R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 3 of 3

“Listen,” Gerraint said.  “All of the little ones who haunt your home and fields, do so out of love for you, not just out of love for your grandfather.  Now, your good sons need wives.  There are many strong women, some widows in the village of the little man and they would love a good husband.  I will think on who may be good wives.  And you need to prepare many cures, for the battle to come may be the final gasp of the last Pendragon.  Who can say? I do not know the future.”

The woman reached over and hugged Gerraint, and cried on him for a while.  He comforted her as well as he could and said someday, her grandfather might visit her again. He was not far.  But then he needed to lie down before the sun came up

Gerraint tossed and turned for four hours.  He dreamed about fighting everyone that crossed his path.  When he found Enid, he locked her away in a prison and allowed her no visitors.  Then he drove Enid in front of him, mercilessly, and would not hear her pleading that she was innocent, and she loved him. It killed Gerraint every step of the way, but he could not help himself.  There was something drove him.  He had something on his back.

Gerraint awoke, trembling, wide awake.  He felt the wound and scars in his shoulder more than usual.  He looked at the woman, at Flora, and her sons Bowen and Damen, who stared at him with frightened eyes.  Flora had a bowl of water and a cloth to wipe the sweat from his eyes.  Gerraint said nothing.  He called for the armor of the Kairos, and dressed in nothing else.

“There was something on your back,” Flora said. “You had something on your back.”

Gerraint made no answer as he found his horse saddled and waiting outside the door.  He mounted and raced off to the main road.  Arthur needed to know and Merlin needed to be stopped.

###

Gerraint barely noticed the three graves beside the road.  They had three crosses, but only the middle one had any writing.  All it said was “Thieves.”  Gerraint did not stop at the inn in the night, but rode on, even through the darkness of the woods.  He found the leading edge of Arthur’s army as he came to the Roman road at the foot of the hill.  He raced passed Bedwyn and Urien who were near the front.  He ignored the calls of Pelenor when he rode on.  He saw the Welshmen, Kvendelig the hunter, Menw the fake wizard, and Gwarhyr the poet, but they were some distance away.  Ogryvan, Gwynyvar’s brother, rode beside Nanters deep in conversation, but all Gerraint thought was all present and accounted for except for the far north.  He did not stop until he came to Arthur’s tent, which was about to be packed up.

Gerraint’s poor horse looked finished, but Gerraint jumped off and went into the tent before the horse stopped running.  Arthur sat there, with Bohort and Meryddin. Morgana also stood there, which came as a bit of a surprise, but she seemed to be in Meryddin’s face, accusing him of treason, though she had no proof.

“Gerraint.”  Arthur spoke right up.  “Didn’t you get my message?”

“I did.  Percival’s in charge.  I have a most urgent message in return, for your eyes only.”

“Give it here,” Meryddin said when he saw the parchment.

“Definitely not for your eyes.”  Gerraint snatched the paper back so Meryddin could not grab it. Arthur came out from behind his small travel desk and took the message to the tent door for the light.  Gerraint occupied Meryddin’s attention.  “So, sucker punch any more innocent people lately?”

Meryddin’s gray eyebrows went straight up, but he understood as soon as he translated the gist of what Gerraint said.

“Only you, whoever or whatever you are.  I must say, I don’t know how you managed to escape the incubus, but even if you did, I assumed destroying your happy marriage was worth it.”

“Sorry to disappoint.  Enid and my relationship is stronger than ever.  In fact, she is pregnant.”  Gerraint practically spat the words.  Bohort stood back and tried to follow the conversation.  Morgana merely got quiet and her expression became unreadable. Arthur, who finished reading the note to Meryddin from the Saxons, stayed in the doorway and understood too well.

“Danna willing, she may miscarry at her age.”

Gerraint reached for Defender, but stayed his hand. He had something else in mind. “So, three-quarters human, do you want to know how I escaped from the incubus?  I’ll give you a hint.  When I was young, and Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, I heard you ask what the Roman knew that you did not know.”  Gerraint let Meryddin remember the moment.  “Here is your hint.  I was the Roman.”  Gerraint went away and Festuscato stood in his place.  Bohort sat down.  Morgana drew in a sharp breath.  Meryddin’s eyes got big, evil djin big, like that part of his blood was stepping to the front and taking over.  Arthur simply nodded, like he already figured it out.  After all, Caliburn was Gerraint’s sword, as was Excalibur, for that matter.

“Kairos.”  Meryddin at least knew the name, but he probably did not know the most of it.

“But for you, it gets worse,” Festuscato said, and he went away and let Danna stand in his place.  She kept the weapons and armor of the Kairos which adjusted instantly to her shape and size.  Her appearance caused Arthur to gasp at the memory of her.  Bohort covered his eyes for her beauty.  Morgana sank to her knees, not the least confused about who she was seeing.  Meryddin, while not unaffected by the vision of her, he took it all wrong.

“A woman?”  In Meryddin’s mouth, that sounded like a great insult.  “Danna curse you.”

Danna ignored the man.  She raised her voice and called.  “Rhiannon.”  The ground trembled and the tent flapped, like in a great wind.  The whole army of Arthur paused in what they were saying and doing and looked up.  The oncoming army of the Saxons looked to the sky and wondered if maybe the signs were against them after all.  The waves in the English Channel picked up in size and speed, and inside a castle on an island in a lake on the border of Amorica, the very walls shook and trembled from the call.  Rhiannon had to come.

She appeared and Meryddin went to one knee

“Goddess,” he said.

“The Lady of the Lake,” Arthur breathed.

Bohort kept his tongue, but Meryddin had not finished digging himself deeper.

“Great goddess.  This woman is standing between your humble servant and his duty for Arthur, Pendragon.  I would be most grateful if you would remove this woman so that the men of Arthur may continue with the great work, even as we have discussed.”

Rhiannon looked at Meryddin before she turned to Danna and asked a question that was everything contained in one word. “Mother?”

“Time to pay, sweetheart.”  Danna stepped forward and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek. Rhiannon, who had been expecting this and waiting with trembling anticipation, scrunched up her face.

“Is it going to hurt?”

Meryddin’s jaw dropped as it slowly dawned on him just who this woman was.

“Here is your charge,” Danna said.  “You are to take this three-quarters man to your castle and lock him in your deepest dungeon cell.  Neither you, nor anyone else is allowed to talk to him.  Neither you, nor anyone else is allowed to listen to him.  So if you feed him, and that will be your choice, you better choose someone who is deaf and dumb, and with enough strength to not be overpowered by the one-quarter djin.  Then you will keep him there, in that cell, alone for the rest of his days.  When he has passed over to the other side, you have my permission to bury him.  Is that clear?”

“Yes mother, and it is much harder than I thought it would be.”

“Consequences are never easy,” Danna said.  She waved her hand and Rhiannon and Meryddin vanished. She turned to Morgana and brought her to tears with a question.  “And how are your daughters?”  Danna did not wait for her to answer.  “I know two boys who should be married.  Bowen and Damon by name.  They live on the mountain, next to the woods, in a farm hidden by the trees.  It is rocky, hard, unyielding mountain land, but the farm is good having been worked for many years.  Their mother is a seer and healer, so the girls can learn from her, and if your girls will work hard and be loving and faithful wives, I know the boys will be faithful husbands.”  She knew Morgana’s heart, but let the woman speak.

