornwall, and most of the rest were from Wales.  Not many came from Oxford or Leogria or the Midlands.  A few traveled from York, but none at all from the north.  Some came from the Summer Country and Southampton, but it was not like it used to be.

If Arthur was unhappy, he did not show it.  His face showed a hardness that he never had in his youth.  Gerraint chalked it up to age, but he suspected it had to do with the house tumbling down.  Britain turned out to be a house of cards.  Arthur kept it as long as he could, but one strong wind and it would all collapse.

Enid, on the other hand, became very unhappy, and she had no qualms about expressing her unhappiness.  They had children and grandchildren to care for, and Guimier, who kept busy ignoring all of the boys who were interested in her, pining away for a boy who did not seem to care about her one bit.  Gerraint had done his time.  It should be time for the younger men to take over.  Gerraint deserved to live the rest of his days in comfortable surroundings and should not have to gallivant all over the world.  It was not right, and it was not fair.

All Gerraint could say was, “I have to go because Arthur says Lancelot won’t listen to anyone else.  Sadly, I think that may be true.”

“But what if I lose you?”  Her lovely old eyes became moist, but she did not cry.  “We have come this far together, I want to finish the journey, together.”

“As do I,” Gerraint said, but he left anyway.

The crossing in late September went surprisingly well.  Later in the fall and winter could be rough in the Channel.  Gerraint hoped they could wrap things up quickly so they could get back home before the winter storms settled in.

Uwaine leaned over the railing for most of the voyage.  It comforted Gerraint to see it.  It seemed like old times, even if it did not do Uwaine any good.  Bedivere spent the day making friends with the crew, and only once remarked how he hoped they did not get squid-stopped this time.  Gerraint had to take a moment to remember.

Gerraint spent the time pondering the future.  He caught a glimpse of jungle, but he had no idea where in the world that might be.  He also tried to imagine a woman, because he had been male, with Festuscato, twice in a row, and whoever controlled his rebirths had figured out, early on, that three times in a row as the same sex made things too complicated.  So Gerraint thought of Margueritte and of women in general, caught a glimpse of skin a bit darker than his own, and tried to imagine what it might be like to be a woman.  It eluded him.  It all eluded him, but he figured he would get there soon enough.

Gerraint had turned sixty.  Historically, that seemed about the longest he lived.  For millennia, if he didn’t die young for one reason or another, he died at fifty-eight to sixty, which was actually longer than most people lived on average.  It presently seemed about as long as a man tended to live in Western Europe, provided he did not die in childhood, or get killed in some conflict, or have some sort of accident while hunting, or simply while toiling away at his regular job, invariably his farm, or die from some disease.  Geraint thought they had too much toil in his day and age.  But barring some early death, for all of those who died of natural causes, as they called it, sixty seemed about it.  Seventy would be a venerable old age.  And if, by reason of strength, one should live four score years, Gerraint thought, that would have to be an act of God’s grace.  Gerraint shifted in his seat because he stiffened up and thought further that maybe 80 would be a sign of God’s displeasure.

Theirs had been the first ship from Cornwall, by design.  They docked in the port they visited years ago, the one just up the road from the Lake of Vivane, inside the old border of Amorica.  Arthur chose it because it was familiar.  He used that port to bring his army back to Britain after the defeat of Claudus.

Percival had already arrived with men from the Midlands.  The son of Urien, the Raven, arrived there as well, the one whose name Gerraint could never remember.  There were men there from Somerset, Dorset and the south coast of Britain, with sons and a couple of grandsons of Gwillim and Thomas, brought by ships from Southampton.  All of that only added up to about six hundred men, a pittance, a token of days gone by.  Gerraint thought when his men arrived from Cornwall and Devon, they would at least double their numbers.  Arthur would be a few more days to arrive.  He had the farthest to go.

“Cousin,” Percival called.  They weren’t really cousins, but it seemed an easy term.  “Lionel is here, around somewhere.”

“I suppose he has come to ask our help somewhere,” Gerraint guessed.  After ten or twelve years of skirmishes, tit-for-tat, what Gerraint called guerilla warfare, the sons of Claudus were finished, and Lancelot had just about pushed the Franks back to the original border line.  Gerraint felt glad to hear that Lancelot, or rather Bohort who had been proclaimed King when Howel died, did not have any ambitions beyond a secure border.  Keeping it secure, though, would be tricky, at least until certain ambitious Franks dropped out of the picture.

“I don’t know where he could have gotten to.”  Percival craned his neck to give a good look around, over and through all the boxes, bags and whole wagons being unloaded.

“Have you set up a watch on the perimeter of the town?”  Gerraint changed the subject.

“Surely not.  We are in friendly territory.”

“Surely so,” Gerraint said, feeling a bit like Kai in the face of Bedwyr. “We are too close to the border to be truly safe, and the way Lancelot and the Franks have been playing cat and dog these twelve years.”  He shook his head.  “If Lionel knew we were coming and to what port, you can be sure the Franks know.  Such secrets are hard to keep, and I would not be surprised if the Franks tried to stop us before we start.”

Percival needed no other encouragement.  He started yelling.  “Get those boxes open.  I want everyone armed.  Owen, get your men out to the perimeter of the town and keep your eyes sharp.

“My lord?”  Uwaine stepped up.  Gerraint pointed.  “Get two watchmen up in the old church tower.  I remember there being a bell up there that can give warning but be careful.  It looks burned and ready to fall.  Let me know if it is untenable.”  Uwaine moved like he already had a couple of men in mind.

“Uncle?”  Bedivere stood right there.

“You just need to get our ships and men unloaded and ready.  I can see three more ships on the horizon.”

Bedivere gawked a moment.  “You have the eyes of a hawk.  You complain about losing your vision, but you can still see further than anyone alive.”

“And ears.”  Gerraint looked up.  “I hear horses, maybe a hundred, coming on strong.”  Gerraint stuffed the port papers back into the hands of the bureaucrat and yelled.  “Bows and arrows.  Now.  Get under cover.”

Lionel chose that moment to ride up with some twenty men.  “Franks!”  His word got the townspeople to scatter for cover.  Then the church bell began to ring.

Even with the bell, men yelling, people running like mad people, some still got caught and speared, and some died.  Gerraint stood, defiant in the open.  Bedivere grabbed him to drag him behind some crates, but he raised his sword and shouted, “Now.”  It seemed a pitiful few arrows, maybe forty altogether, but about twenty of the hundred or so Franks went down.  “At will.”  He shouted and finally allowed himself to be dragged to cover.  Perhaps ten more Franks hit the cobblestones before they turned and rode out as fast as they came in.  Uwaine later reported that a half-dozen more were taken out on the way out of town by the men setting up the perimeter watch.  All told, that became some thirty-five out of a hundred, and if the ones down on the ground and left behind were not yet dead, they did not last long.  Nearly a dozen townspeople got speared, including several women, and most of them died.

Gerraint’s, or rather Percival’s losses were less than a handful.  Bedivere said he would take thirty-five to five any day.  Gerraint pointed out it was more like twenty than five.  And defenseless people should count double.

Gerraint did manage to save two Franks from the slaughter, and he questioned them at length.  Lionel filled in the gaps of information until Gerraint had a good picture of events.  Lancelot had some thirty-five hundred men, but they were spread out from the lake to the Atlantic.  Lionel had some two hundred and fifty men camped in the woods by the lake.  He was afraid the Franks might march down the coast road in an effort to get behind Lancelot.  His fears proved true.

One Frankish Lord by the name of deGuise brought a thousand men down the road.  There were five thousand more Franks ready to burst through the center of Lancelot’s spread out position, but it would come when the signal was given—the signal that deGuise and his thousand were ready to pounce on Lancelot’s rear.

Lionel could not imagine how deGuise learned Arthur was coming, but from the attack, he obviously knew something.  Lionel felt relieved to see eight hundred men in the port town, with more on the way.  He knew his troop alone did not have the strength to hold back a thousand Franks.

“We don’t want to hold them back,” Gerraint said.  “We want them to give the signal, and then drive them from behind right into their own oncoming troops.  If nothing else, it should confuse the Franks long enough to fall on them and drive them right back to Paris.  That is where there is peace to be brokered.  As long as you stick to the border, the Franks will never stop knocking on your door, and it is too early in history for trench warfare.”

“I was with you until the last part,” Lionel said.

“It was clear to me,” Uwaine responded.  “Schrench warfare.”

“I thought it was wrench warfare,” Bedivere said, as an aside.

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 4 of 4

“And how is Gwynyvar?” Gerraint asked.

“Good.  Fine.  Gray and inclined to spend most of her time in prayer these days,” Arthur said.

