M4 Gerraint 2: The Dragon Slayer, part 2 of 2

They ran out in time to see the dragon land in the village square.  It looked like a big, old worm, and looked mean.  Gerraint found the horses where they left them, no doubt waiting for a decision to be made concerning the strangers.  Gerraint knew better than to get up on a horse liable to panic any second.  Bedivere figured as much, but George did not know better.  He mounted and then struggled to get his horse under control.

The dragon flamed a house and then tore at the wood until it collapsed, no doubt looking for something edible. Gerraint ran out, Bedivere on his heels, though Gerraint doubted his words would have an effect on such a mature beast.  “No fire,” he shouted all the same.  “Do no harm.”  The dragon certainly heard.  It turned, and its tail struck Gerraint and Bedivere and knocked them some distance where they crashed into the side of a house and slipped down, badly shaken.

George saw, pulled up the lance he had been given in Caerleon, and let his horse have the reigns.  The horse, in a panic, actually ran straight at the beast as animals sometimes will.  George lowered his lance, aimed for the dragon’s mid-section, but the dragon saw and began to lower its head with the intention of plucking the rider right off the beast, and no doubt going back for the beast after.  George raised his lance without realizing it.  He simply wanted to ward off that head and those terrible teeth.  The lance entered the dragon’s head in a soft spot just below the jaw where the impenetrable scales were more flexible to allow the worm to swallow.  It broke out the top of the dragon head, and the worm immediately began to thrash about.  The horse threw George, and he barely avoided being crushed by the worm as it finally collapsed to the ground.

Gerraint got up and arrived at George’s side just after Heingurt.  Heingurt picked up the boy to take him inside, thinking the boy might be unconscious.  George opened his eyes and spoke.  “Not bad for a dragon that doesn’t exist.”  Gerraint said nothing.  He let Bedivere give the boy his verbal lashing.  Everyone started laughing, a release of tension, when the same man came again to the door and yelled.  “Another one.”

This time, they got outside to see it circling.  As it came down, Gerraint noticed it still had some feathers that clung to its head and around the front and back claws, which were not fully grown.  “This one is young, a female.  I may be able to talk to this one.”  Gerraint grew his cloak to cover himself completely if necessary.  Athena called it fireproof when she gave it to him.  “Bedivere, stay here with George,” Gerraint commanded, and he stepped out to where the dragon, clearly smaller than the first one, set down beside the great worm.

“No fire.  Do no harm.”  Gerraint repeated the Agdaline phrases over and over.  The Agdaline bred the beasts to respond to verbal commands, and the dragons usually listened when they were young enough.  “No harm. Friend.”

The dragon turned its big head without turning the rest of its body, as only a serpent can do.  “No fire,” it repeated, and Gerraint got a look at the particular coloring and pattern of scales on the beast.  All at once, Gerraint no longer stood there.  Margueritte stood in his place and smiled.  She knew this beast.

“Mother,” Margueritte called.

“Mother,” the dragon repeated in a forlorn wail that could not help but let out a touch of fire.  It went over Margueritte’s head.  The dragon turned its head back to look at the dead monster and might have let out a tear.

“No.”  Margueritte was firm.  “You are mother.  I am baby.”  She repeated, “I am baby.”

“Mother?”  The dragon looked again and then turned enough to comfortably face Margueritte.  

“You are mother.  I am baby,” Margueritte said, not quite certain how much verbal information the beast could actually grasp, but they were clever when they were young.

The dragon put its nose to the ground and came right up to Margueritte.  It sniffed, and the wind almost knocked Margueritte off her feet.  “Baby?”  It sniffed again, and whether it smelled hints of the gods, or the fairy weave of the little ones, or simply Margueritte, it suddenly became excited.  “Baby.”  If dragons could smile, this one did.  “Mother.  Baby.”

“Mother, fly.  Fly south.”  Margueritte knew compass points were part of the programming, but she could not be sure if that would translate to Earth directions.  Earth was definitely not the Agdaline home world where dragons were first born and bred.  “Fly south,” she repeated.  “Over the great water.  New home.  New nest.  Mate.  Male is south.  Over great water.  Mate.  Make babies.  Fly mother.  Fly.”

“South.  Over water.  Mate, make babies.”  The dragon appeared to be getting it, but there was no telling what the dragon honestly understood.

“Fly south.  Over water.  Mate.  Make babies.”  Margueritte repeated once more, and the dragon also repeated.

“South.  Make babies.”  Then it stuck its head down to sniff Margueritte once more before it spoke again.  “Baby, come.  Fly south.”