“Yes, please.  You are so kind.”

“Okay, one free trip, but that is it.”  Danna waved her hand and Morgana and all of her things vanished and reappeared by her home.  Danna took a second to tweak the ideal in two boys and two girls in their various minds and then she went away with a sigh so Gerraint could come back.

“Got any food.  I’m starving.  I would be asleep but the hunger would just wake me up.”

Arthur shared the letter with Bohort while he got Gwyr to fetch some food.  Arthur was back by the time Bohort finished reading.  Bohort only had one thing to say.  “You should have cut the old man’s head off.”

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

MONDAY

Mount Badon.  Gerraint goes back over the mountain, this time with a company of RDF.  Percival is fighting a delaying action, but that doesn’t mean Saxons can’t find their way up the mountain road.   Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 2 of 3

Gerraint got a fine room and an excellent supper. He was glad the village elders waited until he finished eating before they invaded his space.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.  “If Arthur does not send men down the mountain road, I will bring men this way.  You might fortify your village as well as you can and be vigilant in your watch for any stray Saxons or scouts that come this way.  But when Arthur’s men get here, I say let the brave among you go with Arthur to the battlefield.”

“Shouldn’t we ask for a garrison of men to help us defend our homes?” one of the elders asked, one who was obviously not one of the brave.

“No,” Gerraint shook his head.  “Arthur needs all the good men he can get on the battlefield. If Arthur wins the battle, your homes will be safe.  But if Arthur loses, no garrison will stop the Saxon army from doing as they please.”

The elders made no commitment, and Gerraint moved on in the morning.  Festuscato had shared the night’s sleep, since both he and Gerraint spent about half the day each, present and awake.  The Roman only needed breakfast, but Gerraint secured some foodstuffs for the journey, and it proved sufficient.

###

Gerraint traded places again with Festuscato as soon as he got out of town, and this time he sent his lance to Avalon with Gerraint’s armor.  That way, he looked more like an ordinary traveler on the road and less like a knight of the Round Table.

By late in the afternoon, Festuscato came upon a tree across the road.  He had been following some tracks, a half-dozen horses with the characteristic Saxon horse-boot print. Festuscato traded places with the princess, and she confirmed the half-dozen horsemen, their recent passage and their direction, but she said she could not confirm the Saxon boot.  She was familiar with the Roman hippo-sandal the men of Arthur put on their horses and she said these prints were made by a different boot, but she could not confirm Saxon.  Festuscato said that would be fine.  He recognized the Saxon print and appreciated her confirmation.  He slowed down until he stopped and faced the fallen tree.

He imagined something familiar about the tree, but somehow, it had to do with Gerraint.  Gerraint came home to his own time, took his own armor in place of the armor of the Kairos to complete the transformation, and then looked hard at the tree.  Of course, it was not the same one as before, he thought, but he did not exactly remember the one before.

Gerraint got out his rope and tied it to the tree and to his saddle.  He lugged the tree far enough to make an open way on the road.  He returned his rope to its bag and then avoided walking his horse as something in the back of his mind said, be prepared.  When he rode around the edge of the tree, he became confronted with a dozen large and well-armed men.  Gerraint paused before he called to Avalon for his lance.  It appeared in his hand, and he imagined that bit of magic might not be something the opposing horsemen wanted to see.

“I know you,” the man out front spoke up in a voice Gerraint recognized.  The man dismounted and Gerraint exclaimed.

“Little man.”  He also got down from his horse.  “I see you are up to your same tricks.  Must we fight to teach you better manners?”

“No, no,” the little man said.  “I have kept your pledge.  We have kept the road safe for travelers.  Not two weeks after we met, Arthur himself came with many men. We hosted him in our village on the mountainside and he confirmed the words you spoke.  On my honor, we have kept the road safe.”

“So why then the tree?”

“Not two days ago, we found six Saxons, poorly disguised.  We slew them, but not before we discovered they were scouts sent out by the army. We sent a rider to Caerleon to give warning.  The Saxons are coming.”

“This I know.  I carry a message for Arthur’s eyes only.”

“Lord, let me prevail upon you to share our hospitality.  My men would be pleased to host so noble a night in their midst.”

Gerraint shook his head.  “As you said, the Saxons are coming.  Time is short.  But Arthur will send men this way, or I may bring them myself.  When we come, I invite you and your men to join us.  We can use good men in the coming battle. Just make sure the men are brave enough. We need no cowards on the battlefield.” Gerraint mounted and had another thought, but waited.

“Do not doubt. My men are brave enough.  We will be ready.”  As Gerraint started to walk off, the little man said one more thing. “But Lord, Arthur was vague in the telling.  Do tell us who you are.”

“The Lion of Cornwall,” Gerraint owned the name and rode out of sight.  When he was far enough away, he called.  “Pinewood.” He knew no one followed him or watched because Pinewood and two others appeared in fairy form.  “Is what the little man reported accurate?” he asked.

“Mostly,” Pinewood said.  “He extracts a contribution from grateful travelers and merchants to continue his work of keeping the road safe, a contribution which is not always graciously given.  But he has stopped the killing and he does not beggar them.”

Gerraint nodded before he turned in his thoughts. “I traveled this road before, the other way, with Enid.”  Pinewood said nothing, because Gerraint did not ask a question.  “Find me a place where I can camp tonight and not be disturbed,” Gerraint said.  “If you would be so kind.”

“It would be our pleasure,” Pinewood said, and he guided Gerraint to a small house and farm off the road and well hidden by the woods.  An old woman lived there with two strapping sons.  The farm looked well enough tended for an impossible, rocky side of a hill, but Gerraint almost turned down the offer, not wanting to impose on a poor widow.

“Lord,” Pinewood encouraged him.  “She is a seer.  She may help you find what you are searching for”

Gerraint nodded and rode up to the house where the two sons waited.  “Lord,” they said.  “Please come in and refresh yourself.  Let us tend your equipment, and the children of the grass have come to tend to your steed.”

“Thank you,” Gerraint said.  He felt tired, though Festuscato spent most of the day in his place.  He entered the home and the woman already had a meal set out for him.

“Lord,” the woman said, and she took his cloak with hands trembling from fear, not from age.  “Please be welcomed in my house.  You are a man of great power, not of this world.  All are welcomed here.  The bed is prepared.”  She stepped back to watch, and Gerraint did not disappoint her.  He went away so Festuscato could come and enjoy the food.

“Well spoken,” Festuscato told the woman, and when he finished eating, he added, “Now I must rest.”  The bed felt comfortable, and Festuscato fell asleep in no time. Some seven hours later, just a couple of hours after midnight, Festuscato woke and washed.  Then Gerraint returned to speak to the woman who appeared still up, puttering about.

“The boys feel it,” the woman said.  “But not as strongly as I.”

Gerraint nibbled on the bread and slurped some of the remaining stew.  “And what do they feel?”

“That you have the answers to my life and to their life.  We have walked a strange road, in the dark of knowledge, yet in the light of knowing things in and around this place that other people cannot imagine.  The children of the grass have come to tend your horse.  The whispers in the wind fly from tree to tree and watch over you in the night. The children of the earth make your armor shine beneath the moon, and the horrors of the night fill your pouch with gold and precious jewels.  Who are you to command such honor from the spirits of life?”