Gerraint nodded.  “Enid much the same.  But she rides and gets about better than I do, truth be told.”  Arthur looked long at his friend.  In many ways Gerraint was like his first real friend, after Percival who was something like a younger brother.  He turned, then, and looked at his own hands, as if seeking some insight into his future.

“I used to have a grip,” he said.  “With Excalibur in my hands I used to think I was invincible.  Now, I imagine I can barely lift Caliburn, the sword I used as a squire and young man, like that George of yours.”  Arthur more or less pointed to the door.  “And that would probably come loose in my hand soon enough.”

“With me, it’s my eyes.”  Gerraint admitted.  “I used to be able to count the feathers on an eagle’s wings and now I am doing good to know who the person is across the room.  And my hair, quite obviously.”

Arthur grinned.  “And what are we old men supposed to do now?”

“About what?”  Gerraint wondered.

“About Lancelot, damn him.”  Arthur said, a touch of the old fire in his voice.  “He and Bohort and Lionel have taken the flower of our youth and squandered it across the sea in Amorica.  They say the sons of Claudus made peace with the Franks and the Franks promptly swallowed them and then pushed them until King Howel was backed up to one city and a small strip of coast.  They slaughtered whole villages; I am told.  The natives, the survivors, were reduced to refugees before Lancelot came.”

“I understand why Lancelot and the others would want to help.  It was the land where they were born,” Gerraint said.

“Yes, damn it, but he did not have to take half the kingdom to do it!”  Arthur clearly sounded upset.  “Worse, they repopulated the land with Britons loyal to the old ways.  They took advantage of the churches being burned, not that the church made much headway in Amorica.”  Arthur punched the table.   “I should be grateful they took so many druids from our shores, but Bohort, Lionel and Lancelot were good Christian men, especially Lancelot.”

Gerraint chose to change the tone a little.  “I still remember when old King Hoel, Howel’s father asked for our help against Claudus.  Claudus and his Romans had already killed Bran and Bohort the elder by then.”

“Yes, but we got there in time to stop Claudus in his tracks,” Arthur said.

“Yes, and you killed Claudus himself, or Bedwyr did.”

“I thought it was you.”  Arthur looked up.  “Or Pelenor.  I’m not sure.”

Gerraint shrugged.  “Even so, I can understand why Lancelot would not be fond of the sons of Claudus, and the Franks.  Claudus killed his mother and father Bran, and now the Franks are pushing Claudus’ sons to finish the job.”

“Oh, I understand,” Arthur said.  “And now that Howel has died without an heir I understand all the more.  Bohort has been proclaimed king, and out of deference to the people, he has decided they don’t want anything to do with Rome, or even anything associated with Rome”

“I thought Howel had a daughter,” Gerraint said.

“Belinda.”  Arthur nodded.  “But that unhappy affair with Tristam.”

“Oh, yes.  I had forgotten.”

“The point is, I did not expect Lancelot to take the flower of Britain with him, and he has decimated Wales as well.”  Arthur said.  “Many have even taken their families and peasants with them.  Whole villages have crossed the channel to help repopulate Amorica.

“You know they are calling it Little Britain now.”  Gerraint interrupted.

Arthur nodded.  “And I understand that after twelve years you can hardly get along in the countryside there unless you speak Welsh, or British.”  Arthur added, then he looked cross.  “But you are getting off the point.”

Gerraint was not yet sure what the point was.  “But look,” he said.  “I thought Medrawt was at least working on holding Wales together.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and let out a few soft invectives.  “Medrawt has kept some of the Lords in Wales by granting them the land of those who left.  He has no authority to grant land and I see civil war if those Lords ever do decide to come home.”  Arthur grew in steam again.  “The land was not his to give!  Those chiefs who are with Lancelot are losing their land without knowing it.”  Arthur stood and turned to the wall where Excalibur hung for seventeen years, since Badon.

Gerraint also stood because his knees needed it.  “Surely it can’t be as bad as all that.”  Gerraint spoke hopefully.

“It is,” Arthur said calmly.  “We have been at peace too long.  A whole generation, the young generation has abandoned Britain and the half of Wales to fight across the sea and search for adventures.  Meanwhile, there is blond hair as high as York.  Gerraint.”  Arthur whipped around, grabbed his friend by the wrist and looked up into his eyes.  “When I die, what will stop the Saxons from overrunning the whole of it?  There is nothing left but old men and defenseless villages.”

“If Britain falls, Cornwall might not be far behind.”  Gerraint confirmed.  “But Wales, too?”

“Oh, Medrawt may hold Wales for a time,” Arthur said in echo of Gerraint’s own thoughts.  “He can have the Welsh, but the rest cannot stand.”

“But still.”  Gerraint held back just a little.  “Can it be that bad?”  He wondered.  He knew he stayed out of touch, in his own little realm on the edge of the world, but still.

It is!”  Arthur fairly shouted.  “Gwalchemi says the Scotts have concluded a peace and you know they will be looking south.  Gawain says there have been renewed landings along the Norwegian shore, hard against the Midlands.  And in the south, in East Anglia there is much stirring, and the Saxon Shore is even worse.  Don’t you understand?  Don’t you see?  It might have been different if my son, if Gwynyvar’s and my son, Llacheu had lived, but Kai lost him for me so long ago.  Now, when I die, there will be no one to fill the gap.  What good is life if on my death everything unravels?  I will have wasted my days.  Everything will have been for nothing.”  Arthur had to pause then to catch his breath.  Gerraint thought Arthur’s grip seemed just fine, and he extracted his wrist carefully from Arthur’s clutches.  Arthur went on more softly.

“We have been at peace too long.  Lancelot must come home.  I will make him Pendragon before I go and he will hold the realm together.”

Gerraint thought long about that.  Lancelot was not young, himself.  He turned maybe fifty-two or fifty-three.  Gerraint guessed.  But the people would listen to him.  They had already.  And they would accept him in the role.  And he would have the strength to tell Medrawt and his Welsh supporters to stick it.  It might work.  Still, he had to ask.

“What of your nephews?”

Arthur’s look turned sour and then softened.  “My sister Morgana’s sons have little in the way of leadership skills.  Gawain does well watching the Norwegian Shore, but that is about his limit.  The only other choice there is Garth, and I will have to ask him to take over for Bedwyr.  Gwalchemi, in the North has no leadership skills to speak of.  And Medrawt.”  Arthur paused for a few chosen words before he explained.  “Medrawt is only interested in Medrawt.  He says what he thinks people want to hear, and makes a great show, but his only real interest is to steal from people to benefit himself.  He would be the death of the realm, that devil’s son.”  Arthur shook his head and once more reached for Gerraint’s hand.  “Lancelot must come home.”  He emphasized his words with his touch.

“But why me?”  Gerraint got short with his words, but Arthur understood what he asked.

“Because he respects you.  He may come home if you ask him,” Arthur said.

“And you haven’t asked?”  Gerraint was just getting things straight.

“Of course,” Arthur said, once more getting hot.  “I’ve told.  I’ve ordered.  I’ve asked.  Gerraint, I’ve done everything except beg.”

“And so?”

“And so, I intend to bring together what loyal men are left to me and go and, by God, make him come back,” he said.  Gerraint felt dubious, but he held his tongue.  “You have some time,” Arthur explained.  “I don’t plan to sail until August.  I will be counting heavily on the men of Cornwall.”

Gerraint nodded.  “Uwaine will raise the men,” he said.  “And I will write letters to Gwillim and some others.  What of Ogryvan and the north of Wales?”

“Can’t be counted on,” Arthur admitted.  “But Uwaine?”

“He will do it,” Gerraint assured Arthur.  “I have another duty to attend.”

“August, no later.”  Arthur became adamant.  “My friend.  I won’t live forever.”

“Is my husband being morbid?”  A woman’s voice came from the doorway.

“Gwynyvar,” Gerraint responded.

“My dear.”  Arthur acknowledged his wife.

“Pay him no mind, Gerraint dear.”  She stepped up and they kissed cheeks.  “He speaks of dying all too often these days.”

“Don’t we all?” Gerraint asked.

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 3 of 4

Gerraint thought about Uwaine’s wife.  Uwaine brought her home not long after that business with the Graal cleared up.  She was a Saxon, a buxom blond with just the right amount of freckles, as like to Greta as one might find.  Neither Gerraint nor Uwaine ever said anything about that.  Uwaine’s mother never got used to her as long as she lived, but their neighbor, Morgana was good to her, and she and Morgause became friends.  Odd how things sometimes worked out.  The girl, fifteen years younger than Uwaine, but in the last thirteen years or so she gave him two sons and two daughters so Gerraint supposed there were no complaints.

