The horse looked bigger than any horse they had ever seen, its nostrils flared, and its breath came in great puffs like mist in the dawn of early spring. The horse looked covered in a blanket that sported great crosses embroidered in the fabric. The rider appeared covered head to toe in plate armor so that no part of his flesh could be seen. He sat on a saddle with a high front and back, and stirrups for his armored feet. And he sported the biggest, longest lance they could imagine, with a simple flag tied to the lance that showed a figure eight on its side, the symbol for infinity.
“About eight hundred years ahead of yourself, wouldn’t you say?” Gerraint was the first to speak. The Knight lowered his lance and touched the ground in Gerraint’s direction.
“Who is this magnificent looking warrior?” Lancelot seemed enthralled.
“One of the knights of the lance from Avalon, the same place Excalibur came from,” Gerraint answered.
“Good sir knight,” Arthur started but Gerraint interrupted.
“No. They don’t talk. A vow of silence.” He added that for Lancelot and took a step forward. “And the answer is no. No way. Tell Yin Mo no way.”
“No way what?” Lancelot asked.
“Yes,” Gerraint answered roughly. “And a thousand more just like him if I let him.”
“But that would be perfect.”
“No. It was bad enough endangering the kobold, brownies and fee under Lord Birch, but they were just scouts and kept their bows in the background. They didn’t attack the enemy directly.”
“No.” Gerraint hesitated. “Tell Yin Mo I will think about it. Now please, if you don’t mind.” He waved off the Knight who raised his lance, turned his horse, and in a few paces disappeared into the trees and the mist. Even the sound of the horse crunching through the leaves vanished.
When Percival and his crew returned in the afternoon, there were six riders instead of five. Bohort and Lionel went straight to Lancelot. They had a lot to catch up on. Gawain and Uwaine still talked about something. Gerraint did not pry. The sixth horse took his attention. It was Meryddin, but he looked old and drained. Gerraint greeted him normally, and he returned the greeting, but Meryddin made no indication that he thought Gerraint might be anything other than the fourteen-year-old boy he first met outside of Londugnum. Arthur would barely talk to the man, and when he did it came out in cold, short words.
Percival, not really knowing why Arthur would not be overjoyed to see the old man, sought to reassure Meryddin. “Be patient,” he said. “Arthur will come around.”
“I wonder how the Lady of the Lake will find him,” Arthur whispered.
“Maybe she will keep him out of our hair for a while,” Gerraint whispered back and said no more about it.
Two days later, the horsemen of Claudus and his advance troops arrived. It took all that day and all the next for the rest of the legions to catch up. They immediately took up a defensive position across the open fields, dug trenches and built fortifications around their camp and auxiliaries, but left the field free so the legions could form up and move freely in phalanx formation. Looking at the way they camped, it became clear they would form up in a kind of upside-down “V” shape, one legion to either side, like the open jaws of a great lion, one man called it.
“More like the paws of a great bear,” Hoel said, when they went into conference. “The weak point is at the top of the formation where the majority of their troops angle away from each other. That is the temptation, to attack the center only to have the paws of the great bear close and crush us.” Hoel had two old men with him, Lord Feswich and Lord Grummon. Both were in their late forties, Hoel early fifties, and they spoke like they were old and wise and well-seasoned warriors. Arthur, by contrast, had not yet turned thirty. Gerraint, a year younger, and Percival three years younger at just twenty-five.
“This time, when we hit the enemy from the side and rear we will only drive them to cut deeper into our own men,” Lord Grummon added.
“Excuse me,” Gerraint said. “But as I understand it, last time you abandoned the plan and went chasing after pockets of Roman Cavalry.”
“That was important,” Lord Grummon defended himself. “We had to make sure the Romans did not regroup,” he said, but then fell silent.
“And leave the other legion at our backs?” Hoel rejected that idea.
“Well, at least this time we have the advantage in horses,” Feswich said with a nod to Arthur. “We should be able to deal with the Roman cavalry well enough.”
“That is not what the horsemen must do,” Arthur finally spoke. “And the foot soldiers need to do something different as well.”
“What?” Feswich shook his head. “Footmen fight footmen and horse men fight horse men. You are young, but I tell you that is the way it is done. The stronger arm gains the victory.”
Arthur ignored him and looked at Hoel who looked willing to listen. “Chieftain, you invited me to your company to take advantage of my experience. You know we have fought Saxons, Angles, Picts, Scots and the Irish, and we have never lost a battle. That is because we have not followed the old way of doing things. Listen, and I will tell you how we must fight this battle.” Arthur paused. Hoel nodded and kept his men quiet. Arthur returned the nod and turned to Gerraint. They had discussed it, but Gerraint could best explain it. Besides, it would be his knights of the lance out front, and Arthur could step in if needed to negotiate any objections.
Claudus: Arthur and Gerraint order the battle formation. The Knights of the Lance are ready. Claudus and his revived Romans await the attack. The fighting will be fierce.
Until then, Happy Reading