I am an ordinary man as you can see.  I am forty-three, and yet I have lived for thousands of years in one way or another.”  Gerraint stuck out his hand toward the woman because he sensed something in her he could not define.  She misunderstood and took his hand to kiss with her lips and her tears, like a supplicant might kiss the hand of the pope in Rome.  Gerraint meant to shrug her off, but when she touched him, a clear vision came to his mind.  He knew who she was, and by extension, her sons.  He took back his hand gently, and wondered if Pinewood brought him here because she was a seer or because she was in need of a seer.

“I understand,” he said.  “Please sit.”

The woman sat at the table, but her hands continued to tremble.  “Your father built this place to get away from the world, but the world caught up with him and he died young.  Your husband was pleased to marry a wise woman.  The people all around here depend on your wisdom and your cures.  The Little King in his mountainside village hears you when you speak, though he hears no one else.  But for all your cures, you could not save the Little King’s wife when she was waylaid by three robbers on the road, or your own husband when he was taken by the flu.  Still, your boys keep the farm and you hear the little spirits in the night, like they come to you, unbidden, only you do not understand.”

“All that you say is true, though not many know these things and I have told you none of it.”

“This much I know,” Gerraint said.  “Your grandfather, your father’s father was an elf of the light, Dayrunner, brother of Deerrunner, the elf king.  Your father’s mother was a lovely woman who ran to the woods to escape from soldiers and became lost.  Dayrunner saved her and made her his wife for as long as she lived, and they had a son, your father.  He built this place away from other people and by the woods to be near his mother and father.  But the soldiers came again.  He and your mother were killed when you were a child, and your grandfather kept you safe, and raised you as a foster father, though you thought he was just a woodsman. In time, you found a husband of your own, and had a fine family.  Only now the soldiers are coming again.”  Gerraint paused.  The poor woman started to weep.

R6 Gerraint: To Arthur, part 1 of 3

Come the spring, Gerraint gathered the troops without waiting for word from Arthur.  Melwas brought up three hundred from Lyoness, as strong a commitment as that little kingdom ever made.  Gerraint gathered eight hundred in Cornwall, but that really amounted to five hundred with his personal three hundred men that had been with him on many campaigns. When they arrived in Devon, they found five hundred more with Tristam.  That seemed about as large a force as ever came out of Cornwall, and half of it was on horseback, but Gerraint feared it might not be enough.

Gwillim joined them in their march with six hundred men from the ports along the English Channel.  Apparently, the men there knew what a Saxon world would do to business.  The taxes would become impossible and business would all but halt.  They met another five hundred men under Mesalwig of Glastonbury who waited patiently at Bath.

“Enjoying the medicinal waters, I see,” Gerraint teased when he found Mesalwig floundering in the steamy water.

“Absolutely,” Mesalwig responded.  “It’s good for my complexion.”  He patted his jowls and grinned.

“Sorry.  It doesn’t reduce the fat cells,” Gerraint returned the grin.

“Gerraint!”  Gwillim ran in, yelling.  “You have to come.  Percival has brought word from Arthur.”

“Can’t be that important,” Gerraint said, and waved, as Mesalwig settled back down into the steamy water with a sigh.  He walked out with Gwillim, young Bedivere on his feet, and located Percival at the local inn.

“Gerraint,” Percival waved him over to a table in the back. Gwillim came with him, and Tristam found them there.  Uwaine came in and took Bedivere to the bar to give the older men some privacy. “Arthur has gotten word that the Saxons are preparing to move out of Wessex.  Men gathered there all winter and did not wait until spring like we supposed. He needs you to take up a position at the foot of Mount Badon where the old road over the hills meets the Roman road that goes around the hills.”

“The old road?”  Gerraint did not sound sure.

“You know, the one you traveled when you went home to take up the responsibility of being high chief of Cornwall.”  Percival read Gerraint’s face.  “The one you and Enid traveled,” he added, but Gerraint still was not sure.

“I’ll find it,” Gerraint said.  “If we are delaying the Saxons until Arthur gets here, we will probably move around a bit, anyway.”

Percival said nothing as he fiddled with something in his pouch.  “That’s not all.”  From the way Percival looked, Gerraint knew this would be the important thing.  “I came here over the mountain road, as Arthur instructed, to see if it might be suitable for the army, or part of the army while the main part came down the Roman road.  I stopped in a tavern in a village near the top, one day up from where the road first went its separate way.  There were Saxons there, four of them.  They were disguised, but their accent could not be disguised.  A druid met them.  They said they had a letter for Meryddin.”

“Let me see it.”  Gerraint put his hand out for the letter before Percival finished his tale.

“The druid attacked me rather than surrender the letter. I had to kill him.”  Percival looked down at the table and looked ashamed, like maybe he murdered someone.  “I hid the body.  I had to.”

Gerraint read quickly.  He did not believe it, so he went back and read more slowly. “Uwaine!”  He shouted, but Uwaine never stood far away.  He left the bar and joined them at the table, and brought Melwas and Bedivere with him.

“Percival is in command,” Gerraint said without preliminaries.  He looked squarely at Percival as he spoke.  “You are not to face the enemy in battle.  You must set traps on the road, fallen logs, covered pits if there is time. I expect, moving so many men, they will use the road and not travel across country.  Set up some quick in and out strikes in the night with your horsemen. You are to slow them, not face them.”

“I understand,” Percival said.

“Bedivere, you stick with Uwaine.  Uwaine, you take my place among my people.  Captain Kernow knows you, and Tristam and Melwas will back you.  Gwillim, you get yours and Mesalwig’s men in line.  Percival is in charge.”

“What about you?” Gwillim asked.

“I need to go over the mountain and bring this to Arthur, and I need to do it in disguise in case there are Saxons on the road.” He looked again at Percival and Uwaine. “I can wear a better disguise than the rest of you.”  Uwaine smiled at his own thoughts.  Percival responded.

“I understand.”

“What do you mean?”  Gwillim did not get it.

Gerraint said his lines.  “I have wings to fly that you know nothing of.  Eyes that see further, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Gerraint did not wait.  He mounted his horse and headed up the road, looking for the cut-off road that went up the mountain.

###

Once he got out of sight, he traded places with Festuscato and considered that this was the first time he had been back in Britain since he left on that ill-fated expedition to the Danish shores. Festuscato called to the armor of the Kairos, because it felt comfortable and Gerraint’s armor frankly felt too big and too easy to identify.  He wore the cape of Athena over all because his bow stayed in the cape’s secret pocket, not that it interfered with the free-flowing nature of an ordinary looking cape.  He left the helmet home in Avalon.  He wasn’t facing an enemy.  He was taking in the scenery.  Besides, if need be, he had Wyrd at his back and Defender across the small of his back, and he knew how to use them.

Festuscato found the road easily enough.  He had a touch of Diana, the huntress in his spirit and he could usually find whatever or whomever he went looking for.  The road wound up the steep side of the hill and his horse began to plod.  When he got high enough, he looked back at the land he covered.  The land flattened out where the roads met, and appeared filled with farms and fields ready to plant.  There were only occasional clumps of trees left on the landscape, and he imagined most of the old lumber they cut from the fields got used to build the village well off to his left, oddly away from the road.  He decided it must have been built along a small river of fresh water. He could see the steeple of the church before anything else.