“George.”  Gerraint said suddenly, as he brought up the rear, leading his charger with the wrapped hoof.  “Seems to me I recall a George in British history.  Can’t remember any details, though.  I suppose that chapter is not yet written.”  He got silent for a moment before he shouted.  “For England, Saint Michael and Saint George!”  He quieted.  “No idea what that means.”

They arrived at the village of Swindon the following evening.  Constance made them as welcome as she could.  She turned the servants toward a flurry of activity which Gerraint called unnecessary.

“Majesty,” Constance said.  “I had no word you were coming.”

George looked up at the word “Majesty,” but he said nothing.

“I wasn’t,” Gerraint admitted.  “You know at my age I would rather be home with Enid, or out fishing, but Arthur called, and I thought to take the long way around to visit my old friend.”

Constance looked pained.  She looked away and nearly let go of some tears.  “My Lord passed away last winter,” she said.  “It was a mercy.  He stayed helpless in bed for too many years.  He begged me not to tell anyone or send word.”

Gerraint reached out and held the old woman, and she did let out a few tears.

“I’m very sorry,” Bedivere said.

Shortly, Constance led them to the graveside to pay their respects.  “The swiftest of men.  Steadfast as a rock.”  Gerraint named him, while George got the little cross his mother had worn around her neck out of his pouch and spent a few moments in silent prayer.  After, as they returned to the house, George turned to Bedivere.

“The famous Bedwyr of Arthur.”  He was just checking.  Bedivere affirmed.  “And Gerraint, King of Cornwall, the terror of Badon and the Lion of Cornwall,” he finished.

“Exactly,” Bedivere said.

“Praise God’s good hand for placing me in your company,” George said.  “I could not have asked for more.”

Gerraint overheard, but he chose silence.  He did not act as such a terror anymore, and he never was as much as the tales said.  He wondered, looking around the village of Swindon, seeing mostly old men and women, what would become of Britain after his days?  Loth had gone, and now Bedwyr.  What would come when Arthur died?  He wondered if that might have been why Arthur sent for him.  Perhaps Arthur was dying.  He tried not to think too hard on that.

After two days of good food and two nights of soft beds, with Bedivere no longer in danger of opening his wound, provided he behaved himself, the three travelers continued toward Bath and Badon where they would ride around the point of the channel and head for Caerleon.  George rode most of the way in silence and only asked once why Gerraint insisted on stopping every couple of hours to walk around.

“Because if I don’t,” he explained.  “I’ll stiffen up and you will have to carry me on a stretcher.”

They spent the evening in the wild some distance from Bath as they found no convenient village inn.  Gerraint wanted at least one night under the stars, and besides, Constance, or someone, had ridden out in advance and told people that he moved on the road.  He all too constantly got stopped and awed.  It was not like the old days when people would ask, Gerraint who?  Heck, in those days they asked, Arthur who?

That evening, they had a visitor.  He came right after sundown, glowing in elfish armor, and standing tall as a man, though Gerraint knew it was not his natural look.  His helm looked plume encrusted in the Roman style, and his weapons appeared all gold and jewel encrusted as well.

Bedivere and George had their swords out, hearing the intruder before seeing him.  On first sight, however, Bedivere put up his sword and instructed George to do the same.  He did, but he could not resist staring.  Meanwhile, Gerraint snored.  It took a bit to get him awake.

“Great Lord.”  The warrior bowed, deeply.

“What news, Lord Beechworth, and what brings you to Britain on this side of the Channel?”  Gerraint asked as he rubbed his eyes.  This time he was talking about the English Channel.

“The Lady Viviane has seen this young one in her heart and she knows there is greatness in his days to come, though she cannot say what that work may be for the clouds that cover those days,” Beechworth said.

“Yes.”  Gerraint started coming awake.  “I felt the same when we picked him up some days ago.  But what does Rhiannon want?”

“Lord, you know she has left the lake across the sea and moved court to the British Highlands since Meryddin passed over.”

“Er, yes.”  Gerraint nodded but he sounded hesitant.  He had not really thought about it since Macreedy informed him all those years ago.

“The lady has sent me to ask if she may train the youngster as she once trained Lancelot and Galahad.”

“Young man.”  Gerraint turned to George.  “This concerns you.  What have you to say?”

“I, I.”  George did not exactly know what to say.

“Spit it out,” Gerraint insisted.

George swallowed.  “I stopped believing in elves and fairies when I came to faith in the Lord.  How?”  He stumbled on what to ask.

“God works though all that he has made to affect all that he will.”  Gerraint said.  “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than you or I can dream or imagine, and don’t underestimate the creativity of the Almighty, or anything else concerning the Almighty for that matter.”  He shook his finger at the boy.  “But the question is, will you learn the way of the chiefs of this world, what soon enough they will call Knighthood?  Here are teachers offering to teach you.”

“Yes.”  George yelped lest the offer vanish.  “Only I promised my mother that I would first seek Arthur’s court.”

“There you have it,” Gerraint said to Beechworth, who did not understand exactly what he had.  He looked at Bedivere, but Bedivere merely shrugged.  “George will go with us to Arthur,” Gerraint explained.  “Then I will bring him to the highlands myself.”

“Very good, my Lord.”  Beechworth offered another bow, but he did not otherwise move.

“My best to your Lady and tell Brimmer the Dwarf to get cracking.  The boy needs armor that will fit him,” Gerraint said.

“Very good.”  Beechworth repeated himself again, but still did not move.

“Good to see you again,” Gerraint added.  “Go on, now.  Get small.”

“Lord.”  With that permission, Beechworth did get small, fairy that he was, and flew off at such speed, for all practical purposes he vanished.

George looked full of wonder, but before he could begin to ask questions in earnest, Gerraint already started snoring.

They arrived at Caerleon in due order.  Gerraint and his party were hustled into the Pendragon who sat at the Round Table looking morosely at all of the empty seats.  He got up when Gerraint came in and they embraced and passed pleasantries.  Then Gerraint introduced his party.

“Bedivere, you know,” Gerraint said.  “And this is young George, a Saxon we picked up under some rather unusual circumstances.”

“God’s providence.”  George announced and he fell to one knee.  Such formalities were rarely seen in the room of the Round Table, but George felt acutely aware that he was a stranger in a strange land.

Arthur’s face turned.  “You know no pagan has ever been allowed in this room.”  He shot at Gerraint, though the accusation was not strictly true.

“And still hasn’t,” Gerraint returned in kind.  “George is a confessing Christian.”

Arthur looked up.  He stepped forward, helped George to his feet and looked long and hard into the boy’s eyes.

“Great majesty.”  George mumbled and attempted to turn away, but the eyes of a great man are hard to turn from once they are fastened on you; and especially those of Arthur.

“I believe you are right,” Arthur announced at last and let go of the boy.  “This means something, I am sure.  But what?”

“It means, if nothing else, the Saxons are beginning to receive the word of hope for all men.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “This is another great victory for Arthur, I would say.  These years of peace have not been fruitless.”

“Perhaps,” Arthur said, returned to his morose attitude, and retook his seat at the table.  “My knees, you know.  Sitting is more comfortable these days.”

“Though the younger man,” Gerraint teased, and grinned broadly.  “Still, I seem to know what you mean, if I don’t sit too long.”

“Yes,” Arthur started, but Bedivere interrupted.

“Lords.”  He spoke up.  “Perhaps George and I could see to our rooms and leave you two to talk over old times.”

“Yes, yes,” Gerraint verbalized while Arthur waved them off.  Then Arthur had a thought.

“Big feast tonight,” he said.  “Seats of honor and all of that.  Don’t disappoint the lady.”  Bedivere bowed slightly in acknowledgement, and they left.

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

MONDAY

Arthur is set on fetching Lancelot, but first Gerraint has to keep his promise and take George into the British Highlands which are not exactly the British lands they expect. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 2 of 4

The pace felt leisurely and Bedivere stayed quiet most of the time, fighting his allergies.  That seemed one reason Gerraint allowed him to tag along.  His first squire, Uwaine, finally taught the young Bedivere to keep his mouth closed unless there was something worth saying.  Mostly Bedivere stayed good, so in all, it became a pleasant journey, apart from the occasional sneezing.  The days were warm, but not too hot.  The spring rains were mostly over.  The evenings were still cool through the hundred and fifties of the Julian calendar which made it roughly the end of May or early June.

They traveled across the south road along the coast for most of the way, only turning inland at the last as they came to the edge of the Shores of Wessex.  The nights also felt pleasant, devoid of rain, and the air, full of the fragrance of blooms.  Gerraint was glad not to have any allergies.

“Apples.”  Bedivere named the culprit.  “I would die in Little Britain.”

