R6 Gerraint: Shaking the Earth, part 1 of 2

Gerraint and his five hundred men arrived at Percival’s position by mid-morning where he found a crowd of men in his command tent, already gathered for lunch.  Gwillim reported a harrowing experience with a Saxon spear that pinned his cloak to a barn door.  Tristam extracted him, and his small troop, but he had to leave the cloak.

“And it was my favorite one, too,” Gwillim complained.

“Where is Mesalwig?”  Gerraint asked.

“Checking on the front line,” Percival answered. “He is very good at keeping the men on their toes.”

“Really?”  Gerraint teased.  “I figured he was still in Bath soaking in the steamy, medicinal waters.”  At least Gwillim laughed.

“I have a report,” Uwaine said, and everyone grew silent.  Uwaine so rarely said anything.  “First blood.”  He put his hand on young Bedivere’s shoulder.  Bedivere looked shyly away.  “Next time we’ll get credit for the kill.”

Everyone said good job and congratulations, but Gerraint thought again about chivalry and the Medieval ideal versus the reality of the times which was brutal and bloodthirsty.  Curiously, he never really noticed that when he was younger.  He felt like saying, oh I am so very sorry, but he said, “Congratulations,” and Bedivere smiled like he won the lottery.

Lionel made a point of introducing Bowen and Damon as the bravest of brothers, sent to woo Morgana’s daughters.  Everyone whistled and teased them and said they called that real bravery.

Lancelot told the tale of their battles on the mountain and Gerraint found it almost unrecognizable.  For the parts that Lancelot did not know, the Little King was present to brag about it, and that telling seemed even more difficult to believe.

Gerraint got up and walked to the tent door.  From there, he could look down on the distant enemy formation.  They were at the far end of an open field that appeared deceptive.  It looked like flat ground, but it slowly fell away from their position, and by enough gradient to tire the legs of any attackers, men or horses.  There, he saw a small but evident rise to the right that ended in a large lump of trees. Those trees continued along the back of that rise and rose to the top of it, looking like a bad haircut.  The Saxons were near the bottom of the rise, and it would be impossible for cavalry to get at them.  Even if they avoided the incline out front, cavalry from the rear would still have to climb through the trees to get over the rise, and the trees were a deterrent on their flank as well.  Horses did not charge well through trees.

On the left, there appeared another rise, a bit steeper, and it ended in an actual forest that went all the way to the village on the river.  The Saxon cavalry stayed at the top of the steeper hill where they could look down on the battle and know where to go as needed.  And there were eight thousand Saxon men on foot squeezed between those two little ridges.  The center did make a bit of flat space, but that got jammed full of men.

“Tough call,” Melwas, Bedivere’s father came up beside him and put a hand up on the shoulder of his younger brother-in-law. “In the old days, we attack with our soldiers and keep the cavalry in reserve.  In Arthur’s day, we attack with our lancers and follow with our footmen. But either idea looks like a losing proposition given their strong position.”

Gerraint looked at the man.  He retained his hair, but it had all turned gray, including the beard.  He had a bit of a belly, which Gerraint chalked up to stress, him being married to Gerraint’s sister and all.

“What about the distant village?”  Gerraint asked.  The church steeple was all that could be seen at that distance, even from the height they were on.

“I spoke to the elders.  The village is fortified and they strongly suggested hostility if we go there and thus bring the Saxons with us.”

“They want to hide under their bed sheets and hope it will all go away.”

“Something like that,” Melwas admitted.  “I don’t suppose there is any way we can entice the Saxons to attack us.”

“They have the numbers,” Gerraint said, flatly. “They can hold that position and send out all sorts of groups to ravage the countryside while we sit here and dare not thin our lines.”

“Just a thought.”

Gerraint nodded and went back to the table where he had the lunch cleared apart from the parts he used to represent the Saxon positions. By two that afternoon, when they got word that Bedwyr and the leading edge of Arthur’s men were only a mile back, they had a plan that no one liked, but everyone agreed it would be the best of the bad options.

Gerraint got Bedwyr to stop shy of linking up with Percival’s position.  “You are all badly strung out,” Gerraint said.  “Give Arthur and the rest of the men a chance to catch up.”  When Urien came up, angry that Bedwyr called a halt, Gerraint briefly explained for them what the other had come up with.

“We give tonight and tomorrow day for all the men to catch up and rest up.  Then tomorrow night we move into position.”

“I don’t know,” Bedwyr rubbed his jaw.  “You and your night moves.  That is very tricky, especially with so many men.”

“The path is already laid out. And it will be lit in a way the Saxons won’t see. Trust me.”  Gerraint said trust me a lot lately.  He would have to watch that, because sometimes things did not work out well no matter how well planned.

