R5 Gerraint: Meryddin, part 2 of 2

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

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

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

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

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

“Goddess,” he responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uwaine nodded.  “Weird,” he said.

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

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

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

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

“Scared?”

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

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

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

*

R5 Gerraint: Picts and Pirates, part 3 of 3

Meryddin was not on board with this plan.  As much as Meryddin knew the Picts and Scots needed to be kept in their place, he preferred action against the Saxons, or the Irish.  The Scots, and for the most part the Picts still held to the old ways.  They had and respected the druids, and they respected Meryddin as a master druid.  Meryddin often argued that as long as the Scots and Picts stayed above the wall, they should be left alone.  And if they should come down below the wall, they should be subject to mercy and forgiveness.  Gerraint thought the argument a curious one coming from Meryddin, since the druids thought of forgiveness as weakness, and they did not believe in mercy.

Thomas moved his fat and slow merchant ships into the mouth of the Clyde and lashed them together to form a wall.  Gerraint called it a blockade.  Thomas, who walked with a slight limp ever since the battle of the rebellion, had plenty of stout men and plenty of catapults that could heave stones or burning pitch and tar at any ship that tried to come downriver.  He kept Arthur’s swifter, more warship design out from the wall to pursue anyone who broke through and tried to run for it.

Arthur came up on the fort in the night and settled in quietly while he moved some men around to the back of the fort to attack the Saxon and Pictish ships in the dark.  There were eight Saxon long boats and more than twenty Pictish coastal ships anchored in the river or pulled partly up on the bank.  He knew ships could be rebuilt, that it was the men he had to worry about, but he also knew ships could carry men to safety and he needed to take away that option.

The guards on the river were few and not very alert.  Still, it took time avoiding them.  Confrontation risked one of them crying out and waking the fort.  Men swam out and crawled up on to the ships anchored in the river.  Others hid behind the boats on the bank, and waited.  When Arthur’s patience ran out, he signaled the three men in the trees. They lit their torches and waved them back and forth.  Moments later, the sound of chopping echoed up and down the river, and one by one, the ships became ablaze with fire.  The guards on the river were taken out, mostly with arrows, but the men in the fort came awake and began shouting, everywhere.

On the land side of the fort, Gerraint let loose the dozen specially constructed catapults.  They fired a great metal clamp attached to a long, knotted rope. Two fell short.  One made it over the wall but did not catch on anything, so it pulled away.  Two made it and caught.  After a quick tug, men began to climb the ropes.  The sixth stuck fast to the lumber that made the walls, the whole fort being made of logs.  The men who tugged on the rope to be sure the hook would hold them heard the sound of ripping wood.  Gerraint quickly grabbed a dozen men to help, and they all pulled, and pulled with all their might.  That log, and the three to either side of it began to pull away from the rest of the wall.

“Altogether!” Gerraint yelled, and one big final yank and the logs broke free and crashed to the ground.  The logs were pushed into a bog on that end and rotted.  Men still had to climb over the lower parts, but soon enough they flooded into the fort.  The Picts and Saxons put up a good fight, but they were not prepared and got killed at the rate of about three to one. When the men came pouring in from the riverside, the fighting did not last long.  Arthur lost some hundred and fifty men in the end; all the dead and dying. The enemy lost closer to four hundred and only about two hundred finally surrendered and begged for mercy.

Arthur did not show mercy.  He made sure Caw, the Pictish leader and Hueil, the Saxon pirate were dead.  Then he hung every last man in that fort, letting only the old Scottish woman who did the cooking go home.  He sent her off with the three babies he found.  Anyone twelve and over got hung, and so did the women who were not there to cook, the ones he imagined were the mothers of those children.

Last of all, Arthur left a note nailed to the main door of the fort’s version of a Great Hall, and a second copy nailed to the front gate.  It said, “Stay out of Britain, Wales and Cornwall.  No more warnings.”  He signed it and brought his men back south.

Thomas met him at fort Guinnon.  “Uncle Durwood is going to be upset at the loss of three of his best ships.”  A Saxon long boat and some six Pictish coastal craft broke through the blockade and headed for the sea.  Thomas damaged them all and sank three of the Pictish craft, and without losing one of Arthur’s ships, but the long boat and three of the Pictish ships managed to limp away.

“Maybe we can work something out,” Arthur said in a sour voice.  He had not been in a good mood since the battle.  The decision to hang all of those men, pirates though they were, came hard for him.  It was not like battle.  He found no glory in condemning prisoners.