“Mother.”  Margueritte dared to reach out and touch the dragon’s nose.  The dragon purred, a sound much deeper and stronger than any cat could ever hope to make.  “South.  Make babies. I will find you.”  Margueritte was not sure if the dragon understood that last phrase.  She was also not sure if she could extract herself from this awkward position, but then she found herself fading from sight until she became invisible.  She shouted once more.  “Mother.  Fly south.  Make babies.”

“Baby.”  There was a moment of panic on the part of the dragon, but dragons routinely deal with the loss of babies.  Sometimes, if the mother does not play black widow and eat the father after mating, the father will certainly eat the babies.  Margueritte imagined it was part of their breeding. As big as the Agdaline spaceships were, there was only so much room on a ship flying a thousand years through the void.  She imagined papa dragon made good eating.

“Fly south.  Over water.”  The dragon said and lifted its head.  Flame shot out into the sky and the dragon lifted from the ground and circled several times to gain some height before it headed off in a southerly direction.

Margueritte turned.  Rhiannon stood there, grinning.  “So now you are getting yourself adopted by dragons?  That is new even for you.”

“Thanks,” Margueritte responded happily.  “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of that one.”

“Yes.  I could just picture baby you in a claw being carted off by mother, south over the big water.”

“Not a pretty sight,” Margueritte laughed and Rhiannon agreed.  “Wait.”  Margueritte stopped so Rhiannon stopped.  Rhiannon looked curious, because even the gods could not read the mind of the Kairos, even when she was someone as plainly mortal as Margueritte.  Margueritte surprised her as she bent over and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek.  Then Gerraint came back and as he did, he became visible.  The Lady became visible with him.

“How sweet,” Rhiannon responded to the kiss.

“From Margueritte,” Gerraint said.  “Not from me, you naughty girl.”

Rhiannon made a face at him, and they stopped at the front of the house.  Bedivere and Hans Bad-Hand were the only ones still standing.  Everyone else was down on at least one knee.  “Good to see you again,” Rhiannon acknowledged Bedivere.

“My pleasure,” he responded.

“And Hans Bad-Hand.  Do not be afraid.  I am only here for George.”  Rhiannon stepped up and put her finger under the boy’s chin to make him stand.  Then she walked around him and examined him like one might examine a horse.  She even spoke that way.  “He is rough clay, but of good stock.  I think I can train this one to good purpose.  George, the dragon-slayer.”  She smiled at the nickname.  “I think I can teach you so next time, you do it right and don’t get yelled at by your Master.”

“Next time?”  Gerraint caught it, and so did Hans by the look on his face.

Rhiannon nodded.  “There are two more, male and female, moving down into the Midlands.  They are, what do you call it, a different species?”

“Same species.  Different breed,” Gerraint said.  “Like dogs.”

“Yes, breed.  They have more leg and fat middles.  More like lizards, I suppose, even if they are still essentially worms.”

“Male and female?” Gerraint did not really ask

“Yes, I’m afraid the land will be dragon infested for some years to come.  A few hundred years, at least.”

 Gerraint sighed.  “Okay.”  There was no helping it, so he stepped up to George and shook his finger.  “Now son.”  He got in the boy’s face.  “You listen to the Lady and do what she says.  I don’t want any teenage backtalk.  Mind your manners and be gracious with please and thank you.  Now, remember the ideals of the Round Table.  Defend the weak, the fatherless, the widows and orphans.  Do good and live an honorable life, and you will be fine.  Oh, and Rhiannon is not an angel, but she is near enough, sometimes.  Is that clear?”

George said nothing.  He simply threw his arms around Gerraint for a big hug.

“Uh.  Bedivere.”  Gerraint called him over, and he took over giving the boy a hug.

“Near an angel?” Rhiannon said.

“I said sometimes, maybe.  But why should I tell you?  It will just swell your head.”

Rhiannon leaned over and this time she kissed Gerraint on the cheek.  “You are the mother.  I am the baby,” she whispered.  He said nothing, but she reached for George’s hand.  “Are we ready?”  George nodded.  “Then let us begin.”  Rhiannon and George and George’s horse and all his equipment vanished with a snap of Rhiannon’s finger.

Gerraint looked up at the clear sky.  The sun would set in an hour or two.  “I wouldn’t cut up that beast until morning,” Gerraint said.  “They have a bladder that runs the whole length of the body and collects gas.  Foul smelling.  And no torches because it will explode if you are not careful.”

Hans Bad-Hand looked up at Gerraint as most men did.  “These are good things to know.  I believe I may have a few more questions for you.”

“I thought you might.”