Festuscato turned his thoughts over in his mind. Along with a touch of the goddess of the hunt, he also bore a touch of Justinia, the blind goddess of justice. Merlin would be a problem.  The letter he carried all but proved he prepared to betray Arthur.  The Saxons promised, in return for Meryddin’s help, that with victory, that they would drive out the church and burn every church building they found.  Maybe Meryddin just hedged his bet so he could survive no matter who won the battle, but it did not look good, and it would not sit well with Arthur and the others.  Some would call for Meryddin’s head.  These were hard times.

The land above flattened out after a while and gave way to more rocky and lumpy farm fields than found down below.  But people carved out what they could, and up here, they seemed more inclined to sheep and cattle than fields of grain.  There were also forests up here, more than the mere clumps of trees down below.

Around sundown, Festuscato came to an upland village. The village appeared to be full of activity, with men and women running every which way.  Wagons were being loaded and clogged the streets.  Horses were being fed and rubbed and readied for some great work ahead.  And men were gathering weapons, bows, swords, knives and spears.  Festuscato did not have to check with Gerraint to know that these people were preparing for war.

He rode to the inn, not expecting to find a room without paying the price, and he thought long about camping outside of town. He feared the locals might take his horse in the night for the war effort.  He got ready to ride on when he saw a familiar face, and he thought he might ask.  Festuscato left that time and Gerraint came back.  He kept the armor where it was, as it adjusted to his shape and size and did feel very comfortable.  He leaned down toward the young woman as he spoke.

“Face any giants lately?”

The woman stopped and lifted her hand to shade her eyes against the setting sun as she looked up.  “Sir?  What a curious question.  My husband and I faced three giants when we were young, not far from here.  I was just thinking of that very time because I fear for him again in this coming war.”

“The young man survived?”  Gerraint remembered something and tried to grasp for answers.

The woman cocked her head to try and get a better look.  “Yes sir. His arm was broken and he received a terrible blow to the head which caused him to faint.  I thought he was surely dead, but a brave Knight and his Lady came to our rescue.  She restored my love to me while her Knight chased those giants and slew all three of them; but when he returned he came so grievously wounded I thought he must surely die.”

“Then what happened?”  Gerraint loved a good story.

The woman shook her head.  “It is like a dream.  I do not remember clearly.  But I remember the men of Arthur the Pendragon came and brought me and my husband here, to my father’s inn.  They set his arm and gave him tonics so in time he was right again.  But they left soon.”  She shook her head again. “My father may remember better than I.”

Gerraint dismounted.  “Well, I am glad your young man survived.”

The woman’s eyes got big before she lowered her head.  She recognized him right away, now that she could see him clearly.  “My Lord, I did not know it was you.”

“Your father’s inn?”  Gerraint pointed.  “I am in need of a room.”

“Of course.”  The woman stepped to the door to hold it open.  “But my Lord never told me his name that I may tell my father.”

Gerraint felt tempted to use the name Goreu and without any other explanations, he would be a relative stranger.  But in this case, he felt the woman should know, and he hoped the truth might preserve his horse and equipment.  “Arthur and the others call me Sir Gerraint, son of Erbin.”

The woman gasped.  “The Lion of Cornwall,” and she scurried inside without remembering to hold the door.

R6 Gerraint: To Kent, part 2 of 3

“Goreu.”  Cordella most often called him by his Cornish, given name.  “We were just discussing Bedivere becoming your squire. Uwaine has given his highest recommendation.”

“Wait a minute,” Gerraint protested, but apparently, it had already been decided.  “Uwaine is the younger man, much more suited to take on a squire.”

“Now, don’t disappoint your sister,” Melwas said.

“I thought it was all settled,” Percival said.

“It is,” Enid said, with a look up into Gerraint’s face.

“Congratulations,” Gawain grinned.

Uwaine matched the grin.  “Now some other young man can have the privilege of keeping you out of trouble.”

Gerraint felt trapped, because he was.

In the morning, Gerraint turned the young man over to the Priest with strict instructions concerning reading, writing and arithmetic.  “You will stay with Enid for now, and when I get back I expect you to be reading the Latin.” He stopped.  He sounded like Pelenor in his own ears.  “Do your best son,” he said more softly.  “Hopefully it is nothing and we won’t be gone long.” Then Gerraint, Percival, Gawain, Uwaine, and Melwas rode off toward the north.  They were to meet up with Tristam, Mesalwig, Gwillim and several others in the port where they could take ship to Caerleon.  Arthur called in the council of the Round Table.  Octa, the Angle would-be king was beginning to make some moves.

###

Arthur waited until everyone got seated, but that added up to about fifty men.  There were thirty at the actual table, but the others, the younger ones, brought their chairs in close to make a kind of second row.  He began, by simply saying, “Gwyr.”

Gwyr stood and looked at the scroll while he talked. “Octa and the Angles have overrun Londugnum.”

“What?”  A number of men stood, but one man said what many thought.  “I understood Octa was fighting other Angles, and I thought that was a good thing.”

“Octa recently overcame his opposition,” Arthur said. “Go on.”  He pointed to Gwyr.

“As far as reported, the citizens of Londugnum are not being harmed.  Octa has actually encouraged the merchants, but he has doubled the taxes, and with that money he has hired Saxon mercenaries from the swamps of Mercia and soldiers from East Anglia to bolster his army.  Officially, Mercia and Anglia are taking a wait and see approach, and Essex is telling Octa to keep his hands off their land, but if Octa shows some real success, they may all go over to him.”

“What does that mean?” people asked.

Meryddin stood and people quieted.  “It means we may finally be facing the Saxon invasion we have all feared for years.  As long as the Saxons were divided, we could keep them in their place, one by one. But if they ever unite, we risk being overrun with Angles and Saxons.  Right now, Octa has taken rule of Kent, but he has eyes on expanding his territory. We must meet him and drive him back to Kent before others are tempted to join him.”  Meryddin sat.  He spoke to the point.  Meryddin understood that there would one day be a place for the church under Saxon rule, but there would be no place for the druids.  For Meryddin, this became a matter of survival.

By the time Arthur marched his army east, word came from Bedwyr that Oxford had fallen.  He got most of his men across the ford and into a safe camp on the hill called Bregus, but Octa now controlled the ford and it might be hard to get it back.  The whole Londugnum corridor below Essex fell into Angle hands.

Britain claimed both sides of the Thames all the way to the sea, but on a practical level, the few miles between the south bank of the River and the north border claimed by Sussex became a no-man’s land. Arthur traveled down the north bank so as not to arouse the Saxons.  Between the north bank and Essex stood a good piece of land defended by Bedwyr and his local lords.  But Essex crowded the north bank below Oxford, so the situation reversed.  It was the south bank of the river that got defended between Oxford and Londugnum.

Arthur stopped over three thousand men roughly ten miles from Oxford.  He sent Gerraint, his three hundred and the RDF to relieve Bedwyr and run a guerilla campaign designed to make sure any scouts or small groups that crossed the ford never made it back.  After a month, the Angles had a hard time getting volunteers to scout out the enemy position.

Gerraint made sure the Angles did get word when Loth, Kai and Captain Croyden arrived from the north with two thousand men. Octa imagined this was what Arthur had waited for, and he further fortified his side of the ford, above and beyond the fort and waited for the assault.  In fact, Arthur spent that month building boats and rafts which he used to cross three thousand men and equipment over the river in a night.  The march down the river’s south bank brought them to a place where they could rest just two miles short of Octa’s army.  The next morning, the Angles were seriously surprised to find Arthur already crossed over the river and behind them.