“I have been thinking about that,” Thomas said with a bit of a grin.  “I got a good look at those Saxon long boats and I believe I can greatly improve the design of your warships.  As they become available, Uncle Durwood might be willing to take some of your older ones in exchange for his loses.  That way you can spend your money on new and better ships rather than compensating my Uncle.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Kai said brightly.

Arthur said nothing.  That was what they did, but Arthur became convinced that now all he did was tempt the Picts to mount a real war.  When he sent his men home, he told them all, personally, to be prepared for a quick recall.

“Surely, they have learned their lesson,” the men said, but Arthur could only shake his head, sadly.

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MONDAY

Meryddn is revealed, just what part of him is not human, and Arthur leads his men north into the wild Pictish wilderness in Cat Coit Celidon.  Until Monday,

*

R5 Gerraint: Picts, part 2 of 2

Gerraint explained things minimally to Arthur who promptly moved the RDF to close off the southern area of the woods.  They still had to wait, but the Picts and Scots finally straggled in just after lunch on the third day.  They looked pretty ragged.

Arthur was not for waiting lest their camp be discovered.  He gave the order, and the enemy became covered in a virtual rain of arrows. Some tried to head south, but found the way blocked, and by a force they quickly realized would not break.  Some headed back the way they came, but Pinewood timed his charges the way the little ones often do.  Kai and Loth arrived perfectly on time to cut off that escape route.  In all, the battle might have been more of an even match, but Arthur’s men had time to get well dug in and had the advantage of some height.  Some small groups of Picts and Scots made the attempt to attack uphill, but those attempts never amounted to much.

Arthur’s men took casualties, but by far the damage came on the other side.  At the last, though the river ran swift and deep, those who escaped, and there were quite a few, did so by swimming the river.  Gerraint saw some of them climb the far riverbank only to be shot down by unseen archers.  Gerraint felt like cursing, but the only thing he said was, “As long as they go back north.”

Arthur’s men took nearly a thousand prisoners, and that took as many of Arthur’s three thousand men to guard them.  The Picts and Scots sat and faced the river. Gerraint rather hoped they would try to escape by swimming across.  He knew his little ones would finish the job, or drive them back north to where they came from.

“So how did it go?” Arthur asked when Gerraint got to the command tent.

“I spent the whole time trying to teach Uwaine how to properly aim and fire his arrow,” Gerraint said, since the boy was outside tending to Gerraint’s weapons.  “He finally got off a good shot and hit a horse in the neck, and then I had to hug him and tell him it would be all right.”  Even Meryddin softened a bit on hearing that.  “I shot the Pictish rider when the horse fell out from under him, but otherwise, I don’t think I fired another arrow the whole time.”

Gwillim came up to the tent in a short while. “Look what I found.”

“Leave it to the little merchant to go through the enemy’s things,” Gerraint said.

“No!  That is my uncle and my brother Thomas’ job.”

“What?”  Arthur asked. Gwillim smiled broadly and held out several tins of blue goop and several more tins of clear stuff which they realized was the stuff to remove the blue.  “Brilliant!”  Arthur said, but he did not explain whatever his brilliant idea was until Meryddin left to see about supper for the prisoners.

Mid-afternoon on the next day, Arthur, Gerraint, Captain Croyden, Percival and three other prime members of the RDF showed up at the gate of York with Blue faces and beards, dressed in Pictish garb and carrying Pictish weapons.  They heard the call to stop and an eighth man appeared in their midst.

“You need an interpreter,” the man said.  “You would be in trouble if they started to speak to you in Pictish and you did not understand what they were saying.” Arthur and several of the men turned white beneath the blue.  They had not considered that.  Gerraint leaned forward and whispered in Pinewood’s ear.  Pinewood shouted the words.

“The youngest son of Caw here with a message for Colgrin.”  They had to wait at the gate for a long time before someone came to fetch them and bring them inside.

Meryddin, meanwhile, drove the army with every whip he could think of, and all but cursing Arthur for his stupidity. Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn, and Kai and Loth once they got let in on it, kept slowing things down.  Their orders were to arrive under the cover of darkness and wait for the signal.

Colgrin sat in his version of a great hall preparing for an early supper.  He spoke in Saxon to the men around him, all Germans of some sort.  “The youngest son of Caw, the Pict.  The man apparently has a bunch of sons.  He must be part rabbit.”  the Saxons laughed as Colgrin switched to British.  He assumed none of the Picts spoke Saxon, but the fairy Lord understood it perfectly, and because he stood near the fairy or because of some magic the fairy affected on the men, they all understood it as well.

“What news?” Colgrin came right out with it.

