R6 Gerraint: Shaking the Earth, part 1 of 2

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

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

“Where is Mesalwig?”  Gerraint asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just a thought.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R6 Gerraint: 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 1 of 3

Gerraint got an arrow and set it down on the table that held the chess pieces they were using to represent the enemy formation. He set the point right at the space between the two legions.  “Greta says we need a flying wedge.  Look at the shape of the arrowhead.  The knights of the lance can hold that shape.  All we have to do is stay between the lines.  We will break through and divide and circle back to hit the Romans from the rear.  Even the vaunted Roman phalanx cannot stand up to heavy cavalry, especially when attacked from the rear.

“Claudus has kindly left us this rise and these woods. He expects a dawn attack, but we should have no trouble rearranging our men under cover of darkness.  Hoel’s footmen will move here, to strike the Roman left flank.  Arthur’s footmen will move here, by the lake to strike the Roman’s right flank.  With attacks on their sides and rear, the Romans will crumble, but they will have only one place to run.”

“Yes,” Hoel said with a slight touch of worry.  “Right up this rise to where we are presently standing.”

“That is why we leave a thousand of our men, all our best archers, hunters here between the two groups of foot soldiers.  I have a thousand more, excellent archers, with axe men and men good with a blade to back them up.  Do not ask where they come from.  Do not ask about the knights of the lance.  Just trust they are on our side.”  Gerraint took a breath.  “I want this over.  I miss my family and I want to go home.”

“Where are these men of yours?” Grummon immediately asked.

“Trust me.  I have wings to fly that you know nothing of.  Eyes that see further, ears that hear better,” Arthur and Percival joined him at the last.  “And a reach longer than ordinary men.”

“Aha,” Feswich imagined the flaw.  “But you have forgotten the Roman cavalry.  As we fall on the backs of the Roman foot soldiers, they will fall on our backs to great harm.”

“You let the knights of the lance take care of the Roman cavalry.  When we divide to attack the Romans from behind, the knights will continue straight at the Roman horses.  I expect that struggle will not take long.”

“I have seen three of your knights,” Hoel said.  “Show me what you are talking about.”

Gerraint nodded toward the tent door and Arthur said, “Come.”  They stepped out and found two hundred horses standing in perfect rows and so perfectly still and quiet, everyone gasped, audibly, except Gerraint, and maybe Arthur. The Knights dipped their lances to the ground as the one knight had to Gerraint, Arthur and Lancelot in the forest. Then, without a word, they dismounted and fell in unison to one knee, holding tight to their shields, and their huge horses did not budge one inch.

“They will hold the formation,” Gerraint said. “All we need to do is ride between the lines.”  Gerraint smiled before he jumped.  Feswich started to reach for a Knight’s visor to see what lived inside all that metal. “No!  Don’t do that.  You don’t ever want to do that.  It is a great sin, and certain death to look upon a knight.”

Feswich paused.  The church presently only had a foothold in Amorica so the concept of sin was not widely understood, but the words certain death sounded plain enough. He wanted to say something, but Gerraint spoke over him.

“Please go prepare for the dawn attack, and ask Yin Mo to meet us in Arthur’s tent.  We will be there as soon as we can, and thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Arthur echoed.

The knights said nothing.  They mounted again in unison, peeled off row by row and headed back into the woods.  Only Gerraint seemed to notice, but it appeared that the knights had been standing on top of some other soldiers and tents with no affect and without those soldiers seeming to have noticed.  But by then Arthur began to lead the others back into Hoel’s tent to finish the conversation and finalize their plans.  Gerraint said nothing.

Two hours later, Gerraint, Percival and Arthur returned to Arthur’s tent and Arthur said it was a good thing they had the fort as a fallback position, if needed.  Percival started on an entirely different track.

“You know, now having seen real knights, every young man in Britain, Wales and Cornwall will aspire to be knighted. Probably everyone in Amorica, too.”

“I assume that was where the word knight came from,” Arthur picked up the thought and directed his non-question to Gerraint.”