“Amorica.”  Gerraint insisted on the older name.  Bedivere nodded and sneezed.

After a time, they came into woods and immediately heard the sound of clashing weapons and men, shouting.  Bedivere hesitated and attended to his Lord.  “Aw, hell.”  Gerraint swore and nudged his horse forward.

A young man of about fourteen or fifteen, in armor too big for him, stood with his back to a tree.  A dozen men, Saxons, had him hemmed in, but one man looked cut and another appeared dead beside the body of a woman.  They were wary of the boy, though he hardly knew how to hold his weapon.

Gerraint did not hesitate.  He drove his charger through the Saxons, knocked several aside and several to the ground.  Bedivere came up behind with his lance and drove through one so deeply it wrenched the spear from his hand when the man fell.  Gerraint turned around by then and charged again, but a Saxon stabbed at his horse and Gerraint lost his grip.  Bedivere got pulled from his horse when he sneezed.

Gerraint got up, but he had no time to pull his sword as two of the Saxons grabbed him and held him.  Bedivere got a sword in his shoulder for his trouble and collapsed.  In the confusion, though, the boy tried to run.  He got caught and held for the chief of the Saxons, an ugly red headed man.

“You have caused us enough trouble,” the chief said.  He tore the helmet off the boy’s head and gave the boy a slap across his face.  “You and your mother.”  He stepped back and pointed.  The two men holding the boy shoved him to his knees and a third exposed the boy’s neck while everyone stood in silence and watched.

“No!”  Gerraint yelled and suddenly paused the action as he struggled to get free.  Then the Nameless one welled up inside him.  Gerraint did not resist the god he had once been, and in an instant, Gerraint no longer stood in the arms of the Saxons.   Nameless stood in Gerraint’s place, and he looked ticked.  He hated the cowardice of beheading.

He waved, and the Saxons found themselves huddled in a group twenty yards away from Bedivere and the boy.  The god of old took one step toward them and the earth shook beneath their feet.  “Tell Ethelgard, your Lord, that I have chosen the boy.  He is under my hand, and Ethelgard will be happy one day when the grown boy saves him from the fire.  Now, Go!  And do not look back.”  Nameless let out a small touch of his awesome nature and the Saxons trembled.  They did not dare stand but were afraid to fall to their knees and not obey the god.  The chief only got out one word.

“But the boy is a Christian.” 

Nameless smiled.  “And so should you be,” he responded.  “Go!”  He gave them a head start.  He sent them and their horses, save two horses, a mile from that location.  He sighed as he made three holes in the earth, three plain crosses, and then he left the Saxon language of the boy behind as he traded places in time with Greta, the Dacian Woman of the Ways.  Her healing hands were needed, and Nameless felt sorry he was not allowed to heal by divine fiat.  Greta’s armor adjusted automatically to her new height and shape.  She knelt beside Bedivere who knew the armor well even if he did not recognize her, exactly.

“That was stupid of me,” he said.  “I should learn to time my sneezes better.”

“Ha!”  Greta humored him while she loosened his hauberic.  The wound appeared not too deep, and well away from the heart, but she imagined some blockage needed to be cleaned out.  Bedivere would live, but he would need a month or so to heal properly.  “Boy.”  The Saxon, the Nameless’ gift, came to her tongue.  “Get me a cloth of some kind.  Clean as possible, and water.”  The boy stared at her.  “Hurry, hurry, hurry.”  Greta said and shooed the boy toward the horses.  He went but paused a long time near the bodies of the dead Saxons and the woman.  In that time, Greta found the sliver of metal she looked for.  It made the wound bleed all the more, however.  “Hurry,” she repeated, and the boy brought what she needed.

“Hold it here.”  She showed the boy and gathered the moss she needed which would act as an antiseptic cover for the wound.  When Bedivere got bandaged, Greta asked about the woman.

“My mother.”  The boy confirmed, and she held the boy and let him cry on her breast for the longest time.

“Water.”  Bedivere interrupted at last.  He struggled to his feet, but Greta had the skin handy and got up to give it to him.  The boy went to his mother’s side, his eyes were very red, but his tears were dry for the moment.  The three graves sat nearby.  Greta took another look at Bedivere’s shoulder, removed the bloody cloth, rinsed it and wrung it out, and tied it tight with the cleanest part she could find against the wound.

“What is your name?” she asked the boy as she came up beside him and hugged him again.  She gave him every ounce of maternal love and care in her.

“George,” the boy said.  He stayed on his knees.  He looked up.  “But I thought you were different.” 

Greta nodded.  “I am.  I’m just visiting here.  These are Gerraint’s days.”  She did not explain any further than that.  “I will not be far away,” she said, and stepped back before she left and brought Gerraint back into his own place.  Gerraint moaned a little and rubbed his arms.  Those Saxons had not been gentle on his old bones.

“Sixty equals eighty,” he told Bedivere.  “Three years in this world is like four in the Storyteller’s day.”

George looked up.  He understood the Cornish dialect and also the common Gallic of Arthur’s court.  Gerraint felt glad he thought of that, too, or rather, Nameless thought of that.

“I understand,” George said with sheer amazement.

“I don’t,” Bedivere confessed.  “But Lord Gerraint talks like that sometimes.  You get used to it.”

“No, I mean the words, the very words I am speaking.”  George touched his lips as if searching for the magic.

“A gift,” Gerraint said and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Praise the angel of Saint Michael,” George said.  Gerraint raised his eyebrows.  The Nameless god was neither angel nor saint, but he said nothing.

“Better take care of business and move on,” Bedivere suggested, as he walked to the first body.  Gerraint nodded, but he had the boy help and made Bedivere stand aside.  

“Yes.”  George understood perfectly well.  “Red Ulf is no believer in the Lord.  I doubt he will be frightened by the angel.  He may come back.”

Gerraint shook his head as they lowered the Saxons in their graves.  The dirt automatically came back, pressed down tight, and the crosses set themselves in place, dug deep and immovable in the ground.  “I doubt he will be back today,” Gerraint said.  “But all the same we should move on.”

They lowered George’s mother last of all.  “But why did the angel make three crosses?” he asked.

“Mustn’t assume,” Gerraint said.  “No telling how deep the word has gone across the Saxon Shore.”

“Oh, very much,” George confirmed.  “And into Anglia and even Kent, but the chiefs are still mostly pagan and want to keep to the old ways.”

“So, why were they after you?” Bedivere asked the obvious question.

George looked away.  A long silence stretched out before he answered.  “My father was a chief who spoke for the Lord.  Ethelgard killed him, at least Mother thought so.  He was afraid, I think, that we might expose his murder.  The people would kill him.  My father was well loved.”  George got down by his mother’s grave to pray, but Bedivere had another question.

“But what brought you into Britain?  Were you running away?”  Gerraint took Bedivere aside to give the boy some space.  He checked Bedivere’s shoulder to be sure it had not started bleeding again and then they rounded up the horses.  Gerraint’s horse had escaped the sword thrust but became hobbled, having torn a hoof in flight.  Bedivere’s horse seemed fine, and with the two Saxon horses, they would do well.

George got up after a while, but he had not forgotten the question.  “I was on my way to the court of King Arthur to see if I could train to be a Knight of his Round Table.  It was not safe to stay among the pagans.”

Gerraint nodded.

“What will Arthur say of a Saxon?”  Bedivere whispered.

“Not unprecedented.”  Gerraint responded.  “Consider Uwaine’s wife and the love Gwynyvar and Enid have lavished on her.”  He turned to George and smiled for the boy.  “You may as well ride with us.  That is where we are headed.”

The boy looked hopeful.  “But what happened to the Lady?” he asked.  He looked around and seemed to miss her for the first time.

“Greta?”  Gerraint knew to whom he referred.  “She’s gone home,” he said, as he helped Bedivere mount.

“Does she live around here?” the boy asked.

“No.”  Gerraint shook his head.  He stepped over to help the boy up.  “Dacia, just north of the Danube.  But the important question is when, and the answer is roughly four hundred years ago.”

George swallowed.

“Not a ghost,” Bedivere said, quickly.  “She was really here in flesh and blood.”

“But?”  George got confused.  He looked at Gerraint, at Bedivere, and back to Gerraint before he finally settled on Bedivere.  “I see what you mean about the way he talks, but I can’t imagine getting used to it.”

Bedivere merely shrugged, and it hurt, so he started out at a leisurely pace and hoped he did not run into too many painful dips and bumps in the road.  At least his sneezing temporarily stopped.

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 1 of 4

Gerraint:  The Last Days of Arthur

After 479 A. D., Britannia

Gerraint watched Belle tug open the heavy drapes that covered the window.  They were almost too heavy for her, but Coppertone helped, and between them both, the girls managed.  The sun would be up soon.  Normally elves and pixies did not get along well, but these two at least made some sort of peace between them.  Gerraint felt glad for that.  The older he got, the more he appreciated peace.