Arthur arrived about midnight.  Gerraint and Percival laid out the plan for him.  “Overall, as good as can be expected,” Arthur said. “I may adjust a bit, but I have to see it in daylight.”  That was understood.  They all slept poorly.

###

In the daylight, Arthur decided he needed more cavalry to better match the enemy numbers.  Gerraint, who wanted to lead the cavalry, got left instead in the hold position, and for that he had only his sixteen hundred from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon.  He had Tristam and Melwas, and Arthur gave him the men from the mountain, so he had Bowen and Damon and the Little King who itched for a fight.  Gerraint instructed Uwaine to sit on the Little King if he had to in order to be sure he stuck to the plan.  Gerraint smiled for Bedivere who stayed right at his side, but he avoided saying anything stupid like, are you ready?  Or, are you scared?

Arthur moved the rest of the men along the edge of the hill to take up their positions in the distant forest.  He did not care what the village elders said.  The village and the river were his fallback positions.  He would use them if he needed them, but hoped he would not need them.  Pinewood and his fairy troop provided fairy lights for the men, lights that were shielded by strong magic so they could not be seen by the Saxons.  Bedwyr and the others got their thirty-three hundred men in position easy enough, but then he had the task of keeping them quiet in the night.  Arthur had further to go to lead two thousand horsemen to where they could reasonably charge the enemy cavalry.  Yet, even they had a few hours to rest themselves and their horses before dawn.

The sun cracked the horizon and the Saxons came out to stand and shake their spears at their enemy and scream unintelligible curses from a distance.  They had done this for two days, not knowing when to expect an attack, and might keep it up for weeks if necessary.  The yelling in the past stopped about the time the sun broke free of the horizon, and by mid-morning, the Saxons had dribbled slowly away until they were back at their own tents and by their own cooking fires.

The scene up on the hillside that greeted them that morning looked the same as before. There appeared no change in the array of tents and banners since the British took up the position.  This time, at daybreak, there were perhaps less men moving about, but that would not be something one would normally notice.

When the sun broke free of the horizon and the Saxons stopped yelling and started to relax, that became the signal to attack. Arthur broke free of the trees and got half-way up the back of the incline before the Saxons even noticed. That back end of the hill was like the front, a gradual incline that would tax the horses, but not too badly. Meanwhile, most Saxon eyes stayed riveted to the action down below.  The British attacked, but not across the field to run into a solid Saxon line, thirty men thick.  Instead, some three hundred men came out from the trees slammed into the side of that line with enough force to cause the whole line to waver.  Three thousand British troops did not even engage the Saxons, but ran instead to where they made their own line, above the Saxons.  Then they engaged, moving downhill on the enemy and effectively using the Saxons own heights against them.

The Saxon line on that side of the field began to crumple.  Many Saxons ran for safety, but then had to turn and fight their way back up the incline. The large number of Saxons left out of the fighting looked ready to run and join the fight, but Gerraint marched his sixteen hundred up the incline to within bowshot where they looked like they were waiting for a break in the Saxon line.  Saxon Chiefs could be heard running up and down the line telling their men to hold their positions.  Any movement to help their fellows on the other side would put Gerraint’s men on their flank, or their rear.

Gerraint had the twenty-four unloaded, and the men hurriedly set up the dozen portable catapults.  Dozens of balls of flammable material were dropped by the catapults so the mules could all be lined up to stampede the Saxon line should the lancers charge.  It seemed odd to Gerraint that seventeen hundred men could hold twenty-five hundred in check, especially if the twenty-five hundred charged they would be charging downhill.  Even the three thousand or so that filled the gap between the ridges appeared frozen, not knowing what to do.  All the while, Gerraint got prepared to turn and ride back to his own high ground, but the Saxons held the line.  That was apparently the order given and they were sticking to it.

Gerraint had a sudden memory flash or another hill full of Saxons.  It was 1066, and the Normans, under his command, slammed again and again into that line.  When the line of foot soldiers finally broke and charged down that hill, the Normans on horseback lead them on a merry chase to where William waited to demolish them. But William was not a very nice guy, not like Arthur, Gerraint remembered.  Then the ground began to shake.

“Dismount!” Gerraint shouted it over and over, until he needed to catch his shaky breath. Most of the men did.  The few who did not were taken for a ride and tossed when the full-fledged earthquake struck.  A few of those were killed.

R6 Gerraint: Mount Badon, part 3 of 3

Two days later, Gerraint, the boys Damon and Bowen and twenty-five men hand selected by Sergeant Brian gathered outside the next village at the top of the road.  It was dark, well before the dawn.  The Little King and twenty-five of his hand selected highway robbers joined them

Earlier in the evening, just after sunset, Gerraint sent dark elves into the town to map the town and the location of the Saxons billeted in town.  Gerraint naturally and rightly assumed those were the Saxon Chiefs, as the other six hundred or so camped on the fallow fields outside of the town itself.  With dawn, Lancelot and Lionel were prepared to rain fire arrows down on the Saxon tents.  When the Saxons roused and came out to escape the flames, the men were to ride through the camp and decimate the Saxon numbers.  They were assured the Saxons would not get to their horses, or find them useable if they did.  They had to trust.  Lionel looked skeptical, but Lancelot trusted implicitly.

