R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 2 of 3

Gerraint mounted, waved to those present, with a special wave to Flora who watched both her sons go off to war, and he took Bowen and Damon to meet Lancelot and Lionel.  It did not take long to plan what they would do.

Gerraint would take Damon and a hundred men down the forest path, to where they could hit the Saxons on the flank.  Bowen, the elder brother, would guide Lionel, Lancelot and the four hundred to the place of the fallen tree, as they called it.  Then they would cut straight to the mountain village from there and strike the Saxons from the rear.  The plan seemed simple enough, but Gerraint would arrive two hours ahead of the others, so he would have to remain hidden and quiet for a time, and wait.

Gerraint and his men reached the edge of the wood around three that afternoon.  They could see the village from there, and saw it burning brightly.  The Saxons were on foot below a cliff face, their horses kept back in Gerraint’s direction, away from the fire and smoke.  There were several cave openings that could be seen in the cliff, some ten or twenty feet up the rocks.  It looked like the Little King gave up the village begrudgingly. Gerraint, with his fairy good eyes, counted more Saxon bodies than British ones.  Now, the Saxons were below the caves, but behind cover where the arrows could not reach them.  It looked like a stalemate, as long as the Little King’s supply of arrows held out.

Gerraint, Sergeant Brian and Damon sat at the lookout spot, though Gerraint was the only one who could see clearly at that distance.  The others could only make out the gist of what was happening when Gerraint pointed things out to them.  They waited a half hour, which seemed an eternity, and a true little man came up to Gerraint, right out in the open, and removed his hat out of respect.  This man stood only two feet tall, what one might call a gnome or nature spirit, and Gerraint quickly realized the man had to be invisible to the others, so he did not let on that they had a visitor.

“Lord,” the gnome said.  “The Saxons are building ladders and are about done.  They have many men hidden behind the big building that is not burned, and plan to attack all at once with the ladders.  Some are going to places where they can hide behind cover and shoot arrows at the cave openings.”

Gerraint picked up his head for a better look, but the smoke and remaining buildings in the village made things difficult. “Thank you Lemuel.”  Lemuel was the gnome’s name. “You know what would be really good?  If those Saxon horses broke free of their binds and tethers all at once and stampeded right across the base of the cliff face.  It would be especially good if that happened when the Saxons came out with their ladders.  Do you understand?”

“The Saxons have ladders?”  Brian squinted his eyes.

Lemuel answered at the same time.  “I understand.  That should not be hard.”  He scooted off and vanished in the tall grass while Gerraint slapped Damon on the shoulder.  “All right, son.  Let’s get the troop up and ready to ride.”

“What?  Aren’t we supposed to be waiting?”

“Not if the Saxons have ladders,” Brian said.  “Fat chance those horses will stampede, though.”

“Trust in the power of positive thinking,” Gerraint said, and trust in luck, or Lemuel, he thought.  It felt like a lot to expect a gnome to get it right and not stampede the herd too soon or too late, but the edge of the herd was all he could see from horseback because the trees stood in the way.  He had to trust.

Gerraint separated Brian and thirty men from the rest of the troop.  They got torches and had special instructions to ride the back street of the village. They were to set the last of the buildings on fire, the ones that the Saxons were using for cover, in order to drive the Saxons into the open.  He gathered the rest of the troop and gave easier instructions.  He called for lances and then they waited.  It amounted to ten minutes sitting on the horse.  Brian began to think Gerraint had lost the nerve, but suddenly the Saxon horses broke free and they could hear them as they rumbled out of sight.  Brian grinned and went to lead his group while Gerraint yelled to the seventy.

“Ride along the cliff straight through to the other side to drive their horses out of reach.  There, we will turn and charge at them again.  Ready?  For Arthur.”

The men responded and charged.  When they came around the edge of the forest where they could see the battleground, they saw the last of the Saxon horses trampling along. Honestly, Gerraint did not have to ride through to drive the Saxon horses out of reach of the Saxons.  Most of the smoke and the smell of the fires being blown in that direction encouraged the stampeding horses that were not going to stop until they cleared that area.  Still, Gerraint had long since determined that men with lances had the advantage riding through the lines.  Once they stopped to fight it out, they became like an awkward Gerraint fighting the Little King.  The horseman had the height advantage, but the flexibility stayed all with the man on foot.