Gerraint whispered in Pinewood’s ear and Pinewood repeated it.  “The men of Arthur tried to trap us by the river, but they took one look at our strength and numbers and withdrew.  The Son of Caw says the men of Arthur are puny things.”  Colgrin and the Saxons laughed, but not too much.  Gerraint appeared an imposing sight, half naked as he was.  “The Son of Caw says his father will be here in the morning with three thousand men of Celidon.  He wants to know if everything is ready.”

“Ready?  What do you mean ready?” Colgrin asked sharply.

“This is war.  We must be ready.”  Pinewood dutifully repeated.

“What?  Yes, of course.”  He said to his Saxons, “Are we ready?”

“Ya!”  Two said, while the others just shouted and growled.

Gerraint looked thoughtful and nodded his head. Then he said in British, in his deepest voice, with a strange fake accent, “We wait.”

“Of course,” Colgrin said.  “You must be tired and hungry after your long journey. Hegel!  Several men came in from a small side door.  “Show our guests to the long room in the beach barracks and get them something to eat.”  Hegel bowed. They were dismissed and escorted to a big common room on the second floor of a building where the only windows were arrow slits on the outside wall of the fort.  They were locked in, and Gerraint could not help his mouth.

“And I bet they won’t even feed us.”

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Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY

In light of the holiday, there will be no posts on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.  Instead, the weekly chapter will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  So…………

WEDNESDAY

R5 Gerraint.  Arthur and a few select men have a plan to deal with the traitor in York.  Don’t miss it.

*

R5 Gerraint: Trouble

Arthur spent the next couple of years finally making that grand tour.  He hardly got everywhere.  North Wales and the south Welsh coast did not get much attention, but only because they did not have enough time before the trouble started.

In those days, Ederyn said Percival got to that vulnerable age, so he took him off on a number of independent adventures, including a six-month trip to the Highlands in the British northwest where there were reports of dragons.  Sometimes, it became just Arthur, Peredur and Meryddin on the road, but most of the time Pelenor and Gerraint joined them.

Both Arthur and Gerraint were coming of age. Arthur quickly developed the habit that, as soon as he stepped into a Lord’s manor house or fort or home, he said, “I am not here to get married.  I am not looking for a wife, so please don’t suggest such a thing or I will be very cross.” Gerraint, who finally started to become that imposing figure at a touch over six feet tall, with impressive muscles and in excellent shape, simply could not master being the strong, silent type. He routinely mumbled, “If I knew you were coming I would have baked a cake.”

They all gathered for Cordella’s wedding to Sir Melwas, High Chief of Lyoness.  Melwas noted how much Percival had grown, which made Percival growl.  Gerraint had to put up with Cordella telling him a thousand times how much she hated him before she hugged him and told him she loved him and flitted off happily to find her new husband.

They went to Somerset and Glastonbury to visit Mesalwig who stayed home, tending his ailing father.  Arthur finally knighted him, which is what he had been calling it ever since Gerraint’s slip of the tongue.  It did not mean much to Mesalwig at that point.  The old man appeared to be dying, and all the others could do was give their condolences.

“That flu, as you call it, is pretty widespread among the people.  Most don’t die, but some do,” Peredur mused aloud.

“Mostly the old and the very young,” Meryddin added, and there were a few towns the group was not allowed to enter because the epidemic was severe.

Overall, they did a pretty good job of covering Britain, including a trip all the way up to Edinburgh to visit Loth.  This became Arthur’s first time above Hadrian’s wall, and his first view of the Scots.  He said the Scots did not look or sound much different from the British, and even some of the words were the same.  He also got his first look at some Picts, though they had to be pointed out to him because they also dressed and acted like the Scotts and only their language gave them away, it being significantly different.  Arthur confided to Gerraint privately that he felt surprised by the Picts. He heard they had blue skin.

“Blue face paint, but only when they go to war,” Gerraint said.  He knew that much.

From Edinburgh, they traveled down the whole of Hadrian’s wall to the west side where Kai made his home at Fort Guinnon. That stood as the western anchor to the wall; the farthest south the Picts, or Scotts for that matter, were permitted to go.  Of course, Scotts and even some Picts regularly traveled past the wall, but they were mostly traders and merchants who not only had a bustling trade with Loth and Kai, but with the people of the north, all the way down to York.  It was not like the old Roman days.  They had peace in the north and Arthur, for one, hoped it stayed that way.  Sadly, that dream got shattered in the year 500 when Kai and Loth both sent word that an army of Picts and some Scotts started gathering just north of the Antonine wall under a war chief named Caw.  The Norwegian shore stayed quiet for the last ten years, so Colgrin of York got the idea the time was ripe.  He made a pact between his Jutes and Saxons and the Picts and Scotts to capture the whole northland for himself.

