R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 1 of 2

Arthur moved the army by the obvious route toward York.  He figured if Colgrin had any sense, he had scouts out spying Arthur’s progress, and a whole army would be kind of hard to hide.  Gerraint, Arthur, Meryddin and the old men went over the map again and again, looking for some way to limit their exposure, but it seemed impossible until Arthur pointed to the open hill beside the Ure River.

“We can turn aside here in the forest of Bedegraine and come out here on the hilltop.  As long as we set our camp within the trees, we might stay hidden a few days anyway.”

“Might.  Maybe. Could be,” Meryddin did not actually object.

“Slim chance,” Peredur said.

“But still a chance,” Pelenor sounded optimistic, which surprised the group.  “You have men keeping an eye on the Picts and Kai and Loth have joined to chase them from behind.  No reason they can’t chase Caw toward the Ure.”

“This will, by necessity, be a different kind of battle,” Gerraint mused out loud.  “Lancers are not effective in the woods.”

“A company of stout hunters would certainly help our cause,” Arthur said, with a long look at Gerraint.

“But most of our men are hunters,” Pelenor said. “Have to be these days since it got colder.  The growing season has gotten short and the snows of winter have gotten deep.”

“This will be bows and arrows,” Meryddin agreed with a sharp look at Gerraint.  It was not the first such look Gerraint got from the man.

“It would be good if we could catch them between us and the river,” Peredur seemed in general agreement.  “They will have nowhere to run with their backs to the water, and we will have the high ground.”

Gerraint answered Arthur and avoided Meryddin’s eyes. “I’ll need to think about it.”

Two days later, Gerraint went into the woods, Uwaine, his faithful squire behind him.  “Now, don’t be scared,” Gerraint said.  “No matter what happens, they won’t hurt you.  You have to trust me.  You always have to trust me and this is a good time to start.  Do you understand?”

Uwaine nodded.  “Should I shut my eyes?”

“No, Percival,” Gerraint called him.  “You must always keep your eyes open so no enemy can sneak up on you.”  He turned to the woods and hollered.  “Pinewood!” and a man dressed like a hunter, but with a tunic that showed the lion of Cornwall stepped from the trees.

“My Lord.  So you know, I have a rather large company of hunters anxious to help.”

Gerraint shook his head.  He would not put them at risk for a transient human event.  “Got any dwarfs and dark elves on tap?”

“Right here,” a dwarf with a long black beard that covered his face and chest apart from his bulbous nose and two bright eyes, and dressed in chain armor that fell to the ground, and hefting an oversized ax for his height, stepped out beside Pinewood.  Gerraint knew him immediately, though they had never met.

“Bogus.”

Uwaine shrieked and stepped more behind Gerraint, but kept his eyes wide open.  At least Pinewood appeared human.

“My squire, Uwaine,” Gerraint made the quick introduction.  “Lord Pinewood and Lord Bogus.”

“Pleased to meet you,” the little ones said, and Uwaine tried to smile for them but his tongue appeared to be tied.

“Now, to business.  I know that you and Dumfries’ people have all sorts of enchantments to scare the poor humans and keep them out of certain places, particularly in the woods.  What I am asking is for a hedge on either side of the Picts and Scots that will guide their forward motion toward the Ure.  In a perfect world, they should end up by the river right below our current position, with Kai and Loth right behind them.  Pinewood, I need you to visit Kai and Loth and direct them to the battle point.  You can take a few hunters with you as long as they wear the lion of Cornwall.  But that means you have to remove all your tricks and traps after the Picts have moved in the correct direction and before Kai and Loth arrive.  We don’t want poor Kai scared witless.  Now, can you do this?”

“Easy,” Bogus said.  “Especially since they are headed in that direction anyway.  But where then do you want us in the battle formation.  On the south end opposite Kai and Loth so we can close the trap?”

“Nowhere,” Gerraint said.  “The lancers and RDF will dismount and take the south end.  I do not want you to expose yourselves.  You are not allowed any casualties; do you understand?”  Pinewood and Bogus nodded, but looked terribly disappointed.

Uwaine tugged on Gerraint’s tunic.  He looked down at that face which said, “What if the Picts swim the river?”  Gerraint smiled.  He thought much the same thing.