The Saxons, who had thrown themselves up against the foot of the cliff when the horses came, recovered what ladders they had left and renewed the assault.  More men came from the village, so they had a crowd at the base of the cliff when Gerraint and the RDF plowed into them.  Some Saxons thought the stampede was over and were surprised.  Some thought it was another group of wild horses from the same pack.  Some only belatedly realized that these horses had lancers on top.  For quite a number, it was the last realization they ever made.

Gerraint formed up his line while Brian finished and came to join him.  Brian lost six men somewhere among the fires and smoke.  Gerraint turned at the front to yell.  “We go straight through again and sweep the Saxons from the cliff. When we get to the other side, we turn immediately and charge to stay and fight.  Remember, you have height on horseback, but quarters are tight among the wreckage.  Do not hesitate to dismount if it is to your advantage.

“Straight through.”  Gerraint turned.  “Once more into the breach,” he whispered before he yelled, “For Arthur.”  Again, the troop responded and charged.  Some bright Saxon chief had gathered a few archers, but it seemed a pitiful thing.  The troop easily swept the cliff base clean of Saxons.  The Saxons had to run for the now burning buildings.  Some ran further into the charred remains of the rest of the village.  Some did not stop running when they reached the village edge.  Gerraint gave those last ones no thought at all, knowing that Dayrunner would not let any of them escape.

When Gerraint turned the troop for the final charge, he saw that his hope had not been misplaced.  Rope ladders came down from the caves and some fifty men followed the Little King into battle.  That evened the odds a bit, but Gerraint knew this would be where things got tricky. The RDF wore a virtual uniform and were easy to distinguish, but telling the men of the little King from the Saxons might not be so easy.  He told Damon to stay by his side, and then they charged.

The Saxons were already beaten in their spirit and it became only a matter of cleaning up the mess.  On a normal battlefield, more than a hundred would have escaped, at least on foot, but in this case, none made it out of the woods. Gerraint and his troop fought well, but the Little King and his fought with a raw vengeance.  They let none escape, even if they were trying to surrender, and Gerraint did not yell at them until the end.  There were fifty on their knees at the end, twenty of whom only escaped out of a building right before the burning roof collapsed.  The Little King counted his survivors apart from the women and children that were safe up in the caves.  Gerraint lost some men, but few when compared to the Saxon losses.

“Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner,” Gerraint said.

“Me too,” the Little King agreed.  He eyed their prisoners and wondering if the village had enough rope left to hang them all.  They paused when they heard the four hundred thundering across the fields. When they arrived, they slowed as Lionel and Lancelot quickly assessed the situation.  Lancelot bounded from his horse, ran up to Gerraint and complained.

“I missed it?”

“The Saxons had ladders,” Brian said gruffly. “We couldn’t wait.”

R6 Gerraint: Caerdyf, part 1 of 3

Enid glanced at the fire before she spoke in a whisper like one afraid she might be overheard.  “It is that Sir Gerraint, the one they call the Lion of Cornwall.  They say he traffics with spirits, fairies, goblins and devils and makes them do his bidding.  They say he can change his appearance, even to appear as a woman, and thus he can learn a man’s deepest secrets, to what purpose I cannot say. They say he is a giant that is best not angered.  And they say he is faithful to Arthur, the Pendragon, but I think he must be like a guard dog in need of a strong chain.”

Her words finally caught up to Gerraint’s brain and he sighed and responded.  “You must not believe everything they say.  The truth is often stranger, but better than you suppose.  Gerraint is a kind and loving man whose heart is as big as the rest of him.  If the little spirits of the earth sometimes are kind to him, it is only because he loves all the world as God made it and he loves all people, even the littlest spirits. And as for him changing his appearance, that is in fact a long and rather sad story that I may tell you one day.” Gerraint sighed and looked again in Enid’s eyes.  Her eyes said she believed him, or at least they said she desperately wanted to believe him.  Then he saw a flash behind those eyes, and she spoke.

“Do they make all men in Cornwall as big as you?” She did not sound bothered by that, just curious.

“Some,” Gerraint hedged.  “A few.  Not all, but some.”  Then he lifted his head and took a whiff of the air.  “It is getting stuffy in here,” he decided

Enid also sniffed.  “And smoky.”

“The Flue,” both shouted.  Both jumped for the handle and they banged their heads and fell to laughing.  Gerraint rubbed his head and thought Enid had the harder skull.  For some reason, he felt he should remember that for the future.