“Damn!” This time Arthur did not look happy, but he had five hundred men trained in the RDF, so he was not unprepared.  He sent a hundred each to support Kai and Loth, and a third hundred to keep an eye out for the Picts and keep an eye on Hadrian’s wall. A fourth hundred he sent to link up with Sir Bedwyr at Oxford.  They were to keep their eyes on Essex and see if the Saxons should decide to move north.  He hoped the beating they took at the River Glen might discourage that idea.  The last hundred, mostly the young and unseasoned stayed at Caerleon and helped gather supplies and settle men as the Lords brought their troops in over the next three months.

While they waited, Gerraint turned twenty-one and Arthur immediately knighted him.

“Well, son, now that you are a young lord, got any plans?” Pelenor asked.

Gerraint just threw his arms around the man and hugged him.  He whispered, “Thank you.”

Pelenor hugged him back and whispered, “You’re welcome,” in response.  Then they separated because Pelenor got particularly uncomfortable with those sorts of shows of affection.

“Yes, actually,” Gerraint said.  “A friend of Morgana prevailed on her, so she prevailed on Arthur, who prevailed on me.  Allow me to introduce a squire of my own.  Uwaine is thirteen.”  He stepped aside and showed a young lad who looked nervous in the presence of such preeminent men and Knights of the Round Table besides, as everyone started calling them.

“Lord!  You were a brat at that age,” Pelenor said.

“Yes you were,” Peredur agreed.  “Almost as bad as Arthur.”

“Congratulations,” Ederyn said.

“Son,” Percival, who turned nineteen, stepped up to the boy.  “Don’t be scared of him.  If he gives you any trouble, you just let me know.”

“Hey Goreu,” Arthur shouted.  “Try not to get weird on him until he is older.”

Poor Uwaine did not know what to say.

R5 Festuscato: The British North, part 1 of 3

Guithelm, Archbishop of Londugnum made a special trip to the docks to catch Festuscato before he slipped away again.  Father Gaius and Father Lavius came with him, along with several other clerics and a number of monks from the monastery near Bishopsgate.  Festuscato took Guithelm aside and explained what he was trying to do. Gaius, who butted in, became astounded, because Festuscato never explained.  But Gaius had figured out most of it, and the rest sort of made sense in a convoluted Festuscato sort of way.  After that, Festuscato introduced the Archbishop to the gathered Lords from Cornwall, Britain, Wales and Amorica—those that were planning on resettling on British soil—and left the Bishop in Constantine’s good hands while he went back to his observer status.

He still played observer when they left Londugnum two days later and headed north toward York. When they stopped for the night, he stepped into Constantine’s tent with a thought.  “You have three thousand men from Cornwall and Wales that missed all the action against the Huns,” he remarked.  “And with your son and his men, a number of Jutes and some Saxons, that makes over four thousand men, more than equal to the reported army of Wanius, even if your troops have no horsemen with them.  They are two or three days ahead of us.  So, what were your orders when they get to York?”

Constantine paused before he frowned.  “I am getting discouraged.”  He called several men of the three hundred and wrote several letters to his son and the other leaders of the advance troop, outlining his expectations concerning positions around York and eyes on the Norwegian shore.  “I was just thinking to get them there.  I don’t think I will ever get the hang of this.”

“You will,” Festuscato encouraged the man, but he stopped the letter carriers.  “But a suggestion.  You have good men in Julius, Cador, Ban, Hywel and Hellgard the Jute. That covers the basics.  Maybe Weldig of Lyoness, Gregor the Saxon, Hywel’s Welsh friend Anwyn, and Emet who is from York who knows that land might be added.  I thought you might call them in and get all of their thoughts first before making a decision, even if you end up where you began.”

Constantine frowned again.  “No, I will never get this.”

“You will,” Festuscato encouraged again.  Then he felt glad he only had to call for a vote one time.  Emet, with Hywel’s backing wanted to tell the advance group to at least test Wainus’ defenses.  Cador and Julius argued for them to take up strong positions and let Wainus worry about the testing.  Festuscato turned to Constantine, who he instructed in how to approach things if they had a disagreement.

“Set up and wait for us, and cut York off from the countryside is what I was thinking,” Constantine said.  “But I want to be fair about this.  Raise a hand if you support Cador and Julius in their plan.”  Everyone raised their hands except Emet and Hywel.  Even Anwyn’s sheepish hand went up as he shrugged for his friend Hywel.  “I would say that is a clear majority.  Listen Emet. I know you are deeply concerned for your family in York.  We are all concerned with you.  But I think an attack at this point might cause Wainus to do something stupid.  I want to make the best try to get your family back, alive.  Are we agreed?”  Every man there said yes and offered hands of support for Emet, and the meeting broke up. Constantine ended up sending the letters he had written before he readied himself for the critique. Festuscato came straight to the point.