“Okay.  You can take up positions across the river, and any Picts or Scots smart enough to escape that way, you have my permission to chase them all the way back up to the wall. I would think a couple of ogres, some goblins and maybe a troll should do the trick.  Meanwhile, when the battle starts, Bogus, I want your people to set a circle around York.  I want no one to get in or out of that place until we get there, so Colgrin has no way of knowing what is happening.”

“You are confident of victory?” Pinewood asked.

Gerraint nodded.  “But only because you folk have never been much for following orders.” Bogus and Pinewood both grinned, slightly.  “But Bogus, especially if we are victorious as I hope, Colgrin better not find out. That is one order you better pay attention to.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes lord.”  Bogus and Pinewood bowed, and Bogus vanished back into the woods in only a few steps, while Pinewood got fairy small, much to Uwaine’s delight, and flew off at top speed.

“Son,” Gerraint said, sounding very much like master Pelenor.  “This is one thing you are not allowed to talk about.  You must never mention dwarfs or fairies or anything of the kind to anyone.  Okay?”

“Don’t worry.  If I told my mother she would think I lost my mind.  But…”

“But what?”

“Can we do that again sometime?”

R5 Gerraint: Rebellion, part 2 of 3

The twenty approaching riders slowed on sight of the campfire.  They let their horses walk forward while everyone stayed hidden.  The man out front turned twice in the road before he made his pronouncement.  “They have ridden on, back toward Caerleon.”  The enemy might have ridden on as well, but a squirrel startled a horse hidden in the woods and it neighed.

“Now.” Pelenor shouted and fired his first arrow. Five arrows followed.  Three missed, and the other two wounded two men, one in the arm and one in the leg.  Pelenor prepared to fire again when a half-dozen arrows came out of the trees beyond the camp.  Whoever those men were, they were dead shots.  Arthur’s crew got off one more arrow in the time the strangers fired three. When Bedwyr and his four men came charging back, swords drawn, war cries flying, they saw a few survivors riding away as fast as they could.

Six men, all dressed as hunters came from the trees and bowed to Arthur before they approached Gerraint.  They all wore the lion beneath their cloaks so the older men understood.

“Lord.”  The chief hunter bowed low.  “We do not forget.”

“Thank you, Pinewood,” Gerraint named him, just before the thunder took all of their attention.

“Arthur!”  They all heard the voice.

“Meryddin?”  Arthur looked up and all around, but of course Meryddin was not there.

“I see a hundred enemies bearing down on you. You must flee,” Meryddin’s voice said.

“Get the horses,” Pelenor shouted.  “Put out the fire.”

People jumped, but while they finished packing, Gerraint got to ask.

“Meryddin can sometimes see things and speak at a great distance,” Arthur explained.

“And hear?”  Gerraint did not really ask.

“And he can make people see and hear things that are not really there,” Arthur finished.

When they were ready, Bedwyr volunteered to stay behind with his men to delay the enemy.

“No, Lord,” Pinewood interrupted.  “We have our bows and plenty of arrows.  We might not delay them much, but we should be able to slow them down.”

Arthur looked at Gerraint and Gerraint nodded. “Lord Bedwyr, you need to ride with us.” Arthur sounded decisive.

“Your duty is to protect the Pendragon and see him safely back to Caerleon,” Gerraint suggested.

“Well said,” Peredur smiled at the squires, and Bedwyr made no objection

They rode hard, back the way they came the day before, and Gerraint had time to wonder who Meryddin was to have such special powers.  They rode all morning and into the afternoon, this time without stopping for a leisurely lunch, and they spotted the hundred, which Gerraint thought looked more like two hundred, when they came to the open fields outside the town.  The great gate looked open in the small city wall, and they passed through untouched.  The watchmen shut the gate as soon as they were safe, and then they all went up to the top of the short stone and wood wall to look down on the enemy.

They saw a number of soldiers from the fort alongside the watchmen.  Just in case, they said.  Meryddin also stood there.  He grabbed Arthur and dragged him off to the fort, and did not stay to see the hundred turn and ride back out of sight.

“They have decided not to test the walls,” Ederyn said.

Pelenor looked up and down the well manned wall. “Smart move,” he said.

In the evening, several scribes sent by Dubricius penned letters to call up the fighting men for war.  Peredur pointed out that it would not do to send a call to arms to a chief who might be in rebellion, “Like a call to fight against himself,” he said, and the others saw the wisdom in that.  So, while they worked on a list of men they knew were faithful, Arthur and Gerraint sat around the chessboard.