Loth, Kai and Gerraint with his eight hundred lances attacked the ford.  Arthur Attacked from behind and Angle resistance quickly crumbled.  Some escaped into the fort, which stuffed about eight hundred overcrowded men in that old structure.  The Saxon mercenaries sought sanctuary in Essex, at least those that were not found and killed.  The British mounted over a hundred dead mercenaries to cross-braced lumber and trees, like men crucified by the Romans, and they left them there on the riverbank above the tidal line, facing the Essex border across the water.

Most of the Angles fled toward Kent, thinking they were home free.  But Arthur did something then he never did before.  He pursued the Angles, and all that he caught, he killed.  He had left the fort untouched.  Bedwyr’s four hundred with the help of a couple hundred of the RDF, kept the men in the fort and hungry.  They could wait.  Arthur would be back.

Then Arthur did not stop at the traditional line, which was Londugnum.  In fact, he bypassed the city altogether and continued into Kent where he killed every armed Angle he found and burned the villages in his path.  He met and crushed an organized resistance at Rochester, and continued to burn all the dwellings that were within British claimed territory, which reached inland, several miles from the banks of the Thames.  Arthur did not stop until he reached Canterbury where Octa had cobbled together a last stand.

Arthur went out to meet the man.  Octa’s mother stood there, and it looked like she was going to say something, but Arthur spoke first.  It was a command.  “Sit.” The woman sat and Arthur spoke his peace.

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 3 of 3

Percival thought out loud.  “But if accepting Christ is one of the requirements for land, there will be no problem with foreign gods or foreign rituals.” Meryddin did not answer, but from his look it seemed obvious he thought dropping that requirement was the way to liberalize the conditions.

Arthur spoke and everyone turned to listen.  “As I understand it, the Roman way was to use innuendo and rumor, the appearance of betrayal and double-cross to turn just such potential allies into enemies.  Maybe if we apply some Roman thinking, we can get the Scots and Norwegians to fight each other and leave us alone.”

Meryddin came flat out against that idea, and to be fair, Gerraint pointed out that the Romans did that in order to come in later and conquer both decimated and worn out groups.  It was not something the Romans did to foster peace.

“Claudus’ mistake,” Arthur said.  “He should have gotten Amorica and the Franks to fight each other and come in later to pick up the pieces.”

“Exactly,” Percival and several of the others agreed. No one knew what Meryddin thought about it.

Meryddin proved right in one way.  The Scots and Danes were the first to make a move. Arthur said he would hate himself one day, but he sent word to Kai to secretly tell the Scots he was making a deal with the Norwegians, offering land for their support and betrayal of the Scots. Then he sent word to the Danes through Captain Croydon that he was secretly negotiating with the Scots in a land for peace deal if they betrayed the Danes.  Finally, he sent word to Loth to approach both the Scots and Norwegians, if possible, and tell them that Arthur was willing to negotiate, whatever might avoid a war, but he would not be willing to swap land for peace.  This last got written in an official way, and sealed with Arthur’s seal under the assumption that Loth would show it around. But then, it was true.  Arthur had no intention of swapping land with anyone for the sake of peace.   Kai and Captain Croyden knew the truth, but Loth did not.  Gerraint called it “plausible deniability.”

From late winter and all through the spring, Arthur sent soldiers in small family groups to bolster Kai up by the wall and Croydon in York.  These were the bulk of the people that Arthur hoped would eventually repopulate the northern lands.  By the time early summer rolled around and Arthur gathered his army to move north, he already had over a thousand men stationed there, ready and waiting. Twenty-five hundred moving out of Caerleon might have looked relatively few in numbers to any spies the Scots or Danes sent out, but it was a deceptive number.

When Arthur arrived at the River Tweed, the Scots had drawn up some two thousand men and the Norwegians roughly the same number. Both sides should have had more, but there were men on both sides who refused to come, convinced that their so-called allies were not to be trusted and would betray them.  Arthur did his best to further that impression.

When he arrived, he immediately sent out two delegations.  Each delegation had one person who were known sympathizers with that particular enemy. Arthur instructed the two delegations separately so that neither group heard the instructions to the other.  He told the Scottish group that they were to offer the standard belligerences, as was common, and offer the Scots the chance to lay down their weapons and return home in peace.  Then he admitted, secretly, that he would be settling with the Danes the details of the land for peace deal and exactly at what point in the battle they were to betray their allies.  He told the Norwegian group much the same thing and knew the Scottish and Danish sympathizers would find a way to tell the Scottish and Danish leadership that they were being betrayed.

When the dawn came, Arthur marched his men forward, slowly.  Gerraint always suspected someone like Pinewood or Deerrunner, but he never probed, so it remained a mystery; but someone in the Scottish lines sent an arrow at the Danes.  That was all it took.  Arthur halted and watched two armies destroy each other.  In the evening, with fairy help, he sent troops to gather up the Danish and Scottish survivors and escort them back to their respective homes. Then Arthur went home.

“You realize, the Danes and Scots will hate and mistrust each other for centuries,” Gerraint said, one evening in camp.

“I am sure,” Arthur said.  “And I am sure I will hate myself for what I did, someday.”

“You further realize the Danes and Scots will pull back and leave open ground between them, and the Saxons will move up from the swamps of Mercia and take the land between.”

“That I did not know,” Arthur said, quietly.

“I’ll take a victory like that any day,” Bedwyr burst out with it.  “Even Meryddin can’t be too upset since his precious Scotsmen suffered fewer casualties than they might have.”

“I am sure,” Arthur said again, but he felt concerned about Meryddin.  For the first time, he deliberately kept Meryddin in the dark, and now Meryddin would know it.

“I think we may actually have peace in the north for a time,” Percival said.  He had been thinking hard about it.  “Now, if either the Scots or Danes move into the land, the other side may fight against them.  That may not be like fighting on our side, exactly, but it would be the next best thing.”

“At least Loth survived his Danish knife,” Gawain pointed out.

“Loth is a survivor,” Gerraint said.  “He is in it for Loth.”

“Things did get pretty hot for him both with the Scots and with the Danes,” Arthur agreed. “That is the part I may hate myself for.”

“He was lucky to get away with only one Danish knife wound,” Gawain concluded.

“Loth is a talker,” Bedwyr added.  “He could talk his way out of a lion’s jaw.”

“Slick as a used car salesman,” Gerraint called him

“What’s a car?” Uwaine asked softly.  “And why would someone buy it used?”  Gerraint only shrugged.

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

MONDAY

To Kent.  With Uwaine grown and knighted, Gerraint gets a new squire, Bedivere, son of his little sister, Cordella.  Gerraint feels like he is getting too old for this.  Fortunately, the King of Kent is making noise and Arthur wants to be sure he stays in his place.  Until Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday) Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Scots and Danes, part 2 of 3

Arthur called for the immediate surrender of the Saxons and declared himself unwilling to shed blood unless necessary. He promised safe escort back to Wessex for whomever might wish it.  His words must have had an effect, because those Saxons who fought on the next day in an effort to break out of their predicament did not seem fully committed.  Many abandoned their leaders and ran back to their camps.