One day earlier, their third day on the hill, Gerraint spent spelunking.  The Little King thought his caves in the cliff were just caves, and one abandoned tin mine.  Gerraint hardly took a moment to realize the caves were, in fact, an old abandoned dwarf mine.  The shafts went far deeper than the Little King knew.  What is more, as is often the case, down in the depths there sat a colony of dark elves, and that colony was still present.  He found some volunteers among the goblins and a band of pixies that lived in the caverns below.  The result turned out that now his makeshift spies had the village mapped and all of the Saxons pinpointed

When the men gathered, Gerraint thought to give some special instructions.  “Do not hurt the goblins, or the pixies.”

“I knew it,’ the Little King immediately interrupted. “I have seen the pixies twice in the night, as have others.  Some say we are imagining things.  The village has been roughly divided over the issue for years.”  He smiled to think he was on the right side.

“As I was saying.  If you see a goblin or a pixie in the night, do not stare at them. Go about your business and let them go about theirs.  They have agreed to ferret out any Saxons in the town.  Let them do their job and leave them alone.”

“Are they on our side?” Bowen asked what sat on many minds.

“Let me say, they are against the Saxons coming here. But we need to think of them like bumblebees.  If you leave them alone, they will not bother you.  Do you understand?”

Most of the men agreed, and the Little King nudged the big man next to him.  “I said he had an in with the spooky-bits.”  The man merely nodded and touched the scar on his shoulder where an arrow once knocked him off his horse.

“If any of you have a problem with that, there is no shame, but we need to find someone to take your place.  Listen, if you panic and harm one of the goblins, I will not be able to protect you from their terrible revenge.”  The men all said they were fine with it, but Gerraint suspected there might be incidents.  He hoped not many.  “All right. Now, here is what we are going to do,” and he got down to the details.

An hour later, still before dawn, fifty men moved into the village.  They stuck to the shadows and said nothing.  Groups of five men at a time broke off to go here and there to different houses.  Gerraint, Bowen, Damon, Brian and a man named Nodd went with the Little King and four of his cutthroats to the village inn.  Gerraint found the innkeeper’s daughter out back by the cooking fires. She took one look and ran to Gerraint. She hugged him and cried.  “I knew you would come,” she whispered.  The woman looked bruised and beaten.  No doubt she had been raped, likely over and over.

Gerraint pointed the Little King’s men to the upper windows.  Brian took Nodd around to cover the front door.  Gerraint and the boys planned to sneak in the back, but first they had to get the woman quiet.  She explained how the elders surrendered the village without a struggle.  The Saxons moved in and hanged the elders along with some thirty men who looked like they might put up a struggle. Then it became a hellish madhouse when the Saxons rampaged through the night.  “Drunks with swords,” she called them.  The Church got burned to the ground.  Some men and a few women and children were killed outright and others were grievously wounded.  In the morning, the Saxon chiefs finally restored order, but it was too late for some.  People were driven from their homes to make room for the Saxons.  I hid my husband Marcus in the barn, but he is wounded and has a fever.  I fear he is not getting better.”

“Hush.”  Gerraint finally succeeded when he put his hand over the woman’s mouth.  “One thing at a time.”  The Little King signaled and Gerraint threw open the back door.  They went in, swords drawn, and killed the half-dozen sleeping in the big room downstairs.  Only one got out his sword and Gerraint broke the sword with one swipe of Wyrd.  Brian then stabbed the man in the back and killed him, and Brian did not feel the least bit guilty about that.

One man escaped his bedroom and stumbled down the stairs, but Bowen and Damon were right there to stop him.  Then the little King called down that all was clear. They dragged the bodies of the Saxons to the yard, while the little King and his men tossed the upstairs bodies out the front windows.  Gerraint whistled, and the yard filled with pixies.  They were only two feet tall or so, but magically strong.  They picked up the bodies with their back claws and lifted them to where they disappeared in the night sky.  Dawn neared, but the pixies were not harmed by the light the way the goblins were.  They planned to bombard the Saxon camp at dawn with the bodies of their own chiefs before they flew back to their comfortable caverns.

Nodd stood on the front step and pointed. They saw a Saxon across the way who screamed as a goblin grabbed him.  The goblin, a big one, ripped the man’s hand off so the hand and sword it carried clattered to the ground.  Then the goblin bit the man’s head off at the neck.  Everyone turned away, and Brian said, “Now I understand the bit about if you see a goblin, don’t stare at it.”