“How long before we can move to meet the enemy?” Arthur asked.

Pelenor looked up and spoke with a straight face. “Maybe six months.”

“He didn’t even blink saying that.”  Gerraint dropped his head to the table and banged his free hand several times.

“I suppose we could push it to three months, but we don’t want to go without the full complement of men and prepared,” Pelenor said more thoughtfully.

“Thirty days,” Arthur suggested.

“Your move.”  Percival tapped Gerraint on the shoulder.

They finally decided sixty days, because the rebels were already gathering, and had been for some time.  The older men insisted any less would be impossible. It would not give them time enough to gather the food to feed an army, or make the spears necessary for those who might come unprepared.  Meryddin argued on the side of the boys.  He said the way this game got played, often it was the first to gather the semblance of an army who won, and sometimes without ever getting to the battle.  He strained his far sight to try and discern what the enemy might be doing.  He also sent out Druids to spy and report back.  They were the ones who identified eleven Lords who made a pact, though really there were only ten that were certain because Kai kept trying hard to convince Loth to stay out of it.

“Mostly Welsh,” one man reported over supper in the Great Hall.  “Mostly Lords still committed to the old ways.”  He probably should not have said that part.

Meryddin held back his anger with the words, “This is not the time for that.”  But Arthur could tell Meryddin was not happy.  When he mentioned it, Gerraint wondered when might be the right time for the old ways.

Arthur, Gerraint and Percival spent those months drawing up rules for the round table and the RDF, which is what they were calling the rapid deployment force.  Gerraint told the others how the rapid cavalry of the Franks, Visigoths and Vandals, and especially the Huns ran right over and destroyed the great Roman legions. “The day of the foot soldiers would never end, but it would never be the same as it was,” he said.  “Horses are the thing, and lances.”  With that in mind, they drew up plans for battle, that is, if the Lords of the Pendragon and the rebels should ever happen to meet in battle.

“But the Lords and old men will want to control the order of battle,” Percival groused.

“Not if we move before they are ready,” Arthur said. He had a plan for that.

They visited Bishop Dubricius on Sunday, and in fact made it a regular habit.  Percival said they ought to always go to church.  Arthur wanted the excuse to get away from Meryddin for a time.  Gerraint was willing, but sort of in the middle on the issue.

One day, Percival went dressed in his new tunic, white with a big, red cross painted on the front.  Arthur said it looked silly.  Gerraint said Percival was making himself into a target for archery practice, and he poked the boy with his finger where the cross met.  Percival showed some steam.

“I am a Christian and so is my mother and my father,” he squeaked.  Peredur stood right there and he put his arm around his boy.  He and Ederyn often went to church with the boys, and even Pelenor went, sometimes.

The Bishop took that moment to walk up and offered his insight.  “Arthur. I’ve been thinking about this round table club of yours and I understand one of the key ingredients is to make sure everybody is on the same page.”  All three boys nodded.  “Well, I think you need to decide if the club is going to be Christian and support the ideals of grace, charity, and mercy and defend the poor, the weak and the needy, or if the club is going to be pagan.  You know very well that those two ideas do not get along.”

“Christian,” Percival said quickly.  Gerraint held his tongue and deliberately did not look at Arthur so as not to influence anything.  Besides, he got busy trying to imagine what a pagan and Druid round table might be like, and he did not like what he imagined.

“Christian,” Arthur said, and Gerraint never asked about that decision.

Gerraint had the carpenters build a protective, hand cup toward the end of the longest spears he could find.  He had gloves made in boy’s sizes so they could grip the spears tight, under their arms.  He dared not invent Velcro, but he thought real hard about stirrups.

When the Lords began to arrive, Arthur grabbed the squires for some rapid training.  Soon, there were as many as fifty young men racing around the huge open court of the fort, the place where a whole legion of Romans used to gather in ordered ranks before moving out.  The boys brandished their makeshift lances and struck at the targets Arthur had set up, mostly at man-eye level.  There were any number of near misses in those weeks, but fortunately, none of the actual men walking around got skewered.  Most of the men just sat back and watched the game and laughed.  By the end of that time, some were taking bets on which of the boys would hit the target and which would miss.