One thing, Arthur took note that the Saxons started making lances of their own and training horsemen how to use them.  But then, Arthur’s men had been training in lance against lance combat since the Irish invasion got repelled.  The Saxon lancers still had a lot to learn.

Heingest got killed in one of the small battles or skirmishes that took place on that day.  With his voice silenced, the Saxons accepted Arthur’s offer and went home. The remaining Saxon warships already headed out of the channel and toward home, not pursued, but followed by Thomas’ merchant fleet.

When it was all settled, Gerraint found Arthur and they hugged and Gerraint said, “You know, if this was a thousand years from now I would call it a good time to go in for a cup of tea.”  They had to settle for Ale.

There were two years of peace after the siege of Caerleon, barely a breather.  Gerraint’s mother died at the ripe old age of sixty-six.  Gerraint figured she lived so long because she had servants and never took responsibility for anything, and thus had low stress.  Most of the common people did not live that long. Fifty-something might have been average for those not taken by accident, war, or disease.  Seventy would have been venerable.

Gerraint settled down in those two years to raise his sons.  Sadly, Arthur began to get letters, and he called together some of the Round Table to discuss matters.

Loth wrote from the north that the Scots started making noises again, and what was more, they appeared to be building a relationship with the Danes along the Norwegian shore.  This sounded bad, and Loth could not exert enough influence to stop it.  In fact, he moved his family to York for their safety.

Bedwyr wrote from Oxford that the Saxons in Essex and Mercia and the Angles in East Anglia seemed altogether too quiet, but Octa, son of Heingest, son of Hueil the pirate, who also happened to be the son of an Angle Princess, began to style himself as a king of the angles in Kent, and those long quiet Germans were making far too much noise.  He feared the worst if Octa, or his angle princess mother, should succeed in their ambitions.

Gwillim wrote from Dorset with confirmation from his brother Thomas that the Saxons in Sussex and Wessex were gathering together on a much too regular basis.  He said the word “coward” seemed to be the main word tossed around.  It got aimed at the men who surrendered with such relative ease at Caerleon.  And as you know, he said, the word coward for a Saxon is a fighting word.

“We can’t go chasing after every rumor and innuendo,” Arthur said.

“On the other hand,” Gerraint responded.  “None of these men is inclined to be a letter writer. If they put it in writing, they must think the threat credible.”

“True,” Percival agreed.  “After Bedwyr, I cannot think of another man less likely to sit down and write a letter.”

“Pelenor,” Gerraint said without hesitation.

Percival grinned. “That would be a sign of the end times, do you think?”

Arthur laughed, but Meryddin interrupted with his thoughts.  “Saxons and Angles we know, and they cannot seem to do anything without casting their seed everywhere.  If the Saxons or Angles begin to gather an army from among their many petty chieftains, we will know it and have time to gather ours.  As long as they continue to talk, they pose no threat.  You know they can’t talk and fight at the same time.”

“Walk and chew bubblegum,” Gerraint mumbled to no one’s understanding.

Meryddin ignored the interruption.  “I believe the greater threat is the alliance between the Scots and the Norwegians.   Our knowledge of events in the north is no better than it has ever been.  Loth does his best, but his spies are not that good. The Norwegians keep to their own, and the Scots are a constantly changing mess.  One thing we do know is both peoples have increased their numbers from immigration in the last few years.  The Ulsterites have flocked to the north in numbers greater than ever before. Their home is still overcrowded and the Irish are stubborn and relentless in trying to take the land right out from beneath them.”

“Like that will ever change,” Gerraint mumbled again. Meryddin stopped this time and stared. Gerraint sat up straight. “Illegal aliens.  Go on,” he said.

Meryddin continued.  “We know from recent experience most of the Scots, lured by the promise of land, are inclined to head north and further reduce the Pictish population.  But we also know the still relatively depopulated north of Britain is tempting. The newly arrived Danes must certainly be eyeing that fertile land, and the Scots no less.  That they should make an alliance smells of trouble to come.”

“What do you recommend?” Gawain asked.

“A word from the young?”  Gerraint seemed to be in a mood.

“Only because Uwaine would never say it,” Gawain whispered, and they turned to see Meryddin staring at them both.  Meryddin gave Gerraint another mean look before he continued.

“We must focus our attention on finding a way to break the Scottish-Norwegian alliance.  No good for us can come from such a partnership.  I recommend riding to the north and meeting with the Scottish leaders.  Three years ago, we found Scots on our land and allowed them to stay if they met certain conditions.  Perhaps if we liberalize the requirements, we might entice the Scots to our side to hold the line against the Danes.”

“Why don’t we invite the Danes to our side with an offer of land?” Tristam asked.

“Bah!”  Meryddin would not hear it.  “The Scots are good Celtic people who think like us and act like us and believe about life the way we do.  Even their tongue shares some words with ours.  The Norwegians are foreign and strange.  They worship strange Gods and practice strange rituals and have nothing in common with our own people.”

“Foreign devils,” Gerraint mumbled, but he had to admit it was a good argument for picking one side over the other.

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 3 of 3

They had serious casualties on both sides, but by far the Romans took the worst of it.  Among the footmen, the Roman short sword, while good in phalanx formation, proved no match for the Celtic early broadsword in one on one combat.  The Celts took a toll of almost three to one. The horsemen did even better, likely topping four to one, and the archers better still.  Barely one in ten made it to the top of the rise, thanks in no small part to the elves.  At the top, the Romans either surrendered or quickly fell prey to a dwarf ax or some other hobgoblin sword.

Uwaine, who got lost in the confusion of battle, found Gerraint again even as Lord Birch gave the score.

Gerraint lost a few little ones and he wept.  He lost some brave men from Cornwall, and he doubly wept.  But it was not long, and he looked at Lord Birch, he realized he saw things on the battlefield he had no business seeing—things that were much too far away for normal eyes, like seeing Claudus in his chariot.  He got angry before he put Fairy eyes on the list with his dwarf nose and elf ears, and eyes that could probably see even if he had no light at all. He sighed and sniffed, and quickly took Uwaine to find Arthur among the troops.

“Nothing ever goes to plan,” Arthur said, as he walked among his own men cut down in battle.

“No, but sometimes it works well enough,” Gerraint agreed.  He dismounted to walk and Uwaine held the reigns of all three horses.

“Your knights gone?”

“Yes, and most of the little ones back to the Lady of the Lake’s castle or the Bringloren forest.”

Arthur merely nodded.  After a minute he said, “Excalibur is an excellent sword.  It sliced a Roman sword in two.  A bit heavier than Caliburn though.”

“Diogenes always liked it.”  Gerraint paused to picture one of those short swords cut in two. Couldn’t have been much left.

Arthur and Gerraint halted when Percival and Hoel rode up.  Hoel smiled, and while not unaware of the serious nature of the moment, he just could not help himself.  “Remind me to stay on your good side,” Hoel said, as he got down from his horse to join them.  Arthur did something unexpected.  He hugged the man, and suddenly there were a few tears in the old man’s eyes.

Lionel came up next, and he came in a hurry.  “Howel is wounded,” he shouted, and they made him calm down enough to tell what happened.  A Roman planted his spear in the dirt and struck Howel in his shield. He knocked him back, right off his horse.  The spear nicked his shoulder, no big deal, but he fell on a sharp rock and bruised and cut his bum.  He is lying on his stomach on a stretcher and the only thing he keeps saying is “I am so embarrassed,” and, “How embarrassing.”