“Yes,” he said.  “And history.  Soon enough every young man in Europe will want to be knighted.”  And he entered the tent and yelled.  “I said a hundred, like in Greta’s day.”

Yin Mo, now an elderly elf with a long white beard and hair reminiscent of Meryddin, looked unfazed.  “You said no more than Greta’s day, and there will be no more.”

Gerraint frowned.  He remembered Greta in the Temple when the battle took place, so she was not in a position to complain about there being more than a hundred. Gerraint wanted to yell again, but he figured he got committed, and Yin Mo was the expert on the Knights and their capabilities.  Gerraint decided not to pry.  He said simply, “Thank you,” and the elderly elf gave a small bow and faded slowly from sight until he disappeared.  Percival spent the rest of the evening squinting.  He did not mean anything bad by it.  He just tried to understand, but Gerraint had forgotten Yin Mo had such oriental features, and that was a very strange sight in Arthur’s part of the world.

Arthur’s men and Hoel’s men moved like union garbage men at four in the morning.  Bing, bang, crash.  Surely, they were telegraphing their plans, Gerraint thought. The archers had all been selected and they took up their position.  The horsemen saddled up and stood around, Hoel’s men in particular talking in uncertainty.  Many said this would not work.

R6 Gerraint: Enid, part 3 of 3

Gerraint said no more.  It was not just the unfair treatment of Ynywl, Guinevak and Enid that bothered him.  Caerdyf should be free of Irish pirates; especially ex-slavers.  “Is there a place I can lie down?” he asked.

Ynywl pointed to his daughter.  “Enid will show you,” he said, and let out a deep breath like a man who got stuck in a tight place with nowhere to turn.

Enid got candles and escorted Gerraint and Uwaine to a fine room with a big double bed.  They had a chair beside the fireplace, and she went about lighting the fire and fluffing the chair cushions as well as they could fluff.  She pulled an extra blanket out of a cedar chest at the foot of the bed and laid it next to the one already on the bed.

“You are going to fight Fenn, aren’t you?” she said, in a frank and forward way.  “You should not.” She turned to Gerraint who looked around at the high but well-worn quality of the room.  It looked much like the rest of the house.  There were no servants to keep things up and maintain the home, though it all appeared very clean and tidy.  He got especially taken with the bits of Roman armor on display over the fireplace.  The chain looked old and rusted, the helmet had a dent, but had been polished along with the breastplate.  A great spear sat in the corner of the room, though it looked more like a forgotten stage prop than a weapon.

Enid placed her hand gently on Gerraint’s chest to get his attention and looked up into his smiling eyes.  “He is a mean and evil fighter who shows no quarter.  You helped me in my time of need.  I would hate to see you get hurt in return.”

Gerraint covered her small hand with his big hand and smiled, deeply.  He wanted to keep her hand close to his heart.  “But tell me, whose armor is this?”  He let go and sat in the chair so as to not be such an imposing sight.

“My great-grandfather,” Enid said.  She had to take a second to remove the smile from her lips.

“The Roman?” Gerraint asked, though he knew the answer.  “Uwaine.” He made his squire get up from the bed where he already lay on his back.  “See if any of it is useable.”

Uwaine got up slowly and looked close while Enid stirred the fire.  “I would not touch the chain,” he said.  “Too much rust, but the breastplate looks in fair shape.  No cracks.  This helmet needs work.”  He took it down, found a loose piece of brick from the fireplace and went to work, hammering out the dent.

“Sir?”  Enid looked up at Gerraint.

“I thought I might wear a bit of it tomorrow, with your permission.  It might remind the people who they are.  They came here to defend this coast, not to hand it over to a bunch of Irish scoundrels. The people might be willing to throw the Irish out, even if Fenn cuts my heart out.”

“Sir,” Enid shifted to sit at his feet and reached up to put her hand gently on his knee.  “I wouldn’t like to see that happen.”  She meant it, and a good bit more.

“I appreciate the affection,” Gerraint said. “But shouldn’t you save that concern for your husband?”