“Your thoughts?”  Enid turned to him and snuggled for a minute into his shoulder.  He looked at her and loved her as much as he did the first time he saw her.  He kissed the top of her head before he answered.

“I was thinking what it would be like to grow up a young girl.”

“Not much different than a young boy.”  Enid smiled up at him.  “Why?”

“A stray memory,” Gerraint said.  “A life I won’t live for two hundred years.  And my best friends will be my older brother and my little sister, even though my little sister will be much prettier than I will be.”

“Every girl thinks that of her sister,” Enid said.  “Otherwise, they would have no reason to fight.”

Gerraint raised his brows.  “Fighting is something I try to avoid these days.”

“I bet you will be plenty cute,” Enid said.  “I am just sorry I won’t be around to see.”

“You, my dear, will be in such heavenly bliss I doubt you will even remember.  I am the one who will have to continue to toil in this hard and cruel country,” he said.

“So you say,” she answered.  “But I am still sorry.”  She pulled herself up for a proper kiss and Gerraint paused before he swung his legs to the side of the bed and sat up.  A slight moan escaped his lips.  He rubbed his shoulder where he once took a wicked wound.

“And to think, I have to get old like this over and over again,” he said, before he stood.  His knees creaked a little, but he knew they would unstiffen soon enough.  He threw on his doublet, tightened his belt and stepped barefoot to the door.  “Get big,” he said.  The Pixie, Coppertone did so with a nod.  The elf maiden, Belle looked for all the world like a beautiful young woman, early to mid-twenties, though she was three hundred years old.  The Pixie became only four feet tall, not inhumanly short, and looked more like a mature middle-aged woman, though she was also three hundred years old.  Her green and copper skin color faded when she got big.  “Help your mistress dress,” Gerraint said, and pointed to Enid who already started pulling back her long silver hair.  How black it had once been!

“I’ll get her shoes.”  Coppertone cried and skipped happily to the closet to retrieve them.  She did not act much like a matron, but Gerraint supposed he could not really do anything about that.

Gerraint headed toward breakfast where he got waylaid by his daughter of age, Guimier. She was born the day after Gerraint turned forty-three, a month after the battle at Badon finally brought peace to the Saxon Shores.  Gerraint wondered briefly if Margueritte bothered her father when she fell in love with Roland.  He thought, Well, at least Guimier was not locked in a tower with her memory wiped, and no one tried to feed her to a dragon, or burn her at the stake for being a witch.

“Father,” she said.  “Caradoc is still not found and Cador is searching everywhere for him.”

“No.”  Gerraint said the word before he heard any more.  Guimier, sixteen, going on seventeen, looked beautiful, like her mother.  Gerraint, nearly sixty, found he had even less patience than when he was young and brash.  Besides, they already had this conversation several times.

“But I don’t understand,” she whined.  “It would be so easy for you to ask your little ones to look.”

“No, that is not their job,” Gerraint said.

“But if you ask them.”

“No,” he repeated.  He really wanted breakfast, not an argument.

“It’s not fair.”  Guimier stomped her feet and pouted.

“Look.”  Gerraint spoke more sweetly to his daughter whom he hardly had the will to resist.  “Caradoc’s father knows full well where his son is, and Caradoc will be found if and when he wants to be found.  He is his own man and will be twice as unhappy as you if I interfere with his own decisions about his own life.”

“But.”

“Guimier.”  Gerraint put his arm around his daughter and gently guided her toward the breakfast table.  “If he loves you, he will be found by you when he is ready, and not before.  Now, let this be the end of it.”

Guimier found a tear but said no more.  She quietly accepted the plate her father fixed for her and ate in silence. Gerraint felt glad this so-called great love of hers had not had an ill effect on her appetite.

After breakfast, Gerraint dressed and found his horse already properly saddled and his bags properly packed.  Gerraint checked everything anyway.  Arthur’s summons had said nothing of urgency, and Gerraint was not of the age to hurry in any case.

“Must you go?” sweet Enid asked, already knowing the answer.

“The Pendragon has called,” Gerraint said.  “Cornwall is secure.  Peter has it all in hand, and he has James and John and a good mother to keep him straight.  But this kingdom has known peace these last seventeen years because of Arthur.  He calls now.  I must go.  I will take my nephew, Bedivere”

“But what of Arthur’s nephew?”  She avoided calling the man Arthur’s bastard son.  “Men are clamoring for Medrawt to take over.”

“The north, mostly.  Some Welsh.”  Gerraint said.  “But I have a suspicion that old Arthur may have one more great deed in him before that day.  Who knows how it will turn?”

“Memory?” Enid asked, wondering if he might have had a glimpse of the future.

“No, my dear,” Gerraint said.  “You know tomorrow and the next hundred years are always a blur.  I do not know what will happen tomorrow.”

“Because tomorrow has not been written.”  Enid interrupted him with the words he had spoken so many times before.  He kissed her forehead before he reached out with his heart to Avalon, the island of the Kairos.  He called to his armor.  He became clothed instantly in his chain and leather, his long boots, fingerless gloves, and the cloak of Athena which covered over all.  He left his helmet on Avalon, but brought his sword to him, the sword he called Wyrd, the Sword of Fate.  It fit across his back, and Defender, his long knife, stayed across the small of his back where it could come quickly to hand.

“Surely you won’t need these.”  Enid touched the weapons.

“Not likely,” Gerraint responded, but he could hardly ride without them.  He would have felt naked.  “God keep you,” he said, and turned to her and kissed her properly.  She began to cry and spoke softly.

“I feel as if I will never see you again.”

“You will,” he assured her.  “No matter what happens, as long as there is breath in me.”

“Daddy.”  Guimier cried with her mother and hugged him, all quarrels forgotten.

Gerraint climbed quickly on his steed.  Many of the men wanted to go with him, but he would have none of it and only allowed young Bedivere to tag along.  Young!  Gerraint thought to himself with a chuckle.  Bedivere was married and in his thirties.  All the young ones were at or over thirty, including his own sons.  Soon enough, they would become the old men, and Arthur and Gerraint and Percival would be gone.

Kai had already gone.  But Gwalchemi had Caerlisle well in hand.  Sadly, he became the kind of man who would seek peace through compromise rather than through strength.  Looking at the horizon, maybe that was wise.  Gawain had Edinburgh and rumor had it that he married his daughter to a Scottish Prince.  What could be more compromise than that?

Bedwyr remained ancient and bed ridden.  He had moved his family some years ago to Swindon and left Oxford in capable hands, but it probably would not last after Arthur.  Already, there were Saxon families moving into the empty and deserted lands in the Midlands.  They did not come as an invading army, though it became an invasion in a sense.  But the men, mostly farmers, came with women and children, and how does one fight that?  As long as they settled down and became good neighbors, what was there to complain about?  Gerraint knew it would not be long before the Saxons finally overran the country.  Once Arthur had gone, only the old men could stop them.

Gerraint rode out of the main gate with his head up.

Perhaps the northerners were right, Gerraint thought.  Medrawt seemed a relatively young thirty-five or so.  He might make a difference if invested now.  But then he shook his head.  The Angles and Saxons would find only old men in the north standing between them and York.  Cornwall would stand, but for how long?  Medrawt might be able to hold on to Wales, but that seemed about it.  Things were even worse, now, than in the days when Ambrosius and Uther had to wrench the leadership from Vortigen’s hands.

There were great men in those days, like Budic of Amorica and his son Hoel, Evrawk and Nudd, Laodegan, Gwynyvar’s father, and Ynywl, Enid’s father.  And then Arthur had his peers.  A whole host of names and faces came to Gerraint’s mind, though most were now gone.  Then Gerraint’s sons followed in the generation that included Lancelot.  But who follows Lancelot?  Galahad was already gone.  Caradoc was missing.  Gerraint could only name a few, most of whom he only heard of from Guimier and her friends.  There had been seventeen years of peace, and the young men were not turned to war as they had once been, and those who were had gone with Lancelot to fight in Amorica against the Sons of Claudus and the Franks. Then again, perhaps Gerraint simply got old and out of touch with the younger generation.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 6 of 6

Diogenes caught a glimpse of who stood in the courtyard.  He changed to Gerraint as soon as he got through the window and finished helping Enid and Guimier down.  Gerraint gave Guimier a fatherly kiss, and kissed Enid like a faithful husband and went away again so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celtic gods, could come from the deep past and stand in his place.