“Check on the men,” Gerraint said to both Brian and the Little King.  “I’ll be here a while.  Boys.” Damon and Bowen came right up, smiling.  Now Bowen had a kill too, so he felt he could be the big brother again.  Gerraint looked at the woman repeatedly raped and the boys who in any other age would be called bloodthirsty and he felt disgusted with the times.  Yet, it was the times he lived in.  Not exactly chivalry and the Medieval ideal, he thought.

When they got out back to the barn, Gerraint took a hand from Damon and Bowen.  The woman waited as patiently as she could, and watched.  “Your job,” Gerraint said, “is to not let go.”  Gerraint did not ask for a promise.  He got used to giving commands by then.  He went away and Greta came into his place, dressed in her long dress and covered by her signature red cloak with the red hood.  She had a doctor’s bag, which she knew as technically the property of Doctor Mishka, but she felt grateful for the illegal drugs it contained.  Bowen let go and the woman shrieked, but that seemed fine since she had Damon’s hand to squeeze as she let out her smile.

“Now your job is to protect my person at all times.” She stared at the boys until she got non-verbal confirmation, then she took the woman’s hand. “Come Clara,” she remembered the woman’s name even if Gerraint had forgotten it.  “Let us see what we can do for your husband.”

That day became a bonus day before they were expected to rejoin Arthur at the bottom of the hill.  Gerraint spoke to whatever leaders the Saxons could produce from the rounded-up prisoners.  Between the two villages, there were five hundred weaponless men who sat in the fields and tried to be good.  They would stay in that field, receive one meal a day for probably no more than a week. They would be good, since they were made to understand exactly who, or what would be guarding them, particularly in the night.  Any misbehavior or attempted escapes and they could always be moved to an underground cavern where the goblins could watch them day and night.  “And I cannot guarantee that the goblins will not be tempted to play with their food,” Gerraint said.

At daybreak, the troop set out on the winding road back down the mountain.  Gerraint had lost a hundred men on the mountaintop, but he made up for it with a hundred new volunteers.   True, they were not lancers, and hardly the best horsemen, though they had plenty of Saxon horses to choose from, but they were men, and having now experienced what it meant to have the Saxons in charge, they would certainly fight.

Lancelot got happy.  He got to charge the enemy.  Lionel felt more worried about what might be happening down below. Gerraint had gotten word from Pinewood that Percival had pulled his fifteen hundred footmen and fifteen hundred horsemen back to a strong position at the bottom of the hill where the roads met.  They waited there for the arrival of Arthur.  The Saxons across the way, eight thousand footmen and two thousand horse also seemed content to wait.  They waited for their riders on the mountain and the ones sent to circle around Bath to get in position to attack Arthur from the rear.  Of course, the Saxons waited for an attack that would never come.

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

MONDAY

R6 Gerraint: The battle for Britain in Shaking the Earth.  Don’t miss it.

*

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: Mount Badon, part 1 of 3

Gerraint did not get much sleep that day.  He took Lancelot, Lionel and five hundred horsemen of the RDF up the mountain road first thing that afternoon.  They planned to meet Arthur on the other side of the mountain where the roads rejoined, and Gerraint hoped to find Percival and at least the majority of the men under his command still alive and ready to fight. Percival had three thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall, Devon, Southampton, Dorset and Somerset.  It added up to a whole army in the old days.  Arthur was bringing four thousand more from the British Midlands and Wales.  When they got word that the Saxons were moving, they could not wait for whatever men Kai and Loth might be bringing from the north.

Arthur stuck to the main Roman road that skirted the rougher Highlands.  They figured if the Saxons got past Percival, that seemed the mostly likely route they would take.  Gerraint and his five hundred were designed to stop the Saxons from using the mountain road in a flanking maneuver. They were to meet in five days where the two roads rejoined.  Arthur wanted to take a week and Gerraint argued for three days, so they compromised.

Gerraint got a fresh horse, a sturdy mount trained to the lance, and he started right out, flanked by Lancelot and Lionel. Lancelot seemed a lot like Uwaine. He did not say much.  Lionel seemed more like Bedivere.  He asked questions, which Gerraint honestly did not mind.

When they arrived at the village on the up-side, as Gerraint called it, they found the people in mad preparations.  There were people streaming in from all the outlying farms and the streets were jammed with carts and mules.  Gerraint chose to skirt the town and camp the five hundred in the fields on the far side.  He wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, but he had to wait for the expected delegation of village elders.

“We have it on firm authority that the Saxons are coming here,” one elder reported.

“How many?” Lionel asked.

“We don’t know.  A lot.  Plenty. A whole army.”  Every elder had a different thought in mind, but no one had any numbers.

