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.

R5 Gerraint: The Road to Londugnum, part 3 of 3

Gerraint turned.  The Bishop had a small cut in his arm where his robe had been torn.  He held Percival in front of him, his hands tight across the boy’s chest.  Percival had a big dent in his pot-helmet, and he had his eyes closed.  Arthur had his own knife and Gerraint’s long knife and faced a man who appeared to be toying with him.  He swung slowly with his sword and Arthur desperately tried to parry.  It looked like a lesson for a schoolboy, and the Saxon laughed.  Gerraint stood behind the Saxon, and again he did not hesitate. He brought Salvation down on the back of the man’s head even as Arthur realized his advantage would be in getting close.  The man howled and reached for his head as Arthur stepped in and thrust up under the man’s breastplate.  The man cried out again and fell to join his companion in the dirt.

“Ugurt?”  One of the Saxons in the camp yelled in response and then rattled off a whole string of words in a language the boys did not know.  Suddenly, a half-dozen Saxons stood at the forest edge, growling, with their weapons ready.

Arthur backed up, horrified by the knowledge that he killed a man.  Gerraint would have felt the same way, now that he had a chance to think about what he did, except he no longer stood there.  Instead, a man, with golden brown hair, hair which appeared nearly blond in the sun, looked at the Saxons through sparkling blue eyes under strong brows. He wore a formidable suit of leather and chainmail that reached to below his knees. He wore tall boots that disappeared into the skirt of the armor, and studded gloves that came up to his elbow. He had a helmet which looked ancient, like something Greek, where only the eyes and mouth remained uncovered. He put it on and reached out his free hand and called.  “Defender.” Gerraint’s knife wriggled free of Arthur’s hand and jumped to the hand of the man.  The man still held salvation in his other hand, and he raised it for battle.

The Saxons hardly hesitated, but as they charged, there came a sudden whizzing sound in the air.  All six Saxons became target practice for some unseen archers, the last of whom fell a scant two feet from the man.  The man spoke in a strange tongue which only the Bishop understood. “Th – thank you,” he said in his native Greek, and went away, taking his armor and the sword called Salvation with him. Gerraint returned holding only Defender which he returned to the sheath he wore strapped to his thigh.  Arthur looked shocked.  Percival still had his eyes closed.

Three men came out from the deeper woods and went straight to Gerraint.  They might have been hunters, but there had a hint of the lion on their tunics.  They all went to one knee before Gerraint and the eldest spoke.  “Your Highness.”

“You are a long way from home,” Gerraint said. “Don’t tell me, you have been secretly following since Caerleon.”

“Yes, your Highness.”

“Wait a minute.”  Gerraint got some insight from somewhere.  “You’ve been following me since my stepfather threw me out.” The hunters chose not to answer that accusation.  “Well, what Diogenes said, thank you, but now you better disappear before Lord Pelenor and the others return.”

“As you wish,” the elder said, and the three, without a look at the other people present, got up and disappeared among the trees.

Arthur held a stiff upper lip.  “Nice to have some extra friends.”

Gerraint nodded and thought, stiff upper lip, how British.  Then he spoke.  “I have wings to fly that you know nothing of, eyes that see farther, ears that hear better, and a reach longer than ordinary men.”  Arthur could only nod as Gerraint disappeared again and a young woman came to stand in his place.  She came dressed in a long dress with long sleeves and had a red cloak with a red hood over all.  Her hair was blond, her eyes were soft, rich brown, her skin looked milky white, and she had more than enough freckles.

“Your grace,” she said to the Bishop, and curtsied, which showed the silver cross that hung from a chain and swung with her movements.  “I am a healer, now let me see that cut.”

Many men would run at seeing her appear out of nowhere, and would be wary of such an offer, but the Bishop just smiled. Percival fetched water and cloth with which she could clean and bandage the wound.  Arthur just looked over her shoulder and pretended to admire her work.

When she was done, she stood and faced Arthur. “Greta.  I am a Dacian, which is Germanic, so not a good choice.  I am also older than you.”  She reached out and kissed Arthur’s cheek.  “You did your duty.  You must always do what is right and good and true.”  She vanished and Gerraint returned.  “And for the record, neither Greta nor Diogenes were here, and we were helped by simple hunters.”

Percival had retrieved and cleaned Arthur’s knife, and he used it to prick his finger.  Gerraint borrowed it, pricked his finger, and handed Arthur back his weapon. Arthur paused only a second before he pricked his finger and agreed.  The boys touched, and were surprised to find the Bishop’s finger over them all.  He had touched the bit of blood from his wound.  He looked at their surprised faces and laughed.

“I was a boy once,” he said.  “I know about blood oaths, and I agree.  What happened here is not for tale telling.”

Arthur nodded, but as he put his knife away, he began to cry.  Gerraint joined him, and he never did look at the man he killed.  The Bishop put an arm over their shoulders, carefully in Arthur’s case because of his wound on that side, but then he walked them back to the roadway.  There they heard all about forgiveness and mercy, and received absolution in the Roman way.  Arthur said he understood something then that he never understood before.  Gerraint simply said, “Thanks.”

The last thing that got said before Pelenor and the troop returned was a question by Arthur.  “I saw the lion on their tunics, but if they were not hunters, who were those men?”

“Fairies,” Gerraint answered.  Arthur laughed, but he was not sure what to believe.  The Bishop merely nodded before Percival got them all to laugh when he grabbed a rock and tried to take the dent out of his pot-helmet.

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

MONDAY

Gerraint: The Sword in the Stone.  If you read the story of Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome, you know he put it there.  Now, Gerraint needs to make sure the right hands pull it out again.

Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

*