The first thing Danna did was make Coppertone, the pixie stop fluttering around the courtyard and change into her big form.  She turned from a two-foot tall clawed and winged harpy-like creature into a four-foot-tall matronly lady, a bit round, and with gray hair sneaking into her brown.  Danna found Belle, an elf maiden short of three hundred years old, and made sure her glamour of humanity was secure.  She thought to have Belle and Coppertone tend to their mistress and the princess, by which she meant Enid and Guimier.  Belle curtsied, though Danna was not there to see, she knew Danna would see.  Then she hurried to Enid’s side.  Coppertone went skipping along the side of the great hall, despite appearing far too old to skip like a little girl.

“Can’t take the pixie out of the pixie,” Danna thought with a smile before she spoke to the beauty that stood in the courtyard.  “Rhiannon.”

“Mother,” Rhiannon answered as Danna joined her.  “Coppertone flew all the way to the Lake of the Moon to find me, and I am glad she did.  Arthur’s soldiers have the fort again, and twenty-three prisoners.  But these three are the ones from Sussex making the guns and powder.”

Danna nodded.  She raised one hand and made a fist.  Those three disappeared, and no one asked where they went.  Lockhart, Katie, Percival, Thomas, Peter, and Tristam walked up from one direction.  Arthur, Gwynyvar, Bedivere, Guimier, Enid and her two handmaids walked up from the other direction.  Piebucket and Bogus the dwarfs walked up from a third direction.  The dwarfs had in mind to complain, but Danna pinched her fingers so neither dwarf could open his mouth.

Rhiannon made Odacer and Harwic appear.  Harwic was dead.  Odacer had a minute of life left.  “Gunter and Sven,” Danna called them by different names.  “We will meet again.”  Odacer said nothing.  He closed his eyes and died.

Rhiannon raised her hand and the wraith appeared, badly broken by the explosion.  “Mother.  What do you want me to do with this one?”

Danna did something before she explained.  “I have removed the compulsion of Domnu.  Lockhart, she will bother you no more.  I believe I will send her to Alice.  Alice may send her through the Heart of Time, back to her proper days.  Then Alice will have to put a hedge around the time gates and all the land between against the wraith, so the wraith cannot interfere with herself as she travelers through time, chasing after the travelers.”  Danna quickly held up her hand for silence.  “I don’t know if she can do that just yet.  The Storyteller is still missing, and things are still very confused.  Alice may need to keep the wraith in a safe place until that can be accomplished, but at least she will not bother you anymore.”  She looked around at the fort and generally at the sky as the wraith disappeared.  “Time flies,” she said, as the last of the sun sank into the west.

“Yes mother. I will be going over to the other side, soon, but there is one more.” Rhiannon tried to smile.

Danna did smile.  She kissed the goddess on the cheek.  “I know but be sure it is soon.”

Rhiannon found a genuine smile then and waved to the travelers.  “Good to see you all again.  Sorry, must run.”  She disappeared and took nearly all the little spirits with her.

Danna turned specifically to Boston.  “Be gentle with me,” she said, and went away so Gerraint could return to his own time and place.  Boston raced up, paused, and hugged Gerraint most gently.  He still said, “Ouch.”  He added, “And tell Alexis her services will not be needed, either on myself or on the wounded, dead, or dying in the fort.  I am sorry, but that is how it must be.  We fight our own battles and take our lumps as they come.”

“So we are learning,” Tony said, and the other travelers agreed.

“You will stay a few days before you move on?” Gerraint asked, and people nodded.  “The place is a bit of a mess right now, but Gwynyvar and Enid love Cadbury in the spring.”

Katie looked at the older woman that Gerraint indicated was Gwynyvar, and she got that groupie look in her eyes.  They all did a little on meeting Arthur, and Lockhart had the good sense not to say, “I thought King Arthur was a myth.”

Sir Thomas said, “So what was that all about?  What just happened?”

Percival turned to the Admiral.  “As I am sure Bedivere will tell you from years of following Gerraint around, sometimes it is better not to ask.”

###

The travelers spent a week in Cadbury watching Gerraint heal.  Gerraint sent Scorch and Spark home with his thanks, and the thanks of Arthur and Gwynyvar.  “Don’t forget us if you need to blowed up some more things,” Spark said, as they vanished.

Most of the little ones that came with Rhiannon, went home to the British highlands and the lake.  The dwarfs got to escort the Saxons back to Sussex.  “To put the fear of God in them?” Nanette asked.

“No,” Gerraint said.  “But it might put the fear of dwarfs in them.”

Boston finally laughed.

Sukki sat quietly, thinking about what she did in taking down the wall.  Nanette moped.  Katie and Enid, who had become quite friendly, both came to ask what was wrong.  Nanette did not want to talk about it, so Boston told, snooty little sister that she was.  “She is upset that Sir Thomas is taking all of Decker’s attention.”

“I am not,” Nanette denied it, but the women could tell.

When they got to the south coast, Sir Thomas gave them free passage across the channel.  Boston and Lincoln had determined that the time gate had to be on the continent.  “If not in Brittany,” as they called it, though Sir Thomas mostly called it Amorica, “Then right next to it.”

“Bad area,” Sir Thomas warned them.  “Back when; a man named Claudus took the Roman military left in Provence and Septimania and tried to reestablish so-called Roman rule in the provinces.  Truth is, he ruled under the Visigoths, and sometimes played the Visigoths and Burgundians against each other.  Then the Franks came.  Then the Ostrogoths came out of old Rome and settled things.  Provence, at least, came nominally under the Eastern Roman Empire.  Claudus thought that was great.  He took his army and tried to expand his territory.  The Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks did not budge, but Claudus managed to capture the Atlantique province, alongside Amorica and south to about Bordeaux.  Then he tried to take Amorica, and Arthur brought the army over to help his cousins.  Claudus was defeated and killed in the battle.”

“Move forward.  The Atlantique province is now tributary to the Franks, but the Sons of Claudus have gained power and are again threatening Amorica.  And the Franks are sitting back, watching, to see how it goes, because they have spent their forces for the time being driving the Visigoths south of the mountains, not counting Septimania.”

“And we are heading right into that mess,” Lincoln said.

“Not so bad,” Boston countered.  “We will only be there about a day inland.”

“We might go before they know we have arrived,” Alexis agreed.

“I know a port that is safe,” Sir Thomas said.  “At least it was safe last I heard.”

“Great,” Lincoln let out his full sarcasm.

The port turned out to be safe enough, but the travelers had to wait in the port for three days until Lancelot showed up with three hundred men on foot.  They would be escorted to the time gate and left in the morning.  Around noon, Lancelot, who rode in front beside Lockhart and Katie pointed to the trees off to their left.

“The lake,” he said.  “What the Franks call Dulac.  It is where the Lady of the Lake had her residence and held court.  She trained me to the sword as she trained my son, Galahad.”

Katie nodded.  “She has moved to the British highlands and the Lake of the Moon.  She says she has one more to train.”

“How would you know this?” Lancelot asked.

“Sometimes, you just have to trust,” Lockhart said, and Lancelot accepted that.

Later that day, Lancelot admitted that things were not going well.  “Bohort and Lionel are backed up to the west coast.  The King’s city is besieged.  I will be going with Thomas back to Britain to try and raise an army.  The Sons of Claudus with their Frankish help have wasted the countryside, slaughtering whole villages.”

“I wish you well,” Katie said.  “Maybe Arthur will help.”

Lancelot shook his head.  “Arthur will not prevent me from raising men at arms, though I hope they bring their families to repopulate the land.  But Arthur says he is getting too old for foreign adventures.”

That ended the conversation.  Alexis kept talking about how lovely the spring was, but Sir Thomas and Lincoln were almost as morose as the three out front.

They camped that evening before the time gate, in an open field on the edge of a great forest.  They stayed quiet most of the evening and took advantage of letting Lancelot’s men take the watch in the night.  The following morning, Sukki asked a serious question.

“How much longer do we have to travel?”

“Are we there yet?” Boston said, with just enough whine in her voice to make Lockhart chuckle.

“As I count it,” Lincoln said.  “We have twenty-four more time zones to go.”  He waved to Lancelot and Sir Thomas and paced the mule as Tony drove and they disappeared in time.

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

MONDAY

Having read the travelers’ encounter with Arthur, the Pendragon, and before that, their encounter with Festuscato and the Vandals in Rome, it is only right to share the stories of the Kairos from those same days.  First, to see how Festuscato gains the trust of both the Pope and the Empress, not to mention how he gained a wife.  Then, Gerraint in the last days of Arthur leading to his final battle, when all is lost.  Beginning Monday.

*

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 4 of 6

Percival handed back Katie’s binoculars and spoke softly. “I always thought the southwest corner of the fort-hill was the weakest part.  If we can get close enough on horseback, we might be able to breach the wall.”