Enid hesitated, but finally withdrew her hand and placed it in her lap.  She looked down while she spoke.  “We have been prisoners here for seven years.  I was a child of fourteen when Megalis decreed that I would never marry unless Father gave him the treasure.  I had suitors.”

“Many, I imagine.”  Gerraint honestly felt stunned by her beauty and imagined he might never tire of such a sight.

“One in particular, but Megalis found out and had him executed.  That happened three years ago.  I turned eighteen.  Now I will be twenty-one in a month and that is getting too old for marriage.  I expect to die an old maid because there is no treasure.”

“I think you are your father’s best treasure,” Gerraint said, and he reached down, took her hand and returned it to his knee. They simply looked eye to eye to judge the measure of what they might be seeing and feeling.  Uwaine stopped banging and stood up.  “Where are you going?” Gerraint asked.

“I have to go outside to work on this,” he said. “I’ll never get it done with you two on about it.  It’s getting too stuffy in here.”  And he left.

Gerraint laughed which caused Enid to laugh and that temporarily broke the serious mood.  “I have every confidence in that boy,” Gerraint said.  “Percival himself taught Uwaine the value of a stone for taking the dents out of helmets.”

Enid looked shocked.  “Sir.  Once again you speak of such a noble man with the ease of familiarity.  I have heard of Sir Percival.  They say he is a great man of faith and learning.”

Gerraint cocked one eyebrow.  He was not sure how much actual learning Percival had done, unless she meant life learning.  “They are great men at the Round Table, each in his own way, I suppose.  But it is hard not to be familiar with such men when you have fought side by side with greatness.”

“Oh, but there is one at Arthur’s Round Table that frightens me, terribly.  I believe he may be a devil sent to test the faith of those other sainted men.” Gerraint nodded and thought of Meryddin. It was not yet well known that Meryddin had disappeared, but Enid had not finished.  “I only hesitate to say because you are from Cornwall yourself, and I mean no offense.”

Gerraint cocked one eyebrow.  “Please tell.”

Enid pulled up close like one afraid to speak too loud.  She raised her other hand to have both on his knee and pressed her full and firm breasts up against his leg, which he imagined she did in pure innocence, but which set his mind racing so he could hardly comprehend her words.

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

MONDAY

It appears Gerraint is going to fight the Irish pirate in the morning.  In the present, however, things in the room are heating up nicely, and it is getting a bit stuffy.  MONDAY (Tuesday and Wednesday), the story turns to the fort of Caerdyf.

Until then, Happy Reading

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R5 Gerraint: Cat Coit Celidon

Caledonia proved a different world, haunting, foreboding, demanding of respect and reverence.  The forest grew full of strange trees and the hills got covered in rocky places where nothing seemed to grow but that strange purple heather.  They found acres of wide open meadows covered in wildflowers, just waiting for a plow; but no sign of human life intruded, like a land forbidden to the human animal.  They found bogs that came up from nowhere and sucked at a man’s soul, and lakes, long and lean, that hinted of monsters in their icy depths. Gerraint felt glad that he was the only one to dream of being hunted by a T-Rex.

After two days, Pinewood brought word that a large force waited in the next valley.  The narrow valley had a stream running through it, and few trees, like it had been stripped of lumber some time back.  The forest took up on the hillside above.  The Picts were all up on the side of that hill, about two thousand men, and they waited for Arthur to arrive before springing the trap. Clearly, they wanted to pay Arthur back for the beating they took against the River Ure when Arthur had the trees and high ground above the river.

Arthur had six hundred horsemen, almost all trained lancers and veterans.  He had six hundred footmen, mostly men from the north hardened by generations of Pictish, Danish and Saxon raids.  These men would give no quarter now that the raiding was going in the other direction. Arthur knew he would have to watch them to keep the murder of women and children to a minimum.

They stopped shy of the valley, tempting as it was to have some open space with fresh water running through it, but he wanted the Picts to suffer a cold and quiet night with no campfires and no conversation.  He knew some men, left to their own thoughts, would worry and fill their minds with fear about the coming battle.  Others would have to be content with cold meat and bread in the morning, lest they give away their position and what they imagined was their surprise.  Arthur’s men, by contrast, lit great fires and sang songs into the night, like they were out on a lovely stroll through the woods in springtime.  He knew that would grate on the nerves of the enemy.