“He said nothing else?” Percival asked.

“Ouch?” Gerraint suggested.

Lionel grinned sheepishly and whispered.  “He said don’t tell anyone.”  He raised his voice.  “But I said I would tell his father.”  He returned to a whisper. “But I can’t help it if other people overheard.” He tried not to laugh.  Hoel tried to look stern, but he couldn’t.

“Better go comfort the boy,” he said.  They heard the laugh as he rode off.

“Before I go,” Gerraint took Arthur’s attention. “When my small troop went after the auxiliaries, Lancelot saw and sounded the horn.  Bohort saw and lead some five hundred to join us.  Two-fifty on three thousand would have been rough. They are good men here in this country.”

Arthur agreed but asked, “Where are you going?”

“Greta can help a small number of those good men,” he said.  “I’m sorry there is only one of me.  Percival and Uwaine.”  They were ready to protect her with their lives.

Greta sewed up Howel’s butt and kept telling him to shut-up.  She imagined he never got a good look at her, being on his stomach and all.  Urien, the Raven, had a cut in his arm, but not a bad one. Gwillim took an arrow in his shoulder, and that proved a bit tricky.  Both of them were drunk when she found them, so she felt certain their eyes could not have been in focus.  “Old Celtic cure,” Uwaine called it.  Greta felt the fewer of Arthur’s men who got a good look at her, the better.  Not that they would ever put her together with Gerraint, but on principle it felt better not to give such big hints.

By far, the wounded she treated were cut in their legs, the only place a foot soldier could reach a man on horseback.  Some might lose their legs, some might never walk well again, or run or ride well, but some would heal.  There was only so much she could do, and at last she got worn to a frazzle.  “I am done,” she said.  She pushed the hair and sweat from her eyes, splashed cold water on her face, took off her red cloak and opened the top button of her dress to fan herself.  Her breasts became only slightly exposed, but Percival stared and Uwaine turned away.  She thought they were being silly, but when she came to the tent door, she said, wait here a minute, sweetly.  She went in and hardly a second later, Gerraint came out.  “She only said wait a minute,” he said and walked off.  They caught up.

There were five thousand not only beaten, but broken Romans who walked back to Provence.  Arthur buried his dead by the fort, and stayed to finish the building. Hoel sent most of his dead home for burial and then took Arthur on a tour of the land.  Hoel still felt concerned about the Franks, even if Claudus was history.  Hoel found excuses.

Meryddin showed up shortly after the battle, and he seemed his old affable, nasty, and overprotective of Arthur self.  He may have been part of the reason Arthur got delayed.  Amorica still overflowed with believers in the old ways.  The church made few inroads in the land, and it seemed to Gerraint that Meryddin kept looking for ways to drive the church out altogether. Gerraint thought that Meryddin worked on Arthur to show him the value of keeping to the old traditions, but he felt confident Meryddin would not get far with that.  It never occurred to Gerraint that Meryddin might be working on him as well.

Arthur stayed all spring, even after most of his men went home.  Bohort, Lionel and Howel stayed busy taking Lancelot to the port to see the British off.  They delighted in getting Lancelot drunk and introducing him to what they called a nice young woman.  Lancelot accepted the challenge, as he accepted all challenges, but then he stayed with that nice young woman for several months and did not play the field, and he respected the young woman who did not know how to take that. When that young woman became pregnant, she refused to burden Lancelot with that knowledge.

Arthur stayed all summer, but come the fall he convinced Hoel to let him take some of the young men including Bohort, Howel, Lionel and Lancelot and train them to the lance and in the way of Rapid Deployment. Hoel agreed, and they set sail on a blustery day for Caerleon and home.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint returns home after months away.  He loves Enid, but he wonders how she managed to keep those months.  He begins to doubt.  Don’t miss next week’s chapter, Over the Mountain.  Until then, Happy Reading

 

*

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

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.

“Is he volunteering to help?” Arthur, who had been around Gerraint for some time and knew better how to read his shorthand speech, guessed.”

“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.”

“But.”

“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.”

Meryddin sighed and said he had an appointment. He took the big staff he sometimes carried and stepped into the woods of the lake.

“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.

“Maybe we could have the men attack only one legion head on,” Feswich tried thinking.

“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.

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

MONDAY

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

*

R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 2 of 2

At once there came a flash of light and a tall woman, the most beautiful woman Arthur had ever seen, stepped up beside him and waved her arm once.  The fog cleared off in an instant, like waving her arm created a great wind, though Arthur felt no wind.  The clearing revealed six blue painted Picts, crouched like hunters, but utterly unmoving.

Meryddin got revealed, standing still as a statue on the edge of the forest.  The woman stepped up for a closer look. She saw the grandfather, a djin, a lesser spirit of evil that terrorized people to the point where they died of fright and then it sucked out their souls.  He had gone over to the other side, but before he went, he allowed a young woman to live.  She had a son who soon enough ate his mother.  His reign of terror came to the end at the hands of the people, a Frankenstein-type mob, but not before he impregnated a fifteen-year-old girl.  She had a son, Meryddin, one quarter djin.

Suddenly it made sense.  By the time Meryddin turned ten, his mother, then twenty-five, looked more like fifty.  She had no life left to tend the boy.  He went into the hands of the druids who worked their mightiest spells to bind the thing inside the boy.  They were partially successful, and Meryddin seemed normal after that.  But he never lost the ability to see and hear at great distances, though he could not exactly control it, and his power of illusion stayed great.

The woman turned when Arthur turned and saw, not Gwynyvar, but Gwenhwyfach.  The woman knew Gwenhwyfach participated in Meryddin’s scheme, and she took a deep breath before she acted.

“Go home, trollop,” the woman said, and Gwenhwyfach disappeared from that place.  Arthur stared at the woman until she gave her name.  “Danna.”

“Goddess,” he responded.

“No, Gerraint,” she smiled for him.  “And it would seem strange to be my own goddess, but he is a Christian now.”

“Yes.”  Arthur came more to himself and nodded.  “As am I, but…”  He quickly looked around.  He felt mortified by what he did and it showed on his face.

“No one saw,” Danna said.  She waved her hand again and Arthur became clothed.  “For you it will be like an unpleasant dream, but you must remember it because there will be consequences.”  Another wave and Arthur appeared back in his tent, on his bed, asleep.  Then the goddess turned to the others.  She started with Meryddin, and when she opened his eyes they almost popped from his head on sight of her.

“I see you,” she said.  “I see what is inside of you, driving you.  Will you see it?”

Meryddin’s tongue came loose.  “You cannot be here.  How can you be here?  My goddess, do not turn against your servant.”

“I will show you,” Danna said.  “This is in your heart.”

Meryddin got set free even as the vision formed. He saw himself as a child slowly draining the life of his own mother.  He saw his father eating his own mother and he screamed.  He saw his grandfather and ran, wild abandon in the dark, with no thought for his life, and indeed, no thought at all beyond his fear. How far he would run and whether or not his mind would ever be whole again, even Danna could not say.  His influence over Arthur ended, but his wickedness continued and she did not have the right to intervene.  There would be consequences, but in the meanwhile, she could do something about the six Pictish statues

Danna looked at the men and thought the compulsion should pass in a week.  One madman per night should be enough.  She waved her hand once more and all six men appeared, five in villages along the coast and the sixth in the city that would one day be called Aberdeen.  They attracted an immediate crowd, night or not. Danna made sure of that.  Then the men spoke, but the only thing they could say was, “We should not have gone beyond the wall.  Now we are all dead.”  And they said it whenever they opened their mouths.