Heingurt looked at Bedivere with an amazed, slightly dumbfounded look.  Bedivere waited until Heingurt spit it out.  “All on one day.  A real, actual dragon.  Two of them.  And the Lady of the Lake.  And she knew you.  And your Lord, it was like the Lady was bowing to him the whole time.”

“It is like that sometimes with Gerraint,” Bedivere said.  “These kinds of things do tend to follow him around.  Why do you think I travel with him?”

“It must keep life interesting.”  Heingurt grinned at the thought.

“No, it is to keep the old man out of trouble,” Bedivere said, and Heingurt laughed, some genuine and only some nervous laughter.  “Come along, Brennan.”  Bedivere picked the man up off the ground.  He spent that whole time, prostrate, with his hands over his eyes and ears.

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

MONDAY

Arthur and Gerraint take what men they have to Brittany to fetch Lancelot, only to find they have to deal first with the Franks. Until then, Happy Reading

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M4 Gerraint 2: The Dragon Slayer, part 1 of 2

 

Gerraint, Bedivere and young George looked down on the village in the next valley.  It looked remarkably like the village in the last valley, but appearances can deceive.  The former was pure British.  This one was a Saxon transplant.  Arthur was not going to like Gerraint’s report.  

Fifty years of shortened growing seasons left the nation starving and weak, and the flu that never seemed to go away took too many of the young.  Twelve years of infighting coupled with Pict, Norwegian and German raids further reduced the population.  It became a mix of many things, but if Arthur had not pulled the sword when he did, there might not have been a Britain left to defend.  Cornwall still had some strength, but the loss of Lyoness proved devastating, and Devon east of Exeter seemed questionable.  Wales still held fast.  Arthur held the eastern line at Caerleon, and the Welsh coastal watch drove off Saxon settlers as easily as Irish pirates.  But Britain had all but gone already.

They stopped in the Midlands to visit Percival.  His position remained strong because many British flocked to his land as a safe haven.  But Pelenor’s family had accommodated to the Saxons so there were as many Saxons on the land as British.  Ederyn’s old place had been completely taken over by a Saxon Chief who now declared himself Lord of that land, and the British did not have the strength to throw him out.

Even up here, in the wilds of the British Highlands, the Germans were moving in.  A couple of generations and inter-marriages and an outside observer won’t be able to tell which is which.  Gerraint did not want to be the one who told Arthur that thirty years of war defending the land actually killed the land.  The seventeen years of peace that followed might have helped if Bohort and Lancelot had not stripped the land of her youth for war on the continent.  Then to see those youth bring their families to Amorica seemed too much.  Little Britain might be repopulated, but big Britain got depopulated to do it.  Britain, as far as Gerraint could tell, had already been lost.  It already became an Anglo-Saxon world.

They were seen coming down the hill.  Several men on horseback came to either welcome them or challenge them.  One never knew.

“Heingurt is the one to speak to,” their British guide from the last village spoke up.  “Though Hans Bad-Hand is the village chief.  The Saxons do things differently, you know.”

 

“I understand,” Bedivere responded.  He took it upon himself to make nice with the various guides they got to help them at one point or another through the Highlands, which suited Gerraint just fine.  He kept back, next to George.

“Of course, you have to expect them to be a little jumpy, what with the dragons about.  I heard one of the outland farms got attacked a month back.  Heingurt wanted to blame us.  He doesn’t believe there are real dragons about, but enough of his own people saw it to make him quiet, for now.”

“Thank you.  That is good to know.”  Bedivere sounded too smooth.

“Do you think we will ever see the dragon?” George asked.  Gerraint stayed lost in his own thoughts so George had to ask twice and had learned to raise his voice a little on the second asking.

“I hope not,” Gerraint said.  “They are like me.  When they get old, they don’t always hear when you talk to them.”

“You talk to them?”

“Sure.  Dragon speak, a strange and mysterious tongue.”

“Now, Lord.”  The British guide leaned back.  “I have never heard anyone say they heard a dragon speak.”

“Doesn’t mean they didn’t,” Gerraint said with a grin.  “Maybe they heard the word lunch right before they were swallowed.”

The guide stared, slack jawed.  Bedivere covered his grin, but he knew the truth.  He heard Gerraint speak some sort of words to the dragon all those years ago when they were on the continent and headed for the lake.  The guide looked at Bedivere and saw the grin beneath his hand and threw his own hand out.  

“Daft,” he said.

There were five Saxons on horseback, but they looked like ordinary enough farmers, not much different from their guide, apart from the one that Gerraint took to be Heingurt.  Heingurt had some semblance of armor underneath his coat.