In the morning, before dawn, Arthur’s footmen climbed the rise in secret, by scouted paths, in order to get above and behind the enemy.  The horsemen made plenty of noise, both to distract the enemy and to make it appear like the full compliment was still in the camp, and packing slowly.  Arthur had three hundred mules, heavily burdened with all the supplies they thought to bring on the campaign.  He had no wagons because mules could go where wagons could not follow, and in the worst case, they could simply be abandoned, or served for lunch.  The mules meant a hundred-horse had to be kept back when the action started, but five hundred got ready to ride out into the valley just as soon as the Picts abandoned the heights.

Deerrunner brought two hundred elf bowmen, all deadly shots, who disguised themselves with powerful glamours so they appeared human. They wore the plain green and brown capes of hunters, and a few wore the lion and pretended to be from Cornwall. They blended in with the Brits who hardly knew every man there from every village in the north, and were glad to see men from as far away as Cornwall on their side.  Besides that, the forest to the left and right of the Picts got filled with traps set by Dumfries and his goblins, and filed with dwarfs, axes ready.  They knew the plan was to drive the Picts down into the valley where Arthur’s cavalry could get at them, and they were going to do their part to make sure none of the Picts escaped through the trees and back into the wilderness.

Gerraint knew all of this went on, and while he did not approve, he kept his mouth shut.  The only idea he flat turned down was the idea of the ogres.  They said more than a dozen ogres bearing down on the Picts from above would inspire the Picts to run as fast as their feet could run, but Gerraint knew that fear did not discriminate.  He did not want the Brits in a footrace with the Picts, trying to be the first to escape.

The action started at high noon, and it took less time than they thought for the Picts to abandon their position.  There were also considerably less Picts that poured out of the trees and on to the open valley than he expected. Fortunately, his men were ready, and the cavalry charge finished the job.  There were hardly more than five hundred blue painted Picts who made it out of the far end of the valley and headed toward the sea.  Arthur deliberately followed and at more leisurely pace.

The first village they came to on the coast had been abandoned.  Arthur burned it along with every boat in the bay.  They turned north at that point and headed toward the chief city of the Picts which sat near where Aberdeen would one day be located.  They burned every village they came to, finding them mostly deserted, and burned and sank every boat they captured.  They killed the men they found and drove the women and children into the wilderness.  There, the elves and dwarfs turned the women and children north until they joined the great march of refugees headed for the safety of the city walls.

Arthur kept slowing down his men.  Even after witnessing the horrors visited on the people in North Britain, he felt reluctant to make war directly on women and children, but he knew many of his men had no such reluctance.  He did not approve of the slaughter of the innocents, but like Gerraint with his little ones, Arthur said nothing about it. Slowing down became his concession that allowed the refugees to stay ahead of the army to swell the streets and lanes of the city, and put a strain on the city’s resources.  He said he wanted the Picts falling all over themselves by the time he arrived.

Pinewood kept Arthur from falling into whatever traps or ambushes the Picts set, and otherwise the journey seemed a pleasant one by the sea.  By the time they arrived at the city, the men were well rested and ready for action, though for Arthur, his anger had been somewhat sated.  Arthur knew what he had planned, and with a bit of help from Gerraint, he only hoped the men were not too disappointed.  He called for the twenty-six.

The twenty-six were the mules that carried, in two parts, the pieces for small catapults—the same that Arthur used to shoot hooks and ropes to the top of the wall of Fort Cambuslang—the same that he mounted on the fat merchant ships that got strung together to blockade the River Clyde.  They could hardly throw anything further than about twice bowshot, but they were just the thing for travel through the wilderness.

While they were being set up, Deerrunner and his two hundred inched closer to the wall.  From the back they wore the familiar green and brown hunter’s garb, but from the city walls the elves used an extra bit of magic that made them invisible. They crawled up to whatever bits of cover remained outside the walls in order to make the illusion more believable, but from there they could easily fire their arrows and pick off any Pict foolish enough to stick his head up.  With no return fire, the catapults could be brought up close.