“They will expect ladders,” Gwillim said.

“The southwest wall is shorter because the hill is steeper, but no one thought to compensate after they put the road in.  Men can sling ropes with hooks on that wall, and it should be no worse than a farmer clambering up to the roof of a barn to fix a leak.”

“Slim chance,” Decker said.  “But it might work if we can keep the defenders busy and make them keep their heads down.”

“We go with it,” Percival said.

After the dwarf supper, about two hours before dark, three hundred horsemen sounded like thunder along the road.  Every man had a rope with a makeshift metal hook attached to their saddles.  The road zig-zagged up the hill and watchers were surprised the arrows did not start on the last zig before the zag that ran along beside the wall.

“We have caught them napping,” Tristam said.  Percival knew better.  He kept his mouth closed and waited.  When the men were committed, the Saxon defenders rose up all along the wall and let off a volley of gunfire.  It was a ragged volley, but enough to be affective.  Some men and horses went down, throwing the charge into confusion.  The sound of thunder badly frightened the horses.  Many bucked or ran, bumped others or stumbled over the fallen ones.  Only one fell off the road down to the road below, but the attack faltered before the first rope got thrown to the top.

The defenders began to fire at will, picking out individual targets, though their muskets were not very accurate.  The horsemen still on horses picked up all of the fallen comrades they could, and leaving the dead behind, headed down the road back to the woods.  By then, the men on the wall pretty much stopped firing out of fear for their lives.

Decker and Katie fired three-shot bursts and slowly cleared the wall.  The others all fired their handguns a couple of times, though handguns at that distance were not much help.  Lockhart fired a few extra shots with his police special, but even he was not sure if he hit anything.  Most of the men made it back to safety, but they likely left a few wounded there on the hill.  No one said anything, but that was the way of it.  They felt terrible about that fact, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Up in the fort, Odacer yelled.  “What do you mean they got guns?  They aren’t supposed to have any guns.”

“Good ones, too.  Much better than our matchlocks,” Harwic said.

“They are the ones you must kill,” the wraith screamed as she appeared.  “Kill them.  Kill them.”

###

When the Saxons first took over, they grabbed some of the villagers, the ones who did not move fast enough.  They put the women to work cooking and cleaning.  They kept some men in the barn for heavy labor and fed them once a day.  The guards were too dangerous for such use.  They stayed locked up in the new dungeon rooms beneath the tower and were used for target practice.

Scorch and Spark fit themselves in, and nobody said anything about them being strangers.  Scorch helped keep the cattle penned and fed until they were ready to be slaughtered.  He tried hard not to set the hay on fire.  Spark kept the kitchen fires burning, and one older woman noticed and asked.

“You have come to free the Pendragon and his Lady?”

Spark nodded, but her eyes looked at the barracks where the powder got stored in a room separated from the Saxon sleeping quarters.  Gerraint told her and Scorch that they needed to set a fuse long enough to get away before the powder exploded.  Thus far, she did not know if either had been able to do such a thing.  She tried to go earlier with the women who cleaned the Saxon quarters, but got told to stay in the kitchen.  She felt frustrated, and imagine Scorch felt the same way.  Of course, she could not know, since the men and women were kept separated.

Spark and Scorch watched the men load those weapons and shoot at still targets, at first.  They practiced shooting altogether in what one of the head men called a volley.  Scorch felt fascinated by the fire and explosion that sent the projectile reeling into the distance, but he knew, somehow instinctively, that it was too early in history for these weapons.  He would blow up the powder if he could.  They could make more powder, but he felt one step at a time.

Scorch did feel the frustration, but he bided his time. When all the men rushed to the south and west walls, and the fort got generally in an uproar, Scorch took the chance.  He left the cattle and ran to the powder room.  He found a small piece of old, rotted rope that he knew would burn well, quickly, and easily.  He honestly did not make nearly a long enough fuse for a human, but Scorch was not human.  He could transform into flame and fly to the nearest campfire, where he could chew on some wood while the powder exploded.  He wanted to see that but decided to wait until dark.

Scorch backed out of the room, only to come face to face with the wraith and a dozen men down from the wall.  The wraith did something as the men grabbed him.  Somehow, he got stuck in human form and could not transform back into flame for a few minutes.  He could not even burn the hands of the men holding him.

“A fire sprite,” the wraith said.  “It seems we caught him before he could burn your powder.”

The head man swallowed at the prospect of a fire sprite touching the powder.  The wraith had no idea how dangerous that would be.  “Take him to the tower and lock him in one of the lower rooms.  I will want to question him.”

They dragged Scorch off, and Spark saw from the kitchen area and wondered what she could do now.”

###

Down in the dungeon under the great hall, Bedivere opened the door to look out to be sure no Saxons were presently guarding the door.  He closed it quietly again and gave the all clear.

“What did you do?” Gerraint asked, still sitting on the edge of his bed.

Arthur smiled.  “Bedivere and I picked the lock just after you went back to sleep, after Scorch and Spark squeezed through the crack under the door.”

“And nearly set the door on fire,” Bedivere added.

“I helped,” Gwynyvar said.

“She actually succeeded with her delicate touch,” Arthur admitted.

“You were right,” Bedivere said.  “These skeleton locks are too easy.”

“So, why are we still here?”

“You were unconscious,” Enid scolded him, whatever he was thinking.  “We couldn’t exactly carry you.”

“It would not have been right for us to all escape and leave you here,” Arthur said, plainly.

“I’m awake now,” Gerraint answered.  “I have wings to fly, and all that rot… Allow me to borrow Diogenes.”  Gerraint vanished and a different man appeared sitting in the exact same place.  This man was tall enough for Gerraint’s height, and still had blue eyes, but his hair appeared a light golden brown in place of Gerraint’s darker brown.  He appeared wearing the armor of the Kairos, with the sword called Salvation across his back, and the long knife called Defender across the small of his back.  He spoke right away.  “I used to sneak around forts all the time when I spied for Alexander the Great.”

“Alexander?” Arthur asked, unable to place the name.

“Greek fellow,” Diogenes answered as he walked to the door.  “Overthrew the Persian Empire.”

“Persian Empire?” Gwynyvar asked.

“Nothing like a classical education,” Diogenes said.  He pulled Salvation, handed Defender to Arthur, found the knife he used to cut meat at the table and handed it Bedivere, shrugged for the women, as if to say he was out of weapons, and stepped out into the hall, motioning the others to follow and keep quiet.

###

Outside the fort, Elder Stow stepped into the meeting of the minds.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Percival, Tristam, Gwillim, Thomas, and Gerraint’s son all sat and tried hard to think of what to do.  Decker finished his comment before they all stopped speaking.

“Now that we know they have guns we need to do something.  The Kairos was clear about that.  Only the Masters would be making guns before they are supposed to be made, and that makes them enemy combatants.”

People nodded, but then waited.  Elder Stow spoke when he got their full attention.  “I would not have suggested this, but in light of what Colonel Decker said, which is what I remember the Kairos said about guns, I may have a way. Sukki and I could fly up there, invisible, and working together, I believe we can take down a section of wall.”  He pulled out is scanner device and projected a three-dimensional view of the fort and environs, with the travelers as red dots, Arthur’s men as blue dots, and the men inside the fort as yellow dots because, he said, yellow was for danger.

“Remarkable,” Sir Thomas said.  The others kept quiet, not sure what he was suggesting.

“Here,” Elder Stow said.  “The east side of the hill appears less steep than the rest.  I’ve ridden enough to know you should be able to get up to the wall quickly.  You will have to dismount and climb over the rubble when you get there, but that should not be too difficult.”

“What do you mean, invisible?” Gwillim asked.  Elder Stow touched his belt and vanished.  Thomas spoke over his younger brother.

“Oh.  You mean invisible.”

“Father?”  Sukki came up with Boston and Nanette.  Boston overheard the conversation and warned Sukki they were talking about her.

Elder Stow reappeared and spoke kindly to Sukki.  “I thought we might do as we did to the pirate ship back when we met the bishop.  I can make the top of the wall unstable.  You can cut it near the bottom.  I can cut out the ground beneath the wall if needed, and the wall should tumble right down.”

“We should travel secretly, then, to be ready to attack the east wall when it crumbles?” Percival said.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “There is an hour of daylight left.  We should travel openly, so they see, in order to draw as many men as possible to the east wall, so they will tumble with the wall when it falls.”