“I would say, normally, it is best not to give your opinion before a vote.  Some may be swayed to vote in your direction even if they don’t agree.  There are ways to guide things by your questions without giving away the answers. Above all, you must appear to value everyone’s contribution equally, and in this case, you did that well.”

“Nope.  I will never get the hang of this.”

“Yes you will.”

When they arrived at York, Constans had a hard time holding back the men.  The town looked burned, and parts of the fort as well, and the three thousand men who missed the action before were anxious for a fight.  Constantine doubled the number of men around York with a thousand British and a thousand Amorican foot soldiers, and more than two thousand horsemen which included some Jutes and Saxons.  Some of the Lords figured Wainus had to be shaking scared.  Some went to check where an assault on the town might be most effective.

It became quite a band of men who rode out to meet with Wainus and the Pictish Chiefs. Festuscato, Julius and Constantine brought Constans, for his education.  Ban, Cador and Hywel represented their people groups, and Emet came for York.  Hellgard the Jute and Gregor the Saxon had groups of their own to represent, and then the Four Horsemen were not going to be left behind.  Festuscato thought fourteen might not be the best number, but better than thirteen.  Wainus brought seven Chiefs down from the fort and seven more men in an honor guard. With Wainus, that made fifteen, and Festuscato thought of it as deliberate, just to be obnoxious.

Constantine did not spend much time on pleasantries.  “You have until noon tomorrow,” he said.  “To lay down your arms and surrender, unconditionally.”  He said nothing about what would happen if they did or did not surrender.  He waited for the question.

“We hold the high ground,” Wanius said.  His British was not very good, but understandable.   “Maybe you do have twice our number.  You will break on our rock and wash away.”

“What do you hope to gain by your death?” Constantine sounded so reasonable.

“I will gain by my life.  We will take the Northland that you British have abandoned.  We will own the people, the land, and the cattle on all the hills.”

“Reason and common sense don’t appear to be working,” Constantine shook his head and turned to the assembly.  “Any suggestions other than threats.”

“Allow me,” Festuscato stepped up.  “Wainus, let me explain things to you.  You see these men?  They represent the Welsh, British, Cornish, Jute, Saxon, and Romans too.  They are, everyone of them, a Lord with thousands of followers.  Outside of the Scots and Picts, my whole island is here against you.  Did I tell you this is my island?  It is by Imperial Decree, and we have just taken those upstart Huns and we threw them off my island.  Now, do you see this man?  I have appointed him high chief of my island and war chief.  Do you know what a war chief is?  He calls, and the whole island comes to him to join together, to fight together, to squish any upstart bugs that want to get ahead of themselves.  Are you with me so far?  My island.  And the whole island is united against you under the war chief.  Do you know what I mean, united?  Good…

“Now, you have three choices.  You can pledge your allegiance to the high chief and war chief of Britannia and make amends for the damage and destruction you have caused.  Or, you can refuse to join these other fine men, but you must pledge to go home and live in peace, again, after making amends.  Or, you can die.  It seems to me you have no other choices.  But if you fight, understand that even if you later try to surrender, there will be a price to pay.  Now, I suggest you go back up to the fort and think about it.”

“It is too late for peace,” one of the chiefs said, and shook his head sadly, but he turned and the others turned with him, one by one.  Wanius did not get a chance to say anything else, because his back-up deserted him.

“What did he mean, it’s too late for peace?” Emet felt concerned and the others all felt for him.

R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House, part 3 of 3

“Moran,” Festuscato spoke to the elf and the elf stood.  “Where is Macreedy?”  He and his Four Horsemen stepped aside to talk behind one of the makeshift barriers in the road.

“He has a thousand elves from the Long Meadow surrounding York.  Bogus the Dwarf has as many covering the roads.  King Wormwood has as many again from Dark-elf-home to cover the night.  And King Larch of the Fee has the Danish shore under observation.

“Trouble?” Constantine stepped up, followed by Hellgard and Ban.  Festuscato took a breath before he nodded and spoke.

“York has fallen to Wanius the Pict.  He has pulled up his four thousand men behind the walls of the town and the fort.  Much of the town and fort have been burned, but it is going to be hard to dig him out of there.  Emet’s family?”  Festuscato asked.  He had a good memory for names.  Moran shook his head.

“But what was this I heard about thousands surrounding the city?” Hellgard had good ears.