###

In the morning, Gerraint put on the rusty chain that fell loose to his knees.  He cinched it tighter to his body when he fitted the breastplate.  It proved a bit small, and the back plate would not fit at all, but he really did this for show more than anything else.  He kept his own boots, gloves and gauntlets which were fitted to him, but he took the helmet which fit with a little extra brick banging around the neck.  Last of all, he took the long spear in the corner of the room and made his way downstairs.

When Enid saw him, she put her hands to her mouth and began to cry.  Enid’s mother also cried, and Ynywl took a deep breath.  “May it serve you well,” he said.

“One condition,” Gerraint responded.  “You must come with us to Caerdyf.”  Enid had gotten up early with Uwaine and had all the horses saddled and waiting.  When Ynywl agreed, Gerraint removed his helmet and sat awkwardly at the table. He was never much for eating before a battle.  He was more the kind that ended up starving when the battle was over.

The ride to Caerdyf seemed uneventful.  People stared in disbelief, but no one moved to stop them.  When they came to the city, and Gerraint insisted they approach the fort from the city side, people came out from their homes and work to stare all the harder. Some cheered.  Many followed, so by the time they arrived at the fort, they had a great train of gawkers, watchers and more than one man who fingered a blade or another sharp instrument and stared where the Irish should be.

“What is this?”  A big, gruff looking man came out from the barracks building where he was no doubt ready to enjoy a good lunch.  He indeed looked as big as Gerraint, but a bit older and with a bit of a stomach, no doubt from the lazy life and too much lunch.  The men in the fort had certainly heard the commotion in town and knew what was coming, but the big man, in fact Fenn, played coy.

Gerraint spoke from horseback in clear and calm tones. “Your bitch yesterday suggested you might want to cut my heart out.”  Gerraint understood the score.  Erin had technically married Megalis, but she still slept with Fenn.

Fenn roared with laughter.  “You look like a chicken in that old armor, a right plucked rooster I would say.”

“This is the armor of the great centurion who built this fort to keep out you Irish scum.”  Gerraint raised his voice.  “Every true man of Caerdyf should rise up and throw you and your Irish dogs back into the sea.  You should swim home with your tails between your legs.”  Gerraint pointed his spear at the man’s chest and waited.

“Roman ass.”  Fenn got angry.  “The Romans are all dead.  You look like a dead man wearing that.”  Fenn slammed his fist into the innocent man beside him, the one with his mouth hanging open, and he knocked him to the ground, while he shouted, “My horse.  My spear and shield.  We have a guest who needs a lesson in manners.”

Gerraint inched over to one side of the open court while Uwaine, knowing how this worked, inched over to the other side. Fenn mounted and did not give Uwaine a second glance.  He started toward Gerraint without warning, and Gerraint started, expecting no warning. They crashed in the middle. Gerraint used his shield effectively to knock Fenn’s spear aside without letting him get a good hit.  Gerraint’s spear struck solidly on Fenn’s shield and everyone heard the explosion.  Fenn got shaken and his shield cracked, but Gerraint’s spear splintered and fell to pieces.

Fenn slowed, but then laughed, thinking he had his opponent.  He turned in time to see Gerraint take his lance from Uwaine and turn for a second run.

R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 1 of 3

The year 500 ended much better than it began. In fact, three years of relative peace followed the marriage of Arthur and Gwynyvar.  Percival and Tristam both went off to do penance for what they called their failure to keep the king of Ireland safe, and while no one else called it a failure, they were determined to make some kind of amends.

Arthur could not worry about that.  He got to thinking instead about the lesson the Irish taught him.  He knew horsemen with spears could be a danger, but they never had a real horse on horse confrontation before.  Arthur also suspected that it would only be a matter of time before others started making lances and training their people how to use them.  So, with that in mind, Arthur made some practice lances with hard, cushioned ends, the way they built training staffs for children.  Then he had the men face each other and learn how to effectively use their shields, direct their horses, and how to make the best hit on their enemy.  Gerraint felt pleased.  He thought the legend started shaping up very nicely, and more than once he said it would be the middle ages before they knew it.  Arthur reminded him that he was weird.

There were a few strained months in 501 when Badgemagus died and Mesalwig temporarily lost all sense.  He kidnapped Gwynyvar and kept her in his fort at Glastonbury for three months.  He told Arthur that Gwynyvar should have been his, and in the end, Goreu had to get involved in securing her release.  But by Gwynyvar’s own testimony, Mesalwig treated her well, always respected her, and never laid a finger on her.  He just cried himself to sleep every night, and because of that she pleaded with Arthur to forgive him.