They argued with Lionel for a time.  Sergeant Brian, who corralled two dozen men and took it upon himself to act as aid-de-camp for the three Lords, scoffed now and then, but said nothing.  Lancelot said nothing, but watched Gerraint closely.  The villagers wanted the five hundred to fortify the town and begin construction of a real fort to protect the village.  Lionel said they were not sent to garrison one village with five hundred valuable men, especially since they could give them no definite information as to how many Saxons, where they were or how far away, or anything. Lionel concluded they were acting on ghosts of rumors, and the village elders felt insulted.  Then Gerraint spoke up.

“There were a half-dozen Saxons seen four days ago near the mountain village, but the Little King caught them and killed them all. The woman in the woods and her two sons confirmed this,” he said.  The elders grew quiet because Gerraint obviously knew the neighborhood and what he was talking about.  “We are traveling this road to be sure the Saxons have not come this way.  Do you know the three graves of the thieves by the side of the road, up from here?”

Yes, they all knew the graves.  “We found them one morning.  It was all very mysterious.  They were well known thieves and cutthroats who had their way in this village, but one morning they were all three slaughtered, and in a very gruesome way. Some say it was ogres or goblins or trolls, or something worse, but most people don’t know what to think.”

“It was worse,” Gerraint said.  “That was my handiwork.”  The elders gasped, though a few did not know whether or not to believe him. “I say, don’t worry.  If we meet some Saxons up the road, Maybe I will send them back to you so you can make a real cemetery.  Meanwhile, if you have any brave young men, Arthur can use all the help he can get when we arrive at the real battle.  I will tell you what I told the village on the other side of the mountain.  If Arthur wins, no Saxons will come here.  But if Arthur loses, no fortifications or garrison will be able to prevent the Saxon army from doing as they please.  So how about it?  Does your village have any young men who are brave enough?”

The elders were not sure.  They would mention it in the village meeting, but Gerraint should not count on any help.  Gerraint dismissed them, and then Lancelot spoke his peace.

“They are afraid.  They will keep all the young men they can close to home, and we won’t get any help.”

“Not a good recruitment speech?”

Even Sergeant Brian shook his head, no.

“But I was not recruiting.  One coward affects all those around him.  We don’t need that, so I told them straight that only the brave need apply.  Then I turned them off on purpose, because it will do no good having a brave young man whose mind is filled with worry about what is happening back home.  That is a way to get bravely killed.  If any men in the village understand enough to realize it is better to fight the Saxons in someone else’s front yard rather than wait until they come to your front yard, that might be a man we could use.”

The others would have to think about it.

###

In the morning, a dozen ill armed men showed up, and Gerraint took the time to pair them with a veteran.

Just before lunch, they reached the place on the road where he could ride to the house in the woods.  He took Brian and six men with him.  He made Lancelot and Lionel stay with the troop and made them break for lunch.

When he arrived at the house, he found more of a reception than he bargained for.  Flora knew he was coming, of course, but she somehow got word to her elf grandfather. Dayrunner stood there with a hand-full of elf warriors, all properly disguised to look like ordinary men. Bowen and Damon were also saddled up and ready to ride.  Gerraint swore.

“I was going to make sure you stayed here to protect your mother.  You won’t make good husbands if you get killed.”

Bowen looked at his brother Damon and spoke for the boys.  “We won’t make good husbands if we won’t fight for our wives.  We have to earn our way.  Arthur would expect no less.”

“Don’t ask me.”  Dayrunner caught Gerraint’s look.  “I will not bind my grandsons nor keep them here.  They must earn their way, as they said.”

Gerraint knew they were right.  In the end, he could not protect them.  They needed to fight their own battles, just like him and Arthur, and just like anyone else.

“These are fine looking lads,” Brian said. “Fine looking armor and weapons too for back-woods boys.”

“Only the best for my grandsons,” Dayrunner said.

“But you, sir.  Where did you find so many willing men in the wilderness?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “Hunters.  Don’t ask. Get the boys mounted and ready to ride. I need to talk to the hunters for a minute.”  He waited while Brian and the boys mounted, then he spoke softly.   “Dayrunner, what news?”

“As we speak, the Little King is besieged in his cliff caves by three hundred Saxon horse.  The village beyond is playing host to seven hundred more Saxons with horse. The word is they failed to engage young Percival’s trap and instead headed straight for the mountain road, an unexpected move.  There are a second thousand Saxon horse circling around Bath.  When you reach the meeting of the roads, you will face eight thousand Saxons afoot and two thousand horse there in reserve.”

Gerraint nodded.  “Very thorough.  Pinewood here?”  He was, of course, having anticipated Gerraint’s arrival.  He came dressed, as expected, in his hunter green with the faded lion on his tunic.  He also spoke right up.