“They will hold Wanius in York and keep him from doing further damage to the countryside, this one time.  But when you all arrive, they will disappear.  You will have to face Wanius yourselves.”  Festuscato quieted them.  The Huns reached the ford.  The British across the way had backed up to hide in the trees.  The Jutes, British, Amoricans and Londoners on this side were hidden and quiet.  Then the Saxons all stood up as one and began shouting insults and screaming and waving their swords and spears as if daring the Huns to cross the water.  The Hun commander wisely got his men down and promptly surrendered as Julius rode up.  The Saxons looked disappointed.  Gregor stepped up and shared a thought.

“A quick surrender is better than spilling more blood, but many of my men don’t think so.”

“Wisdom from a one-eyed Saxon.  Who would have thought to hear it?” Hellgard said.

“Odin has but one eye.  That is good enough for me,” Gregor laughed.

“What is the Danish shore?”  Constantine heard something else.

“The Norwegian shore.  The settlement of yet another new people blown in by the winds of the North Sea. Let us be honest.  Britain north of York had been thinly populated since Roman times.  Too much struggle between Romans and Picts, and now the Scots have not helped. Instead, they have complicated things. They have overrun Guinnon, the fort on the western end of Hadrian’s wall, and they did nothing to stop Wanius from passing over.  You have a good family in Edinburgh on the eastern end, but they cannot hold things alone, and they have been unable to stop the Danes from grabbing chunks of the coast.  You need to drive the Ulsterites out and put someone you can trust in Guinnon to hold the wall.  And I think you need someone in York who can keep out the Picts, Danes and Saxons, no offense Gregor.”

“None taken,” Gregor said.  “I want to keep out the Saxons myself, and I am one of them.”  Even Moran the elf smiled at that one, though for what reason, no one knew.

“We know the Danes well, and find them no friends.  But they can be reasoned with.” Hellgard spoke up.  Festuscato heard, but did not go there.  Julius rode up and Cador and Gildas were with him.

“Gildas. Did you get the chance to kill the bastards?”  Festuscato asked, and immediately regretted it as Gildas quietly nodded.  “Everyone suffers first time,” he added more softly. “It proves you are human.”

“It wasn’t pretty,” Cador said.

Festuscato nodded. “We need horses,” he said.  “We will take some of the Hun’s horses and try to hold on, I guess.”

“Some escaped?” Jullius asked.

“About five hundred according to one eye here.”

“Just a guess,” Gregor said with a grin.

“Moran. Please ask Deerrunner if he will accompany Aidan and his Britons in escorting the prisoners to Londinium.” He paused to think.  “We are about sixty miles out which is a good two-day march, or so.”

“Constans,” Constantine called his son.  “Take your men and clean up these grounds.  Give the monks something to do, to perform the burial rites.”

“Julius. You better assign half of your men to help escort the prisoners.  Hopefully, that will be enough to discourage the Huns from attempting anything foolish.”  Festuscato said.

“Dibs and Tiberius can cover that duty.  We will take the better horsemen, about nine hundred.”

“Good.  With us that will make twice the reported Huns.”

“Double that,” Hellgard said, and he sent some men to gather up the horses of the Huns. “And some of my men will take care of their own.”  He sent others to tend the wounded and gather the dead.  Festuscato looked at Gregor.

“My men will gather their own and take them back across the river, but I wouldn’t miss it.” He whistled and took two men aside to instruct.

“I think you and Lord Constantine and King Ban and his men can take some of the horses from Dibs and Tiberius.  That should not change things much and you will have regular saddles to ride.” Festuscato nodded, but it became after lunch before they were ready to ride out.

They covered a good distance before they stopped for the night, but they saw no sign that the Huns slowed their pace.  Festuscato felt a bit afraid that Megla, on finding the gates of Londinium closed to him, might just ride straight on to the next port downriver.  He was sure the Hun had every intention of commandeering whatever ships might be in the dock and escape, and if he escaped unscathed, he might return with ten times the number of men.

The following afternoon, they found the wardens at one of the city gates had opened the gate for the Hun.  Fortunately, Megla did not get far.  The Amoricans that Constans left in the city and the Londoners who knew better had Megla and his men trapped in some buildings down by the river.

“Megla.” Festuscato called out.  He and Constantine stood just beyond bowshot, the Four Horsemen looking over their shoulders.  “Megla.  Come out and talk.  I have a message for Attila.”  That got him.

“What do you know about Attila.”

“He is getting too much gray in his hair and beard, and making alliances with the Vandals isn’t going to save him.  Come out and talk.”

“You are the dragon?”

“All of Britannia is becoming the dragon.  Come out and talk if you are not afraid.”