“These last few years have been very hard for him. He lost his father to a Saxon sword and his mother to the flu.  He no more got over that when his sister died in that terrible accident on the farm. His whole family is gone.  He has no wife to comfort him, and he is convinced that you and the other members of the Round Table hate him and want nothing to do with him.  He is such a lost and poor lonely soul.  When his former master Badgemagus passed away, he lost all reason.  He knew right away that what he did was wrong, but he felt stuck.  He did not know what he could do to make it okay again.”

Arthur turned to Mesalwig who cried softly and tried so hard to hold back the tears.  “And if I forgive you as Gwynyvar wants, what will you do with yourself?”

Mesalwig slowly looked up.  “I think I will try some of that penance that Percival and Tristam talk about.  I was thinking of helping women in distress, or imprisoned against their will.  I only hope I can forgive and show mercy as I have been shown.”

“Defending the weak and helpless is one of the ideals of the Round Table,” Arthur said and Gwynyvar hit him in the arm, though not too hard.  “Of course, there are plenty of women who are not exactly helpless.”

“Indeed,” Mesalwig almost smiled.  Apparently in those months, he learned that lesson.

“Damsels in distress,” Gerraint called it, and he ducked and walked off whistling.

Gerraint took ever faithful Uwaine of few words out into the wilds.  Most squires moved in with their Lords, almost like being in boarding school. They got to visit their own home and parents once or twice a year, but mostly they lived away from home and learned about life from their teacher, one on one.  Gerraint, of course, had no home as far as he was concerned.  He visited Cordella twice and his mother once during those years, but his base of operations was Caerleon.  He felt he had nowhere else to go.

Even so, he saw little of Arthur when he took rooms in the village, which was becoming quite the little town, but then, he spent most of the time in the wilderness, dragging poor Uwaine all over the country.  He ran into Tristam and Percival now and then.  They reached the age to be knighted and soon found squires of their own. Gerraint and Uwaine also traveled with Bedwyr and young Gawain now and then.  Gawain and Uwaine became close friends in the process, and Gerraint realized that the “youngsters” were both roughly the age Arthur was when he pulled Caliburn from the stone.  They visited plenty of Lords and towns and slept in plenty of beds, but as often as not they stayed out in the wild.

Gerraint taught Uwaine how to hunt and fish and how to trap animals for the skins to trade or use against winter.  He taught what he had been taught, what plants were for eating and what plants were poisonous and to be avoided.  And of course, he taught Uwaine to defend himself. They had practice swords and knives, spears and lances, crossbows, maces and other instruments of combat; and Gerraint made sure the young man learned how to defend himself no matter what weapon got turned against him, even if he had no weapon in his hand.  Bogus the Dwarf insisted on teaching the boy the beauties of the Ax, and Uwaine picked it up pretty well for a human, Bogus said. Pinewood and Deerrunner got very frustrated trying to teach the lad how to shoot a straight arrow.  They concluded that no one was going to be good at everything.

Gerraint, or Goreu, as Uwaine learned to call him at times, made a real effort to limit Uwaine’s exposure to the bizarre world of the Kairos.  He never called to his armor, the armor of the Kairos, and never called to any special weapons apart from Salvation, his sword, and Defender, his long knife. Instead, he contented himself with the armor and weapons of the times and in that way tried to fit into the times for Uwaine’s sake.  Apart from Bogus, Pinewood and Deerrunner, Gumblittle the gnome taught them all about the care and feeding of horses, but that was it.  Goreu knew exposure to that sort of thing would be best limited.

Uwaine met Greta, twice in those years, once when the only child of a poor widow fell from an apple tree and broke his leg. Uwaine got surprised, but said nothing as had become his habit.  The other time occurred when Gawain took a Saxon knife in his shoulder and Uwaine pleaded with his master.  Greta made Gawain good as new, as she called it.  Bedwyr said he was amazed by the woman’s skill, but only Uwaine knew she was really Goreu in another life.  Uwaine felt happy to have his friend back, but he made a mistake in the process.  He fell in love with Greta, and when he came of age, he almost never married.  Greta was never clear about how she felt, but in the end, she came to trust Uwaine implicitly, like the best of brothers.  She could at least return his love that much.