Arthur’s men agreed, though they did not exactly understand the way it would work.  While the men galloped the road within sight, but well beyond bowshot from the fort, Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon more slowly.  When they arrived beyond the east wall, they found a hundred and twenty men newly arrived from Caerleon and eastern Wales.  They were mostly rapid defense force trained and more than ready for a good charge.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 1 of 6

After 479 A.D. Britain

Kairos 97: Gerraint in the Time of King Arthur

Recording …

The travelers barely came through the time gate before they got surrounded by rough looking men on horseback, spears at the ready.  The men looked hardened by battle, but a bit afraid of something.  They did not move on their captives.

“Hold your fire,” Lockhart spoke generally to the air.  “No reason to start out on the wrong foot.  Which of you is in charge?”

One man moved forward, and the young man beside him came with him.  “I am Heinrich of the Sea, and this is my son, Heingurt.”

“Not much sea around here,” Lockhart said, and tried to smile.  “Lincoln,” he called.

“British highlands would be my guess.”  Lincoln compared his notes in the database with Boston’s amulet.  They sought the right map.

“You are Saxon?” Katie asked and stepped up beside Lockhart.

“Yes,” Heinrich said.  “And this is our land.”

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “We are just passing though.  We will respect your land and be on our way.”

“Saxons,” Katie interrupted.  “This has to be when Britain slowly became England.  I bet this has not been Saxon land for very long.”

Before others could speak, the young man had questions he could not contain.  “Are you from the Lake of the Moon?  Do you know the Lady of the Lake?  I hear she is very beautiful.  Why did she not drive you mad?”

“Looking,” Lincoln said, while Katie and Lockhart turned to the older man to explain.

“We saw you appear out of nowhere, like a hole in the air.  Are you spirit people?”

“Only me,” Boston shouted, and leapt up on her horse, Strawberry.  She fluffed out her red hair and gave the Saxons a good elf-grin.

“We have one,” Lockhart admitted.  “We also travel with one of the elder races of the earth.  The rest of us are human, more or less, mostly.”

“What does that mean?” the young man spouted.  The older man quieted his son and spoke.

“Follow us.  We will take you to our village and our chief, Hans Bad-Hand.  He will decide.”

“Decide what?” Alexis asked Lincoln, softly.  Decker overheard and agreed.

###

The wraith appeared in the dungeon room beneath the great hall in Cadbury Castle.  The castle guard got locked up in the cells beneath the new tower, but the special prisoners were all kept in the original dungeon.  The wraith laughed, a wicked, evil sound that garnered everyone’s attention.  Seven-year-old Guimier barely kept herself from screaming.  She buried her face in her mother’s skirts.  Enid put one hand down to comfort her daughter.  Her other hand held on to Gwynyvar’s hand.  Arthur and Bedivere stepped in front of the women, to protect them, but they had no weapons, and they had no idea what they could do about a wraith.

“You are all here, but one, and he is on the way.”  The wraith spoke to them in a chilling voice that made Gwynyvar cover her own mouth against any untoward sound.  “Fear what is to come.  The wagons are nearly here with plenty of black powder.  When they arrive, you will become target practice.  Do you know what I mean, target practice?”

“Where is Odacer… and Harwic the blade?”  Arthur found the strength to protest in the face of that floating horror.  The wraith looked like a corpse in mid-air.  “I invited them to talk peace, not to make war.”

The wraith laughed again, and both Guimier and Gwynyvar softly shrieked, but refused to give in to the full-fledged scream. The wraith vanished as the cell door opened.  Gerraint, dragged by two big Saxons, got tossed into the room.  He collapsed to the straw covered stone floor, a bloody mess.

“Quick.  Help me get him to the cot,” Enid said.  Arthur and Bedivere got him lying down.  Gerraint moaned but did not show that he was conscious.  He had obviously been tortured.

“Daddy,” Guimier started to cry, and would have run to fling herself on him, but Gwynyvar caught her.  She hugged the girl and let her cry into her dress.

Bedivere stood and returned to the wall, where he tapped with the loose stone he found earlier.  “No secret passages in this dungeon,” he said, and turned to look at Arthur.

Arthur looked angry, in fact, he looked as angry as Bedivere had ever seen him.  He sounded angry.  “I am not the fool, but the lies these men told were masterful.  I honestly thought peace was possible with the Saxon shore.  It has been seven years since Badon.  I believed the Saxons had finally come to terms with their beating and were ready to make a more permanent peace.”  He sat heavily and Gwynyvar put Guimier in Enid’s arms so she could sit beside Arthur.

“Every right person wants peace,” Gwynyvar said, and she held him.  “Peace is one thing worth believing in.”  Arthur dropped his face into his hands as Gerraint moaned again.

###

Hans Bad-Hand looked over his guests.  They appeared to be three couples.  He did not like the look of the dark ones, Africans of some sort, he assumed.  The others looked normal enough, except the blonde’s husband had to duck to enter the house, as did the African.  Well, the third couple looked normal enough, until the black-haired woman mentioned that her husband only calls her a witch on her bad days.  Witchery from the woman would not surprise him.  He shifted his gaze to the window.

The old man outside had looked normal enough, and the young one that stayed outside with him might be his son.  The two girls that also stayed outside, though, made him thank the gods they did not come inside his home.  He could believe the red head was a spirit creature.  Just looking at her made is skin squirm.  He felt it all the way down in his bad hand.  The other one looked normal enough but appeared strong as an ox.  Even if she did not qualify as a spirit creature, he wondered if she might have some troll blood in her.  He turned to the group leader.

“I think you are not people to trifle with,” he said.  “Heinrich, you were right to bring them here.  You say you are just passing through.  May I ask where you came from?”  It was a loaded question.  He had been told they appeared out of thin air.

“The lake of the moon,” young Heingurt blurted out before his father hushed him.

“We don’t know what that is,” Katie said, kindly to the boy.

Lincoln cleared his throat as he got out the database to check.  “The Lake of the Moon is the place Rhiannon and her court went after Meryddin, that is, Merlin died.  She left her pet dragon in Brittany and escaped to the British highlands, so hers is not the dragon in these hills.’

“Rhiannon.  The Lady of the Lake,” Alexis said.

“The goddess?” Nanette asked, to be sure.

“I remember her from Greta’s day,” Katie said.  “She was very nice.”

“Ahem,” Hans Bad-Hand interrupted.  “If not the lake of the moon, where did you come from, if I may ask?”

People paused and looked at one another, but Lockhart did not see any harm in telling.  “An hour ago, we were in Italy, about two hundred miles north of Rome.”

“Worse than that,” Katie said.  “We were there when the Vandals sacked Rome.”

Heinrich gawked.  “That was a hundred years ago.”

“More like sixty years ago, I would guess,” Lincoln said.  “But right now, more importantly, we are looking for a man named Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall.”  People looked at Lincoln and he realized he should not have said that.

“Ahh!” Hans shouted.  He took a deep breath before he calmly said, “I hope you intend to kill him.”

“Why is that?” Lockhart asked, and noticed Katie wanted him to be quiet, and Alexis tried to keep her husband quiet as well.”

“The Lion of Cornwall killed my brother at the mountain called Badon.”

Both Lincoln and Lockhart kept their mouths closed, so Decker spoke up.  “I am sure it was a fair fight.”

Hans Bad-Hand growled, but Heinrich spoke.  “It was in battle.  It was a fair fight.  What do you think, Brennan?”  He turned to the local man in the house who had thus far said nothing.  The man looked at the chief, but Hans Bad-Hand looked away, and looked like he was going to stew for a while, so Brennan spoke, and with a slightly different accent.

“I am from the village over the hill.  My people have been in these mountains for centuries.  About your sixty years ago, maybe more, there were reports of dragons in these hills.  At that time, many people moved from here down to man the forts in the old Roman wall.  These people are newcomers.”  He indicated Heinrich and his chief.  “They settled in this abandoned village about three years ago, now.  We were all afraid at first.  There has been too much war between my people and the German people.  But we made peace.  We trade.  It is good to have neighbors again.”

Heinrich smiled.  “Enough, Brennan.  The man will start in on the whole ancestry of his family if I let him.  Stick with the question.”

“Fair fight?” Brennan said, with another glance at Hans Bad-Hand.  “Yes.  I am sure it was a fair fight.  My uncle was there, fighting on the other side, of course.  But, like I said, there has been too much fighting and killing over the years.  Peace is better.”

Hans Bad-Hand sighed.  “Peace is better,” he agreed, and asked no more questions.

After that, and a slim lunch, the travelers got ready to leave.  When Brennan found out they were headed in his direction, he offered to guide them down, out of the mountains.  “The dragon is still around here, somewhere, you know.”

“At what price?” Lincoln asked before they went any further.

“Maybe, one gold piece, if you got one.”  Brennan grinned and held out his hand.

“When we are free of dragon lands,” Lincoln said, and Brennan shrugged.  He expected that.