The city wall had ten feet of thick stone at the bottom.  Another ten feet of lumber rose above that.  It looked formidable enough but the city behind it was all wood, and the houses, side by side, had the same dry thatched roofs that they found in the villages. It would burn dangerously fast, and Arthur had several thousand globes of pitch and tar that could be lit and heaved by the catapults.

The bombardment began roughly an hour before dawn. By the time the sun rose, half the city looked to be in flames and they heard the sounds of screaming and panic. About an hour after the sun rose, three hundred brave souls tried to ride out of a gate to attack the catapults. Lord Pinewood and thirty of his finest were able to fly there, fairy fast, and began firing their arrows before the first ten got all the way out.  Also, Arthur had his men concentrated around the six gates of the city, so the battle did not last long.  Maybe fifty men abandoned their dead and wounded and fled back into the city without coming near a catapult.

Another hour later and people tried to escape the horror on slow, terribly overcrowded ships.  But Arthur had stationed three of his thirteen catapults as near to the port as he could, and manned them with sailors who knew how to hit a moving ship. To be sure, most of the ships made it to deep water, though few without injury.  Some of the ships were set aflame and eventually sank, with people diving overboard, desperately trying to swim back to the docks.

By noon, the city became mostly a pile of smoking embers and Arthur packed up his catapults and his men and headed inland. Gerraint told Deerrunner and Bogus they were to continue to watch the gates and try to prevent anyone from leaving the city for three days.  He did not want to see any little ones hurt, but he imagined it might be possible there were enough men left who might be stupid enough to pursue Arthur.  In response, Gerraint caught the image of ogres in the daylight and trolls and goblins in the night, but he did not want to look any closer.

Arthur set a zigzag course through the inland. Like on the coast, most of the villages he came to were deserted, but a few resisted, briefly.  With Pinewood’s warning, the Picts were incapable of pulling off a trap or ambush, and this time Arthur allowed his northern Brits their way, as long as it was swift.

By the time they got back to the Antonine Wall, The British had slated their thirst for revenge and brought back plenty of loot besides.  Once again, the Scots stepped aside, most because Arthur returned with so few casualties, but some because they were beginning to get reports on what happened in the north.  Arthur imagined some of the Scottish “Lairds” might already be drawing up plans to move north into the Highlands and take over.  Arthur would not stop them.

Arthur and Gerraint stood side by side watching the army march, and watched Percival come up beside them, a hard look on the younger man’s face.  “This isn’t fun anymore,” he said.

“At least we should have peace for a time,” Arthur responded.

Gerraint answered Percival more directly.  “We aren’t children anymore.”

Percival nodded.  “In that case, I think I’ll find a wife.”  He looked at Gerraint and Arthur joined in that look.  Gerraint grinned, but said nothing.

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

Thus ends the tale of Gerraint, Percival, and Arthur, Pendragon in the days of their youth.

MONDAY

The story of Gerraint, Percival, and Arthur continues through their middle ages (pun intended), with: The Kairos and Rome, Book 6 (R6) Gerraint’s story: How Gerraint finds a wife.  How Arthur is taken off to the continent.  How Gerraint is tormented for a time.  And how the Scots and Danes, the Jutes, and finally the Angles and Saxons just won’t keep still and silent.

You might call it Gerraint’s story, part 2.  I was asked if it is important to read part one first?  No.  Part 2, if you want to call it that, is a story, or more like a series of episodes unto themselves.  Most people already know many of the characters: King Arthur, Gwynyvar, Lancelot, Bedwyr and Bedivere, Uwaine and Gawaine, Bohort, Lionel, Howel, Pelenor and Percival.  So, please step right in and enjoy the story.  See you MONDAY.

*

R5 Gerraint: Gwynyvar, part 1 of 3

Meryddin specially selected the group of men to accompany Arthur to Wales.  He called them volunteers and he made sure they volunteered.  To be fair, he only selected men from the RDF who had no wives or children to go home to.  Most of those were young, but not all.  Most of the old Lords he sent home with their squires, but some of the young Lords and their squires came along.  Bedwyr, Kai and Loth joined them, and willingly, but only after they all made it clear that they should be home checking on the disposition of the enemy.