“Heingurt.”  The guide gave a friendly wave before the riders arrived.

“Brennan, with what have you come to burden us with this time?”  Heingurt eyed the strangers to judge if they might pose a threat.  They all knew the look well by then.

Brennan introduced them.  “Bedivere of Lyoness is a Knight of the Round Table.”  The men looked impressed.  “The Lord is Gerraint, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall.”  Two of the men backed up, but Gerraint spoke up.

“Please.  At my age I am more like the house cat of Cornwall.”  Heingurt grinned at that image.

“And the squire?” Heingurt asked.

“George,” Gerraint practiced his Saxon.  “Son of Elrod, Chief of Wessex, and Prince among the Saxons.”  Gerraint did not get surprised.  They all seemed to know who Elrod of Wessex was.  This was not the first time it came up.

“And you travel with these men of Britain.”

“I am squired to Lord Bedivere until we reach the Lake of the Moon,” George said.

Heingurt shook his head.  “A daft quest,” he used the British word.  “The lake is full of strange people and nightmare creatures.  They say men who have gone there go mad or never come back.”

“The Lord is my shield and strength.”

“Ugh.”  Heingurt made a sound of disinterest before he confessed.  “We have some Christians in the village.  Come.”  They turned and rode into the village, Brennan with them.

“It would not be neighborly to come this far without paying my respects to Hans Bad-Hand.”

“My Lord once told me it is always wise to pay respects to the king when you come into a new country,” Bedivere said.

“Did I say that?” Gerraint joked.  “I must have had a daft day.”

Heingurt took them straight to Hans Bad-Hand.  It was obvious where the name came from.  The old man’s left hand looked shriveled, like a birth defect.  His right hand looked strong enough, and no doubt in his youth it more than made up for the deformity.  In his age, though, he looked like he had arthritis in his knuckles and at least one knee, and the belly suggested serious stress and possibly some lower back problems.  Gerraint well understood.

“So, you are the Lion of Cornwall.  Tell me why I should not take your head?  My brother fought among those you slaughtered that day by the hill called Badon.”

“Because it was a fair fight, and your brother lost.  I can tell you this; the men I faced on that day fought bravely and well.  But here, you are no fool.  You lead your people all the way up to this fertile valley and settle in peace.  You make friends with your neighbors where you can trade and receive help when the winter grows long.  You built this village up from nothing and you have seen it prosper.  Your women grow fat and your children grow strong.  Why, in the name of God, would you be willing to throw that all away?”  Without anything even approximating a threat, Hans Bad-Hand understood that the price for harming Gerraint would be terminal, for him and for his people.

 Gerraint fidgeted.  “Do you mind if I sit?  This old body cannot stand like it used to.”  He began to sit even as Hans waved at the chair.  “I make poor Bedivere listen all day to my aches and pains.   My knees don’t like to bend.  My back doesn’t like to turn, especially down low.  My hands stiffen if I grip something for too long.  I am sure you understand.”

Hans glanced at Heingurt.  “My right hand and right arm are still plenty strong.”

Gerraint caught the idea.  If Hans showed weakness, he would be challenged for his leadership.  He sighed.  “Let me tell you, it is like this in Cornwall.  I worked hard all my life, building, weeding, making things work, and why?  So, my sons and grandsons can reap all the benefits.  It hardly seems fair, don’t you think?”  Hans nodded.  “But the thing is, my sons won’t let me step down.  They say there is more to be done, and they trust me to do it right.  So, they guard me and watch over the workers to make sure it gets done the way I say.  I suppose after I am gone, they will have their turn, but between you and me, I am half tempted to go home and retire.  I should force Peter to be king so I can go fishing.”

“That is for some thought.  Don’t you think, Heingurt?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “I think Hans is a smart man who has made smart decisions and brought prosperity to the people.  As I said, why, in the name of God, would you risk that?”

“It is true, what you say about the knees and the back,” Hans smiled as he whispered, but there was no telling if Heingurt honestly got the message or not.  “But here, you say this is George, son of Elrod, Chief of Wessex.  I knew your father well.  In truth, when he was killed, I brought my people here.  Did they catch the killer?”

“Mother thought it was Ethelgard himself.”

“Stabbed in the back,” Hans told Gerraint.

“By a coward,” Gerraint understood.

“And how is your mother?”

“Dead,” George said, and pushed his chin up.  “Dead at the hand of Red Ulf.”

“That is where we found him,” Gerraint said.

George was not slow to praise Gerraint and Bedivere in his rescue, but he insisted it was the angel of Saint Michael that drove off the murderers.  