“That should rattle him,” Constantine said.

Six men came out of the main building.  They got about half way across the plaza before they pulled out bows and arrows. The bow remaied the basic Hun weapon that they could pull swiftly, even on horseback.  But the Four Horsemen reacted and responded with bows of their own and with enough speed so only one Hun got off an arrow, and it happened only because the Horsemen were busy killing the others.  It was a good shot to Festuscato’s chest, and it would have certainly penetrated any normal armor, but the armor of the Kairos was made by Hephaestos and the dark elves deep under Mount Etna.  The arrow bounced off.

“Megla.  You know it takes more than one stupid arrow to penetrate a dragon’s hide.  Come out and talk, and I will let you live.”

“What good is the promise of a great worm?”

“What choice have you got?  We already stopped your men who were sneaking out to grab a boat.  You are trapped inside, with your horses outside, and soon it will be dark.  The goblins and trolls come out after dark and they tell me Hun is a tasty snack.”

A man appeared at the doorway.  He made a show of putting down his bow and sword as he stepped out on to the plaza. Five more followed him and put down their weapons, while their eyes scanned the surrounding buildings and the roofs around them,

“I am Megla,” an older man said and eyed Festuscato.

Festuscato smiled. “Megla of the Huns, allow me to present Constantine, High Chief and War Chief of Britannia.”

“Attila told me about you, Roman.”

“Then you should know I am willing to be fair.  Tell your men to throw down their weapons and come out.  You will be kept here, in the open until the rest of your surviving men arrive.  Then you will be bound and sent out on the morning tide and returned to Belgium. Your horses and weapons will stay here, but you will have your lives.”

“If we refuse?”

“Thunderfist. Portents.”  An ogre and a hobgoblin appeared.  The hobgoblin bowed.  “Lord.”  The ogre wondered where he was.  “I can let my friends have you after dark,” Festuscato said, knowing that Megla likely saw a goblin and a troll, since he would have no way of knowing the difference. “There are plenty more where they came from.  Go home.” Festusato waved his hand and the two disappeared just as Thunderfist got ready to poke a Hun to see if he was real. “So, what will it be, a small indignity or a hundred years digesting in an ogre’s belly?”

Megla was no fool. He surrendered, and when the rest of his surviving troops showed up a day and a half later, they were all bound and shipped out on the morning tide, at no small cost.  Megla only said one more thing to Festuscato.  It was a question.

“You have a message for Attila?”

Festuscato nodded.  “What goes between him and the Empire is his business, but Britannia is off the menu.  I have been twice kind to the Huns.  Don’t count on a third time.”

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

Next Monday: R5 Festuscato: The British North.  York is filled with wild Picts.  The town is burned.  The fort is taken.  But the Picts are soon surrounded with an unexpected army of British, Cornish, Welsh, Jutes, and Saxons, all miraculously working together under the dragon, and the first Pendragon…

Happy Reading

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Avalon 4.10 part 2 of 4, Half a World Away

Instead of heading to the southeast, toward the next time gate, the travelers headed south along the edge of the frozen lake.  They skipped the leisurely breakfast and the morning learning about the time zone they entered, as was their habit when coming through a new gate, and instead headed away from the previous time gate as rapidly as they could.  They wanted to get out of the way for whatever ghouls might be traipsing through the woods.

Alexis imagined heading south would benefit everyone, psychologically, though they never went south enough to get out of the snow storm.  Lincoln juggled the database most of the way, but he did not get to read any of it to the others until they stopped for lunch.ice buffalo

Decker shot a buffalo in a small herd that seemed to be interested in the lake.  The herd moved out of the way, but they did not panic at the death of their comrade.  Decker had to tie the rope around the beast and to his saddle so his horse could drag it away from the herd.  They paused there and spent a couple of hours cutting up as much of the beast as they could use, but then they moved on for a couple more hours in the early afternoon.

“No worry about the meat spoiling in this weather,” Mingus suggested.

“Ugh,” Elder Stow answered him, and grabbed the portion he had been given to carry before it slid off his horse and on to the ground.  There was plenty of red snow behind them when they moved off, and Boston turned her head back to listen.

“I hear wolves,” she said.

“They are welcome to what we left behind,” Decker responded.

Around two o’clock, the wind picked up and it began to get seriously cold.  Shortly, they found an area against a cliff side, sheltered by trees and one big overhanging rock.  Elder Stow immediately put up his screen to keep the snow from falling on their heads.  He said he could not cut the wind without cutting off their air supply, but the trees mostly took care of the worst of it.

“Leave the fairy weave tents on the horses so they don’t freeze in the night,” Lockhart decided.