The fort of Leodegan looked impressive.  It sat on the top of a hill above a village.  The deserted village streamed down the hillside and nestled in the valley below.  The fort itself, made mostly stone and in the Roman style, had a large, empty front court where troops could gather, and several smaller courtyards around the buildings, the Great Hall, and the main tower connected to the Great Hall where Leodegan and his family lived.

Kai remarked that the Irish would have a hard time breaking into such a solid looking structure.  Bedwyr responded with a laugh.  “All the Welsh have are hills and stone.”

“And Pig-headedness,” Loth added.

Meryddin turned in the saddle to talk to the whole group.  “Leodegan is a firm believer in the old ways.  His son, Ogryvan is a good son, but his daughters, Gwynyvar and Gwenhwyfach have followed after their mother in the ways of the church.  Their mother died a few years back from the flu.  It does not make for a peaceful household, but Leodegan allows for the church as long as it is only the women.  I think, if we would help this man in his struggle, it might be wise for you to disguise your faith and who you are.  You can be plain Britons who heard of the trouble and have come to help.”

“I am not ashamed of my faith.” Nineteen-year-old Percival spoke right up, and twenty-year-old Tristam stood right there with him, though by rights, the squires should have remained silent.  “I will not pretend to be a pagan to satisfy an old man.”

“Son.  No one said pretend to be pagan,” Ederyn interjected.  “But maybe we can keep our faith under wraps for the time being and not be so obvious about it.”

“I like the idea of not telling them who we are,” Gerraint took the interruption to add his thoughts.  “I nominate Arthur for the name Bumrats.”  A few of the men snickered.

“And we should call Goreu, Mister Weird,” Arthur said, and smiled a little.

“Now listen.”  Meryddin had not finished.  “Leodegan was not part of the rebellion, but he supported it.  Since then, he sent a token of men to fight at the River Glen, but this time he sent nothing.”

“I can see why,” Bedwyr said.  “Must be the whole Irish army.”

“I can see a hole at the head of the road,” Arthur said.  “Lances,” and he started down the hill before anyone else, but the others caught up soon enough.

Meryddin shouted, “Remember the pretense,” but it became impossible for anyone to hear him.

When Arthur’s troop hit the road, Gerraint caught a glimpse of what the Irish were seeing.  Somehow, Meryddin made fifty men look like three hundred.  The Irish scattered to get out of the way and they did not have the sense or the time to so much as grab a bow and arrows. Several were run through, but most went to ground so the fifty passed through the blockade of the road with little trouble.  At the gate, at the top of the hill, the guards on the wall watched the action.  More than one recognized Meryddin as well, so the gate opened to let them in before it got slammed shut once again.

They found tents and lean-tos all over the main courtyard of the fort.  The village people who could not escape into the wilderness, and who were still alive, had set up homes behind the stout fort walls.  Meryddin guided Arthur’s group to a separate court by the sea gate—the one that pointed in the direction of the sea, though it was too far away to actually see, being hidden by the distant hills.  Meryddin unkindly threw the people out who huddled there and said, “Set camp here where we can keep a good eye on the Irish hordes.”

Most of the men were unhappy with the unchristian treatment of the poor locals, but only Arthur dared speak.  “That was unnecessary and unacceptable. These poor people are the ones we have come to defend and protect.”  The men were already making camp, but they looked as Meryddin shrugged off the scolding.  The deed was done.

Gerraint nudged Arthur and pointed.  They saw two young female faces at the nearby window in the tower beside the Great Hall.  They appeared to smile before they vanished into the inside.

“So?” Arthur said, but quickly looked away. Gerraint noticed.

Meryddin returned from fetching Loth, Kai and Bedwyr. They expected men to come and fetch Meryddin and the leaders of this new group of fighters any minute, so Meryddin spoke fast.  “Percival, Ederyn and the squires need to stay here.  Bedwyr too, since your face may be known.”