“That Red Ulf is a bad one,” Heingurt interrupted.

Hans nodded and then smiled.  “Stay the night.  You should have at least one good meal before you ride off on your fool’s quest.”

Gerraint got ready to say yes when a man ran into the house, yelling.  “Dragon.”

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 3 of 4

Gerraint thought about Uwaine’s wife.  Uwaine brought her home not long after that business with the Graal cleared up.  She was a Saxon, a buxom blond with just the right amount of freckles, as like to Greta as one might find.  Neither Gerraint nor Uwaine ever said anything about that.  Uwaine’s mother never got used to her as long as she lived, but their neighbor, Morgana was good to her, and she and Morgause became friends.  Odd how things sometimes worked out.  The girl, fifteen years younger than Uwaine, but in the last thirteen years or so she gave him two sons and two daughters so Gerraint supposed there were no complaints.

“George.”  Gerraint said suddenly, as he brought up the rear, leading his charger with the wrapped hoof.  “Seems to me I recall a George in British history.  Can’t remember any details, though.  I suppose that chapter is not yet written.”  He got silent for a moment before he shouted.  “For England, Saint Michael and Saint George!”  He quieted.  “No idea what that means.”

They arrived at the village of Swindon the following evening.  Constance made them as welcome as she could.  She turned the servants toward a flurry of activity which Gerraint called unnecessary.

“Majesty,” Constance said.  “I had no word you were coming.”

George looked up at the word “Majesty,” but he said nothing.

“I wasn’t,” Gerraint admitted.  “You know at my age I would rather be home with Enid, or out fishing, but Arthur called, and I thought to take the long way around to visit my old friend.”

Constance looked pained.  She looked away and nearly let go of some tears.  “My Lord passed away last winter,” she said.  “It was a mercy.  He stayed helpless in bed for too many years.  He begged me not to tell anyone or send word.”

Gerraint reached out and held the old woman, and she did let out a few tears.

“I’m very sorry,” Bedivere said.

Shortly, Constance led them to the graveside to pay their respects.  “The swiftest of men.  Steadfast as a rock.”  Gerraint named him, while George got the little cross his mother had worn around her neck out of his pouch and spent a few moments in silent prayer.  After, as they returned to the house, George turned to Bedivere.

“The famous Bedwyr of Arthur.”  He was just checking.  Bedivere affirmed.  “And Gerraint, King of Cornwall, the terror of Badon and the Lion of Cornwall,” he finished.

“Exactly,” Bedivere said.

“Praise God’s good hand for placing me in your company,” George said.  “I could not have asked for more.”

Gerraint overheard, but he chose silence.  He did not act as such a terror anymore, and he never was as much as the tales said.  He wondered, looking around the village of Swindon, seeing mostly old men and women, what would become of Britain after his days?  Loth had gone, and now Bedwyr.  What would come when Arthur died?  He wondered if that might have been why Arthur sent for him.  Perhaps Arthur was dying.  He tried not to think too hard on that.

After two days of good food and two nights of soft beds, with Bedivere no longer in danger of opening his wound, provided he behaved himself, the three travelers continued toward Bath and Badon where they would ride around the point of the channel and head for Caerleon.  George rode most of the way in silence and only asked once why Gerraint insisted on stopping every couple of hours to walk around.

“Because if I don’t,” he explained.  “I’ll stiffen up and you will have to carry me on a stretcher.”

They spent the evening in the wild some distance from Bath as they found no convenient village inn.  Gerraint wanted at least one night under the stars, and besides, Constance, or someone, had ridden out in advance and told people that he moved on the road.  He all too constantly got stopped and awed.  It was not like the old days when people would ask, Gerraint who?  Heck, in those days they asked, Arthur who?

That evening, they had a visitor.  He came right after sundown, glowing in elfish armor, and standing tall as a man, though Gerraint knew it was not his natural look.  His helm looked plume encrusted in the Roman style, and his weapons appeared all gold and jewel encrusted as well.

Bedivere and George had their swords out, hearing the intruder before seeing him.  On first sight, however, Bedivere put up his sword and instructed George to do the same.  He did, but he could not resist staring.  Meanwhile, Gerraint snored.  It took a bit to get him awake.

“Great Lord.”  The warrior bowed, deeply.

“What news, Lord Beechworth, and what brings you to Britain on this side of the Channel?”  Gerraint asked as he rubbed his eyes.  This time he was talking about the English Channel.

“The Lady Viviane has seen this young one in her heart and she knows there is greatness in his days to come, though she cannot say what that work may be for the clouds that cover those days,” Beechworth said.