“My men and Deerrunner’s troop have harassed the Saxon cavalry from the start.  We have picked off many on the road around Bath.  Bogus and his, with Dumfries in the night, have moved to block the road from Bath with only one complaint, that there will not be any Saxons left by the time they reach that point.”  Pinewood and Dayrunner both grinned.

“Dayrunner,” Gerraint fretted.  “I would appreciate if you deployed your men on the far side of the mountain village to be sure none of the Saxons escape to warn the seven hundred down the way.  With only five hundred men to their seven hundred, we are outnumbered.  Surprise will even things a bit, if we are not given away.”

“Lord.”  Dayrunner and Pinewood each gave a brief bow, which seemed perfectly reasonable from Sergeant Brian’s perspective.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 1 of 3

Arthur wintered at York, but not happily.  He missed Gwynyvar and felt especially unhappy when he considered her protector, Lancelot.  He trusted her, and he trusted Lancelot, but he felt unhappy all the same.

Gerraint made the trip when there came a break in the weather.  His men were tired and deserved the chance to go home.  Melwas and Cordella deserved their men back, and he took most of the men from Devon as well.  Tristam stayed in York with Arthur, though Arthur had plenty of RDF men who were pledged to stay with him, and all the more after Guinnon.

Gerraint arrived home at winter’s end, and he never felt so warm and comfortable as he did when he curled up in the night with Enid. He rested well, not that she often let him rest.  Together, Gerraint and Enid got in the habit of wandering down to the docks in the early morning to take in the sunrise and watch the fishermen and the occasional merchant ship that pulled in on the morning tide.  Sometimes, they heard the news of the wider world.  One morning, the news sounded especially bad.

The ship, one that belonged to Thomas of Dorset, and the Captain reported a fleet of Saxon warships out in the channel headed for the tip of Lyoness.  Gerraint hated to bother Pinewood and his fairy friends, but Enid insisted, despite her misgivings that it would mean losing Gerraint again for a time.  They needed to know where the Saxons were headed, and some estimate as to when they might arrive.

Word went out to Lyoness, Cornwall and all across Devon to be prepared to gather.  Messages went to the north coast, across the north channel to Caerdyf, and as far away as Clausentum, which was Southampton, to be prepared with whatever ships they could muster.  A week went by before Gerraint heard definitive news.

Heingest, son of Hueil was gathering an army on the border of Wessex.  Cadbury and Oxford appeared the obvious targets, but they were not accessible by sea. Caerleon became the clear target the minute Heingest moved to bypass Cadbury.  Gerraint’s only question was whether Heingest knew Arthur was absent from Caerleon or not.  He might have wanted to catch Arthur at a point unprepared, having just come back from a campaign and sent his troops home.  Then, he might have decided to destroy Arthur’s home while Arthur stayed occupied elsewhere.

Arthur and a thousand men still in the northern army left York as soon as Gerraint sent him word of his suspicions.  Gwyr, Arthur’s court judge sent couriers to all the British Lords, and especially to the Welsh Lords whose own lands were now threatened.  This time, it was not a distant British problem.  The Saxons headed for Wales.

Gerraint gathered a full thousand men from Lyoness, Cornwall and Devon and crossed over to Caerdyf.  A second thousand gathered in the Caerdyf streets and camped on the fields, coming from all over south and central Wales leaving only the forts of the Irish watch manned.

At the same time, the Saxon fleet off-loaded their troops in a secluded bay half-way between Caerdyf and Caerleon.  The estimate there was about two thousand. Heingest appeared to be bringing closer to twenty-five hundred overland.  No deliberate attempt got made to stop him.  The troops at Cadbury tried to appear like they were cowering behind their defenses, when in fact they were waiting for Arthur to return south so they could join him.  The little man of Mount Badon organized a wonderful campaign of harassment, one that the Saxons would not soon forget, but Heingest suffered no serious delay or blockage between Wessex and Caerleon.

The city itself and fort at Caerleon spent the month redoubling their defenses.  All of the surrounding towns and villages were abandoned.  Most of the men, the women and children made for Leogria in the east and for north and central Wales in the west.  They were refugees who set up big camps by the border, but they brought their own livestock with them and as much grain as they could carry by mule and in their ox drawn wagons.  A number of the men went to fight, and doubled the number of defenders on the city walls and in the fort.

The Saxons felt somewhat surprised at the empty villages after Mount Badon, but it was common for villagers to flee at the approach of an army.  What seemed uncommon was the slim pickings they found—little food and not so much as a mule left to transport the food and maybe have for supper.  Heingest planned well.  His troops and the men from the ships arrived at about the same time to surround the city and fort, but the men in the west, who imagined their arrival would be a great secret, did not fare any better with goods and food in the empty villages they found on the route to Caerleon.