“Don’t worry,” Bedwyr said.  “I’ll keep Gawain and Uwaine at their tasks.”  Gawain, Loth’s son by his deceased wife, a thirteen-year-old squired to Bedwyr.

“They remind me of two young scamps that used to follow me around,” Ederyn said with a nudge in Percival’s arm.

Percival smiled at Gerraint and Arthur.  “Don’t worry,” he said.

“Loth, Kai, Arthur and Gerraint are not known by these Lords, only Gerraint, try to look big and mean and keep your mouth shut,” Meryddin mused.  “You are much too bright for these people.”

“A compliment?”  Arthur looked shocked.

“What?” Gerraint said.  “Did Christ return and nobody told me?”

Meryddin frowned, but the others grinned when they got interrupted by a man in a long tunic with a hill painted on the front.

“Mesalwig,” Arthur recognized the man.  “Is Badgemagus here?”  Mesalwig, from Glastonbury, squired to Badgemagus in his youth.

“He is,” Mesalwig said before Meryddin grabbed him and guided him off for a private conference.  Meryddin came back alone just when the escort of guards arrived from the great hall.

“They will say nothing,” Meryddin reported. “Mesalwig is here wooing Gwynyvar, Leodegan’s elder daughter.”

“Good luck with that,” Gerraint mumbled, before they walked in silence.

The great hall had a large dais raised a good two feet above the rest of the floor, but Leodegan sat at the end of the center table down below.  Arthur and Gerraint stopped at the other end of the long table and Loth and Kai stopped a few steps behind.  Loth and Kai looked at the poor decor, though they may have been counting the guards stationed here and there around the room.  Gerraint counted the four doors.  Besides the main doors, there was a postern door close, but to the side, that probably also lead outside.  The one in the back on his right likely lead to back rooms in the Great Hall, and to the kitchens.  The one to his left had to be connected to the tower.

Arthur kept his eyes on the old man the whole time.

“Meryddin, my old friend.” Leodegan sounded gracious. “You have come and brought help in my time of need.  All thanks to the Mother Danna.”

“Indeed,” Meryddin said.  “Allow me to introduce the leader of this band, Lord Bassmas and his shield and strong right arm Lord Goreu of Cornwall.  Most call him Wyrd.”  Merlin mispronounced the word.  “These others are Lords of the north who have come to fight the Irish menace.”

“Lord Lot,” Loth interrupted, so Kai had to think fast.

“Lord Cecil,” he said, and regretted it as soon as it escaped his lips.

“My Captain Cleodalis and my Druid Julius,” Leodegan quickly introduced the men to his left and right, as his eyes seemed glued to Arthur.  Gerraint noticed the druid bowed to Meryddin.  He remained seated, but it was a bow all the same. “Tell me,” Leodegan sounded suspicious. “You wear the dragon on your tunic.”

“In honor of my father who fought as Uther’s right arm during the great wars.  Like Uther, he got poisoned in the end by Saxon treachery.”

Leodegan nodded, like he accepted that explanation, but then he turned on Gerraint.  “And Lord Goreu, I see you wear the lion of Cornwall.”  Meryddin stepped up, but Arthur spoke first.

“He says it is his right, but since Erbin died, he will not serve Marcus Adronicus, the Roman usurper, especially since Marcus is such a devout catholic.”

Leodegan nodded again and turned to the third man at the table, a young man beside Captain Cleodalis who Leodegan did not bother to introduce.  “What do you think, Ogryvan.  The big brute looks like a shield well made.”

Ogryvan, Leodegan’s son, stood and faced Gerraint. The young man stood about five-ten and had broad shoulders besides, which made him a bit of a clunk. Gerraint appeared slimmer, no doubt in better shape, and that suggested speed and grace, plus he stood two inches taller.  Gerraint exaggerated the notion of looking down on Ogryvan, and he growled, pleased that he practiced that.  Ogryvan’s face did not change, but the man did shuffle back a half-step and Gerraint barely kept himself from bursting out laughing.

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.

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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.

 

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