“Yes.”  Gerraint started coming awake.  “I felt the same when we picked him up some days ago.  But what does Rhiannon want?”

“Lord, you know she has left the lake across the sea and moved court to the British Highlands since Meryddin passed over.”

“Er, yes.”  Gerraint nodded but he sounded hesitant.  He had not really thought about it since Macreedy informed him all those years ago.

“The lady has sent me to ask if she may train the youngster as she once trained Lancelot and Galahad.”

“Young man.”  Gerraint turned to George.  “This concerns you.  What have you to say?”

“I, I.”  George did not exactly know what to say.

“Spit it out,” Gerraint insisted.

George swallowed.  “I stopped believing in elves and fairies when I came to faith in the Lord.  How?”  He stumbled on what to ask.

“God works though all that he has made to affect all that he will.”  Gerraint said.  “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than you or I can dream or imagine, and don’t underestimate the creativity of the Almighty, or anything else concerning the Almighty for that matter.”  He shook his finger at the boy.  “But the question is, will you learn the way of the chiefs of this world, what soon enough they will call Knighthood?  Here are teachers offering to teach you.”

“Yes.”  George yelped lest the offer vanish.  “Only I promised my mother that I would first seek Arthur’s court.”

“There you have it,” Gerraint said to Beechworth, who did not understand exactly what he had.  He looked at Bedivere, but Bedivere merely shrugged.  “George will go with us to Arthur,” Gerraint explained.  “Then I will bring him to the highlands myself.”

“Very good, my Lord.”  Beechworth offered another bow, but he did not otherwise move.

“My best to your Lady and tell Brimmer the Dwarf to get cracking.  The boy needs armor that will fit him,” Gerraint said.

“Very good.”  Beechworth repeated himself again, but still did not move.

“Good to see you again,” Gerraint added.  “Go on, now.  Get small.”

“Lord.”  With that permission, Beechworth did get small, fairy that he was, and flew off at such speed, for all practical purposes he vanished.

George looked full of wonder, but before he could begin to ask questions in earnest, Gerraint already started snoring.

They arrived at Caerleon in due order.  Gerraint and his party were hustled into the Pendragon who sat at the Round Table looking morosely at all of the empty seats.  He got up when Gerraint came in and they embraced and passed pleasantries.  Then Gerraint introduced his party.

“Bedivere, you know,” Gerraint said.  “And this is young George, a Saxon we picked up under some rather unusual circumstances.”

“God’s providence.”  George announced and he fell to one knee.  Such formalities were rarely seen in the room of the Round Table, but George felt acutely aware that he was a stranger in a strange land.

Arthur’s face turned.  “You know no pagan has ever been allowed in this room.”  He shot at Gerraint, though the accusation was not strictly true.

“And still hasn’t,” Gerraint returned in kind.  “George is a confessing Christian.”

Arthur looked up.  He stepped forward, helped George to his feet and looked long and hard into the boy’s eyes.

“Great majesty.”  George mumbled and attempted to turn away, but the eyes of a great man are hard to turn from once they are fastened on you; and especially those of Arthur.

“I believe you are right,” Arthur announced at last and let go of the boy.  “This means something, I am sure.  But what?”

“It means, if nothing else, the Saxons are beginning to receive the word of hope for all men.”  Gerraint spoke plainly.  “This is another great victory for Arthur, I would say.  These years of peace have not been fruitless.”

“Perhaps,” Arthur said, returned to his morose attitude, and retook his seat at the table.  “My knees, you know.  Sitting is more comfortable these days.”

“Though the younger man,” Gerraint teased, and grinned broadly.  “Still, I seem to know what you mean, if I don’t sit too long.”

“Yes,” Arthur started, but Bedivere interrupted.

“Lords.”  He spoke up.  “Perhaps George and I could see to our rooms and leave you two to talk over old times.”

“Yes, yes,” Gerraint verbalized while Arthur waved them off.  Then Arthur had a thought.

“Big feast tonight,” he said.  “Seats of honor and all of that.  Don’t disappoint the lady.”  Bedivere bowed slightly in acknowledgement, and they left.

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MONDAY

Arthur is set on fetching Lancelot, but first Gerraint has to keep his promise and take George into the British Highlands which are not exactly the British lands they expect. Until then, Happy Reading

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M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 2 of 4

The pace felt leisurely and Bedivere stayed quiet most of the time, fighting his allergies.  That seemed one reason Gerraint allowed him to tag along.  His first squire, Uwaine, finally taught the young Bedivere to keep his mouth closed unless there was something worth saying.  Mostly Bedivere stayed good, so in all, it became a pleasant journey, apart from the occasional sneezing.  The days were warm, but not too hot.  The spring rains were mostly over.  The evenings were still cool through the hundred and fifties of the Julian calendar which made it roughly the end of May or early June.