Heingest tried the city first, and found it much more strongly defended than he anticipated.  The Saxon Captains who were there to storm the port, hesitated.  Arthur’s half-dozen warships set out from the docks like a second wall.  Arthur’s Captains were confident, perhaps overconfident, that they could beat back any Saxon warships that might try them.  The hesitation of the Saxons suggested that the Germans were not prepared to test that theory.

Thomas of Dorset gathered as many ships from the south coast as he could.  They were essentially fat merchant ships who stood little chance against Saxon warships at sea, but they had great hope that they could catch the majority of the Saxon ships on the shore, or even pulled up on land and with only light crews left to defend them.  This they did, in that supposedly secret bay on the north shore of the channel.  The result was given.  The Saxons were going to have to walk home.  The merchants then mostly refused to continue on to Caerleon where the real battle would take place, but Thomas was able to get enough ships to join him to at least assist Arthur’s ships in the port defense.

After the initial test of the city and the fort, and the discovery that both were strong and this would not be so easy, the Saxons went into conference.  Without a quick and easy victory, some were determined to go home.  Heingest had his hands full with internal struggles.

Arthur and Gerraint, with fairy go-betweens, timed things about as well as such things could be timed in that age, arriving on the same day, if not in the same hour.  Arthur, having picked up a second thousand men as he came through Britain, camped in the east.  Gerraint camped in the West, and in the morning, Ogryvan arrived with a thousand men from the north of Wales, and they completed the encirclement.  The Saxons had the city and fort of Caerleon surrounded, but Arthur had the Saxons surrounded by a bigger circle with more men.

R6 Gerraint: Fort Guinnon, part 1 of 3

Arthur caught up with Gerraint while he healed from his wounds.  Percival, Uwaine, and a whole troop from Caerleon came with him, and they escorted Gerraint to Cornwall where they saw him vested as high chief of the land. All of the lords of Cornwall declared their allegiance, along with the lords of the northern province of Devon; but then, like Tristam at Tintangle, they were mostly cousins of one sort or another. More telling were the towns, ports, and small cities like Exeter who did not hesitate to declare Gerraint their protector.

Gerraint moved things in a medieval direction by requiring men at arms from all the lords, towns and cities when the need arose to defend the land.  He levied a small tax, most of which got used to maintain the forts against pirates and keep the roads passable.  In this way, Cornwall became something of an independent kingdom, a condition that would remain for several centuries.

When Marat, the Irish prince, moved a force into the land and laid siege to Tintangle, Gerraint gladly accepted help from Arthur in a large contingent of the RDF, but he told Arthur not to mobilize. Gerraint raised the troops from his own people, a kind of test, and they broke the siege, and Tristam killed Marat, and that was it.  Arthur felt pleased that it did not cost him.  The people of Cornwall felt pleased and proud to accomplish the defense of the land, as Gerraint told them.  Everyone seemed winners, but from that day on, Cornwall began to move in its own direction.

Marcus died early in those days.  Cordella and Melwas came up from Lyoness and all but pledged their loyalty to Gerraint’s leadership.  Melwas was not the strongest leader.  In fact, Cordella ran their lands, as far as Gerraint could tell. And though this happened a good ten years before the disaster that hit Lyoness and sank most of the land into the ocean, from that point, Lyoness became like a third province in the Cornish kingdom.

Gerraint’s mother held on, but contented herself with her grandsons and avoided all the politics.  Gerraint found that despite his mixed feelings about his stepfather, the man had been an excellent and well organized high chief.  That made Gerraint’s job easy, and left him little to do. Those few years were good years overall. And Gerraint and Enid became like new, young lovers, and were very happy.  They had a third son giving them Peter, James and John, all named by Gerraint. Enid insisted she be allowed to name their daughter, if they had one.  But she did not feel disappointed with another boy.

Love, in those days was never so sweet, but of course, it did not last.

In the late spring of 512, word came that the Scots had broken the line of Hadrian’s wall.  Most of the Ulsterites moved into the north country, but those Picts that remained banded together to defend the eastern coast and the high country.  The north became a struggle, and while Gerraint wondered why any Scots would think British soil would be easier, he finally decided the rich land and warmer climate would be enough for some.

Loth sent no word.  His lands included the fort at Edinburgh, technically in Scottish territory.  Kai claimed Loth encouraged the Scots, but Arthur did not believe him.  What Arthur did believe was he would have to call in some men and head north.  He did not send out the general alarm because Croydon at York reported no army.  Some were raiders, after a fashion, but many came as migrants with women and children.

Gerraint called only the three hundred, which got back up to full strength.  Melwas sent a hundred and Tristam raised twice that in Devon.  Together, they rode for Cadbury, where Arthur called the men to gather.