Danna turned to the forest and said, “Hear me.” That voice echoed through the Highlands, rippled across the lakes and blew like the cold wind in the remotest islands of the north.  “The time has come.  The iniquity is complete.  The Picts will be no more.  Do not hinder the men from the south.  Arthur must have his way.”  Then Danna vanished instantly and Gerraint returned, Salvation in his hand as it had been when Danna filled his shoes.

Gerraint looked up at the stars and moon, now clearly visible since the fog pushed off.  He returned his sword to its place and climbed off wall.  Uwaine stood there, but the boy did not see.  Just as well, Gerraint thought, and he thought of those men saying the same thing over and over for seven days, if they should live. He spoke out loud.

“My name is Inigo Montoya.  You keelled my Father.  Prepare to die.”

Uwaine nodded.  “Weird,” he said.

Arthur found Gerraint at dawn, said he had the weirdest dream and since he could not find Meryddin and since Gerraint was king of weird he wanted to share it.

Gerraint interrupted.  “I did not see anything through that fog, and there is no power on earth that can make her tell anyone.”  He paused when he saw a tear come up into Arthurs eyes.  “Meryddin ran away,” he added.

Arthur grasped at that change of subject.  “What do you mean ran away?”

“He got scared.  He ran, off into the forest, into the wilds of the Celidon.  I don’t know if we will see him again.”

“Scared?”

 “He saw himself, what he really is.  He might not be in his right mind.”  Gerraint shook his head, sadly.

Arthur sniffed, dried his eyes and stepped to the tent door.  “We have a job to do.”  He stiffened, and Gerraint could not even guess what might be running through Arthur’s mind.  “We can’t run away,” Arthur said, and he lead twelve hundred men into the wilderness of Caledonia.

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TOMORROW: Cat Coit Celidon. Don’t miss it.

*

R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 1 of 2

It almost took less time than Arthur thought before the sons of Caw came charging out of the north.  The Scots made no effort to stop them.  They dared not.  Loth and Kai were hard pressed to keep a safe zone for twenty miles around their forts and hundreds of people flocked there while thousands fled South, to York. Outside of those forts, the Picts had free reign, and they slaughtered whole villages and burned farms to the ground with the people inside the farmhouses.

Things balanced a little when the RDF arrived after the first month.  The RDF, particularly out of York, saved hundreds of people, and fought the Picts about even, with losses at first on both sides.  By the time Arthur got on the way, the RDF started gaining at Pict expense, particularly the men from York who had spent much of their time surveying the land to become familiar with the terrain.

With Arthur’s arrival, the Picts went back above the wall and took all the loot they collected up until then.  There were oxen, wagons, horses, sheep and cattle, and there were tons of farm implements, hoes and plows, and even some gold and silver. All Arthur had to see was the burned remains of one family, burned alive in their own home, and he became uncontrollable.  It took until the end of the day before he was able to talk.

“We are going to Caledonia,” he said softly. Everyone hushed to hear him.  “We are going above the Antonine wall.  If no one wants to go with me, I will go alone.” He walked off.

“Even the Romans never dared enter the Celidon Forest.  There are ghosts and terrible monsters up there.”  Bedwyr summed up what everyone thought.

“There are,” Gerraint agreed, his eyes fastened on Arthur’s receding back.  “But this time the ghosts and terrible monsters will be fighting on our side.”  People looked at him like he might be as mad as Arthur, but at least Percival and Uwaine smiled.

Twelve hundred men were brave enough to follow Arthur into the wild north.  Mostly, they were RDF and members of the Round Table, but some were men who lost homes and loved ones.  Arthur left the rest of the army at Edinburgh, Guinnon, and York in case some Picts circled around and tried to come back, “Or if the Scots get restless,” Loth said.

Then it became a simple matter to march north. The Scots stepped aside.  The Picts had been wild and angry, but these men showed something on their faces and in their silence that felt far more frightening.

In the afternoon, the army reached the northern wall. The men and squires set camp while Arthur, Gerraint and Percival climbed that portion of the Antonine wall where the stones still stood.  The forest that started some distance away looked shrouded in a strange mist, more like a cloud that had fallen to the ground than an ordinary fog.  The sky seemed otherwise cloudless.  The stars would be out in the night, and the moon that looked nearly full would shine down on the world and light the way for weary travelers.

“This has gotten serious,” Gerraint said. Arthur nodded and looked to the northeast so the sun set at his back.

“They are mostly in the east,” Arthur said. “The city of the high chief is on the east coast.  The islands and western wilds have begun to fill up with Ulsterites.”

“Where did you hear that?” Percival asked.

“They made a mistake attacking the Norwegians along with the Britons south of here,” Gerraint explained.  “If it was not for the coastal watch, the Danes would have swallowed up Caledonia long ago.”

“Now they are inspired,” Arthur said.

Gerraint took a good look all the way around. Meryddin, defender of the Scots and Picts went missing, and that bothered him.  His little ones were anxious to help, but he was not convinced he would let them beyond guiding lights and bumps in the Pictish night. He felt afraid to let them get too close.  He feared what Meryddin would do if he captured one.

Percival said nothing.  He simply looked around with Gerraint before he got down and went to his tent.  After a moment, Arthur and Gerraint got down and went their ways.  The morning sun would dawn on a different world.

Deep in the night, Arthur heard a cry.  He thought at first that it might be a sheep or goat trapped in a twist of briars. He heard it again and thought it might be a songbird disturbed in the night.  On the third call, he sprang out of bed.  It might have been Picts sneaking up on the camp, but this sounded like a woman in distress.  He snuck out to the wall where the mist had fallen over all the open ground and slowly crept over the wall.  Arthur hesitated, but then he heard the woman again and he understood the word, “Help.”

Once over the wall and covered in the thick fog, he had only his hearing and internal sense of direction to guide him. “Hello?”  He spoke softly in the hope of eliciting a response.  He shook his head several times.  The fog seemed to be penetrating his brain.  “Hello?”

“Arthur?”  The word struck him like a hammer and he lost all sense for a minute.  He knew the voice.  “Arthur?”

“Gwynyvar.”  He raised his voice, but in a moment, she fell into his arms and he held her tight. “How did you get here?  What are you doing here?”  He asked, but found his voice again in a whisper.  The fog seemed to require silence.

“Just hold me,” she said, and then she reached up and kissed him.  “The fog,” she tried to explain something, but he got busy kissing her and his mind was not right.  He couldn’t think straight.  Her nightgown fell away and she tore at his clothes until they were naked in the mist beneath the moon.  They made love in silence and not a thought between them until something clinked nearby.

Arthur sat straight up.  “What is it?  Who is there?’  He saw a blue hand and then a blue face in the mist and he jumped back, reached for his sword, which he had abandoned on the ground, and he pulled Gwynyvar behind him. The face grinned a grin of stark yellow teeth, and the eyes were wide to show plenty of bloodshot white, but the man did not move.  Gerraint called out into the dark.  “Arthur, stay where you are.”