“We have to make do with our blankets,” Katie said, though to be sure, the fairy weave blankets could be thickened against the cold, waterproofed, and used as something akin to sleeping bags so as long as the snow was not falling directly on them, they would be fine.

snow alpine forestMingus and Boston immediately set about clearing an area and building a big fire.

“No,” Katie said and Decker agreed.  “I don’t expect the light from the fire will travel far out of this sheltered area.  Certainly not if it keeps snowing.”

Lockhart accepted their word.  “I would just hate to come this far off the direct route only to have the ghouls attracted to the light of our fire in the night.”

“Everyone, gather around,” Alexis spoke up.  She had buffalo steaks cooking.  She was also boiling water for some yams and she had a few plantains to fry if Elder Stow proclaimed them good.

“The thing is,” he said.  “They may be fifty years old, technically, but they were only picked a day ago and haven’t sat around for all those years to get infested with bugs and mold.”

Alexis was not going to argue if she had a chance for something in the way of fruit and vegetables.  When she got out the yams, however, she found that they were oily and leaking.  She did not dare serve them since some yams went toxic when they respired.  The plantains were worse.  She dared not open the coconut.

“Well,” Alexis concluded.  “Yams and plantains don’t belong in New England anyway, at least not for another four thousand years.”

ice campfire 4“Listen up,” Katie said, and everyone settled in while Lincoln shared from the database.

“Taregan, another male.  He is a member of the Piscatet tribe that lives along the New Hampshire coast.  Apparently, they predate the Abenaki who were present when the Europeans came.  The Piscatet are closely related to the Algonquin in language and so on.  They have something of a confederation of tribes east of the lakes, Champlain and George in the Vermont area and east of the Hudson River and south of roughly the modern Canadian border, cutting off northern Maine.  That takes up most of New England.  It says they are many tribes but a peaceful people, given to trade.  That is not so the people in the north or the people in the west, the ones that stretch all the way to the Great Lakes, through New York and Pennsylvania.”

“So, if we run into people, we can expect they won’t be head hunters this time,” Decker said.

“Yes,” Lincoln said, only half listening.  “But listen to this.  It says a plague develops in the Great Lakes area, and Taregan gets his people to build as many big fishing boats as they can.  As the plague spreads and threatens his people, Taregan takes them out into the Atlantic where they catch the Gulf Stream.”

ice celt“Where?”  The word escaped Katie’s lips.

“The Piscatet end up in Scotland, blue painted faces and all.  The Picts.”

“No way,” Alexis said.

“Yes way,” Lincoln went to show her, but Katie grabbed the database out of his hand to see for herself.

Lockhart looked at her and smiled.  He did not understand the full ramifications, but he did get one thing.  “So the Native Americans discovered Europe first.”  He grinned at the thought.

“This also mentions the Calendoc, another tribe that went with the Piscatet,” Katie said.  She handed back the database and looked up like she was looking into outer space.

“I don’t get it,” Elder Stow admitted, and Katie came back to earth and opened up.

“Scholars say the Picts were Celts of some sort.  P-Celts, even if they don’t know where they came Katie 5from or anything about them.  Scholars just decided.  But that information comes from the dark ages, information from the Bede and so on.  Before that, the Romans did not like them, but we really don’t know much about them.  In the BC or BCE as they say, what they were like is anybody’s guess.  People assume typical iron age culture, but there are some strange and clearly not Celtic things even in what little we know.  Like matrilineal succession and stuff.  I assume the Picts had no written language and were illiterate before the Scotch-Irish began to come over from Ulster.  Of course place names and people names were written in the Scottish equivalent, and eventually took the Scottish name, certainly by 800 AD.”

“You’re rambling,” Lockhart said to her.  Katie just looked at him and tried to explain.

“Look.  Before the Romans; before the Scotch-Irish, from the seven hundreds BC back, there is only a big question mark. We know there were big, stone, megalithic structures, but we saw the Shemsu who went over with Danna; when was that?  Thirty-three hundred BC?”

“They turned Woodhenge into Stonehenge,” Lincoln interrupted, and nodded, but Katie was on a roll.

boston archer“We know there were no real Celts in the British Isles before eight or nine hundred BC, but there were Picts in Scotland since at least sixteen hundred BC.  The Picts have all these non-Indo-European things in their culture.  We have no idea what actual language they spoke.  We don’t even know what they called themselves.  Scholars have spilled blood over the word “Pict.”  This makes so much sense, I cannot tell you, and no modern scholar would believe it in a million years.”

“Hold up a minute,” Boston got their attention.

“We have company,” Mingus said and pointed.

People reached for their weapons.