In Cadbury, Gerraint first saw the attention Lancelot paid to Gwynyvar, and the affection she so evidently returned.  He never thought they had anything like a love affair.  Gwynyvar loved Arthur and was one who took that vow seriously, and Lancelot, the younger man, was all about honor and devotion to one’s duty; but they were very familiar with each other, or one might say, very close friends.  Arthur never said anything.  He let it slide, and once again Gerraint imagined guilt. Medrawt was a growing boy.

“The Welsh are an independent minded lot,” Arthur said in council.  There were hardly six hundred men to match Gerraint’s offering where they could have supplied two or three times the men.  There were a hundred from Caerdyf, another hundred from Morgana and her immediate neighbors, a third hundred from Ogryvan, Gwynyvar’s brother who was well aware that his other sister, Gwenhwyfach, lived in the north of Britain and thus presumably in danger.  That meant only three hundred men came from all the rest of Wales.

“Still tied too much to the old ways,” Percival suggested.

“Listening to Meryddin,” Gwillim translated.  “Not inclined to make war on the Scots and their druids whom they think of as cousins.  It would be a different response if we were after Angles or Saxons.”

“Maybe.”  Gerraint did not commit.  He knew that some were talking about Amorica where the old ways still held strong and the church was small.  The church started growing in Wales, like in Ireland, and that made some uncomfortable. Indeed, the church started making headway everywhere in Britain, Wales and Cornwall, but some were resistant.

“Well, good old Bedwyr sent a healthy group from Oxford even if only a handful from Londugnum,” Arthur said.

“I’m not sure there are more than a handful left in Londugnum,” Gerraint spoke up.  “Most of the trade between there and the continent is now run through Saxon and Angle hands, like it or not.”

“I can vouch for that,” Gwillim said.  “Brother Thomas says it is hardly worth running ships from the Thames the way the Angles tax everything.  He constantly reminds me that most of the Angle-Saxon people are just ordinary merchants and farmers, like us.”

“Anglo-Saxon,” Gerraint interrupted.

“Anglo-Saxon,” Gwillim tried the word.  “But he says their tax on the transportation of goods is too high.”

“I am inclined to agree with Bedwyr.  It isn’t the common people, it is the lords and warriors among the Germans who want to expand their lands,” Percival said.

“Anglo-Saxons,” Gwillim and Uwaine corrected him in unison.

“That makes sense to me, too.”  Someone spoke from the doorway.  Arthur’s old master Peredur came in, and Ederyn and Pelenor were with him. Peredur and Ederyn smiled and looked glad to see everyone.  Pelenor remained stoic.

“Seems to me, we have the Scots to worry about right now,” Pelenor said.

“Our men are gathering on the road to the north,” Peredur said.  “We should be able to pick them up on the way.”

“On the way,” Arthur mumbled, as Meryddin came in. Arthur called for Gwyr to give his report on the numbers.  There were eighteen hundred Britains gathered by the time they reached York, and with the twelve hundred from Cornwall and Wales, it was a pretty sizeable force for a limited call.  It was far more than a young and inexperienced Arthur could raise, but since then, Arthur had proved himself a winner.  People were more inclined to come out and support a winner.

###

Arthur formed seven groups of roughly three hundred men each.  Gerraint took two hundred of his own and the hundred from Lyoness.  Tristam took his two hundred and a hundred from Cornwall. The other five groups were more mixed, but Arthur made sure each of the other groups had at least one hundred trained RDF men.  Routes were devised, and all summer and well into the fall, the Scottish immigrants got tracked down.  North Britain had become fairly depopulated after the sons of Caw ravaged the land. Many Scots were found rebuilding abandoned villages and sewing abandoned fields.

All that time, Meryddin stayed in York, to advise Arthur and keep contact with the groups in the field.  He wrote regular letters, and while later, many suspected he wrote to the Scots and passed along information, nothing could ever be proved.

All of the Scots found in northern Britain were given a choice.  First, the leadership had to confess Christ, build a church, and bring in a priest. Second, they needed to submit to the laws levied by whatever British lord in whose territory they lived, and become good British citizens.  Third, they had to acknowledge Arthur, son of Uther as their high chief and war chief and submit to his judgment on all matters pertaining to the common defense of the land.  If these three conditions were willing to be met, the Scots could stay and rebuild the land. Rejecting any one of these conditions meant safe escort back north of Hadrian’s Wall.

The Scots were not unfamiliar with Christianity even if they were not sure exactly what it was all about, but many were willing, and the church quickly found volunteers who would be glad to instruct them. In the north, Kai and Loth more or less split the land between them, but there were many lesser chiefs who answered to them and helped in the defense of the wall.  The Scots had to find out whose land they were actually on and make peace with their lord, but again, most were willing.  As for Arthur, most of the Scots were glad enough to have him on their side.  So most stayed, though some did take the escort back across the wall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lancelot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Alive and well,” Gerraint said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They stopped at the sound of a horse.