They traveled across the south road along the coast for most of the way, only turning inland at the last as they came to the edge of the Shores of Wessex.  The nights also felt pleasant, devoid of rain, and the air, full of the fragrance of blooms.  Gerraint was glad not to have any allergies.

“Apples.”  Bedivere named the culprit.  “I would die in Little Britain.”

“Amorica.”  Gerraint insisted on the older name.  Bedivere nodded and sneezed.

After a time, they came into woods and immediately heard the sound of clashing weapons and men, shouting.  Bedivere hesitated and attended to his Lord.  “Aw, hell.”  Gerraint swore and nudged his horse forward.

A young man of about fourteen or fifteen, in armor too big for him, stood with his back to a tree.  A dozen men, Saxons, had him hemmed in, but one man looked cut and another appeared dead beside the body of a woman.  They were wary of the boy, though he hardly knew how to hold his weapon.

Gerraint did not hesitate.  He drove his charger through the Saxons, knocked several aside and several to the ground.  Bedivere came up behind with his lance and drove through one so deeply it wrenched the spear from his hand when the man fell.  Gerraint turned around by then and charged again, but a Saxon stabbed at his horse and Gerraint lost his grip.  Bedivere got pulled from his horse when he sneezed.

Gerraint got up, but he had no time to pull his sword as two of the Saxons grabbed him and held him.  Bedivere got a sword in his shoulder for his trouble and collapsed.  In the confusion, though, the boy tried to run.  He got caught and held for the chief of the Saxons, an ugly red headed man.

“You have caused us enough trouble,” the chief said.  He tore the helmet off the boy’s head and gave the boy a slap across his face.  “You and your mother.”  He stepped back and pointed.  The two men holding the boy shoved him to his knees and a third exposed the boy’s neck while everyone stood in silence and watched.

“No!”  Gerraint yelled and suddenly paused the action as he struggled to get free.  Then the Nameless one welled up inside him.  Gerraint did not resist the god he had once been, and in an instant, Gerraint no longer stood in the arms of the Saxons.   Nameless stood in Gerraint’s place, and he looked ticked.  He hated the cowardice of beheading.

He waved, and the Saxons found themselves huddled in a group twenty yards away from Bedivere and the boy.  The god of old took one step toward them and the earth shook beneath their feet.  “Tell Ethelgard, your Lord, that I have chosen the boy.  He is under my hand, and Ethelgard will be happy one day when the grown boy saves him from the fire.  Now, Go!  And do not look back.”  Nameless let out a small touch of his awesome nature and the Saxons trembled.  They did not dare stand but were afraid to fall to their knees and not obey the god.  The chief only got out one word.

“But the boy is a Christian.” 

Nameless smiled.  “And so should you be,” he responded.  “Go!”  He gave them a head start.  He sent them and their horses, save two horses, a mile from that location.  He sighed as he made three holes in the earth, three plain crosses, and then he left the Saxon language of the boy behind as he traded places in time with Greta, the Dacian Woman of the Ways.  Her healing hands were needed, and Nameless felt sorry he was not allowed to heal by divine fiat.  Greta’s armor adjusted automatically to her new height and shape.  She knelt beside Bedivere who knew the armor well even if he did not recognize her, exactly.

“That was stupid of me,” he said.  “I should learn to time my sneezes better.”

“Ha!”  Greta humored him while she loosened his hauberic.  The wound appeared not too deep, and well away from the heart, but she imagined some blockage needed to be cleaned out.  Bedivere would live, but he would need a month or so to heal properly.  “Boy.”  The Saxon, the Nameless’ gift, came to her tongue.  “Get me a cloth of some kind.  Clean as possible, and water.”  The boy stared at her.  “Hurry, hurry, hurry.”  Greta said and shooed the boy toward the horses.  He went but paused a long time near the bodies of the dead Saxons and the woman.  In that time, Greta found the sliver of metal she looked for.  It made the wound bleed all the more, however.  “Hurry,” she repeated, and the boy brought what she needed.

“Hold it here.”  She showed the boy and gathered the moss she needed which would act as an antiseptic cover for the wound.  When Bedivere got bandaged, Greta asked about the woman.

“My mother.”  The boy confirmed, and she held the boy and let him cry on her breast for the longest time.

“Water.”  Bedivere interrupted at last.  He struggled to his feet, but Greta had the skin handy and got up to give it to him.  The boy went to his mother’s side, his eyes were very red, but his tears were dry for the moment.  The three graves sat nearby.  Greta took another look at Bedivere’s shoulder, removed the bloody cloth, rinsed it and wrung it out, and tied it tight with the cleanest part she could find against the wound.

“What is your name?” she asked the boy as she came up beside him and hugged him again.  She gave him every ounce of maternal love and care in her.

“George,” the boy said.  He stayed on his knees.  He looked up.  “But I thought you were different.” 

Greta nodded.  “I am.  I’m just visiting here.  These are Gerraint’s days.”  She did not explain any further than that.  “I will not be far away,” she said, and stepped back before she left and brought Gerraint back into his own place.  Gerraint moaned a little and rubbed his arms.  Those Saxons had not been gentle on his old bones.

“Sixty equals eighty,” he told Bedivere.  “Three years in this world is like four in the Storyteller’s day.”

George looked up.  He understood the Cornish dialect and also the common Gallic of Arthur’s court.  Gerraint felt glad he thought of that, too, or rather, Nameless thought of that.

“I understand,” George said with sheer amazement.

“I don’t,” Bedivere confessed.  “But Lord Gerraint talks like that sometimes.  You get used to it.”

“No, I mean the words, the very words I am speaking.”  George touched his lips as if searching for the magic.

“A gift,” Gerraint said and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Praise the angel of Saint Michael,” George said.  Gerraint raised his eyebrows.  The Nameless god was neither angel nor saint, but he said nothing.

“Better take care of business and move on,” Bedivere suggested, as he walked to the first body.  Gerraint nodded, but he had the boy help and made Bedivere stand aside.  

“Yes.”  George understood perfectly well.  “Red Ulf is no believer in the Lord.  I doubt he will be frightened by the angel.  He may come back.”

Gerraint shook his head as they lowered the Saxons in their graves.  The dirt automatically came back, pressed down tight, and the crosses set themselves in place, dug deep and immovable in the ground.  “I doubt he will be back today,” Gerraint said.  “But all the same we should move on.”

They lowered George’s mother last of all.  “But why did the angel make three crosses?” he asked.

“Mustn’t assume,” Gerraint said.  “No telling how deep the word has gone across the Saxon Shore.”

“Oh, very much,” George confirmed.  “And into Anglia and even Kent, but the chiefs are still mostly pagan and want to keep to the old ways.”

“So, why were they after you?” Bedivere asked the obvious question.

George looked away.  A long silence stretched out before he answered.  “My father was a chief who spoke for the Lord.  Ethelgard killed him, at least Mother thought so.  He was afraid, I think, that we might expose his murder.  The people would kill him.  My father was well loved.”  George got down by his mother’s grave to pray, but Bedivere had another question.

“But what brought you into Britain?  Were you running away?”  Gerraint took Bedivere aside to give the boy some space.  He checked Bedivere’s shoulder to be sure it had not started bleeding again and then they rounded up the horses.  Gerraint’s horse had escaped the sword thrust but became hobbled, having torn a hoof in flight.  Bedivere’s horse seemed fine, and with the two Saxon horses, they would do well.

George got up after a while, but he had not forgotten the question.  “I was on my way to the court of King Arthur to see if I could train to be a Knight of his Round Table.  It was not safe to stay among the pagans.”

Gerraint nodded.

“What will Arthur say of a Saxon?”  Bedivere whispered.

“Not unprecedented.”  Gerraint responded.  “Consider Uwaine’s wife and the love Gwynyvar and Enid have lavished on her.”  He turned to George and smiled for the boy.  “You may as well ride with us.  That is where we are headed.”

The boy looked hopeful.  “But what happened to the Lady?” he asked.  He looked around and seemed to miss her for the first time.

“Greta?”  Gerraint knew to whom he referred.  “She’s gone home,” he said, as he helped Bedivere mount.

“Does she live around here?” the boy asked.

“No.”  Gerraint shook his head.  He stepped over to help the boy up.  “Dacia, just north of the Danube.  But the important question is when, and the answer is roughly four hundred years ago.”

George swallowed.

“Not a ghost,” Bedivere said, quickly.  “She was really here in flesh and blood.”

“But?”  George got confused.  He looked at Gerraint, at Bedivere, and back to Gerraint before he finally settled on Bedivere.  “I see what you mean about the way he talks, but I can’t imagine getting used to it.”

Bedivere merely shrugged, and it hurt, so he started out at a leisurely pace and hoped he did not run into too many painful dips and bumps in the road.  At least his sneezing temporarily stopped.