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.

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

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: York, part 1 of 2

“So, who is this sudden friend of yours?” Arthur asked.

“Lord Pinewood.” Gerraint said as he tried out the poor mattress on one of the slat beds originally made for legionnaires. The bed creaked, like one ready to fall apart any minute.

“We have met,” Pinewood said.

“I have that feeling,” Arthur looked at the man. “But I also feel a sudden chill on the back of my neck.  Goreu, please explain.”

“He goes hunting in his spare time,” Gerraint said, as he took the straw mattress and laid it on the floor.  Arthur’s eyes got big.

“I thought that was you,” Percival said brightly. “How are you?”

“It won’t be easy breaking out of here,” Captain Croyden interrupted, as he stepped away from the door.  “It has a deadbolt and probably guards.”

“I don’t think breaking out will be much of a problem,” Arthur said, and he decided to lie down as well so he could have the excuse to close his eyes.

The sun went down and Gerraint popped up from his nap.  Arthur and the RDF were discussing possible ways of escape from their prison room. They had to capture the gatehouse to open the gate, but they wanted to do so without being found out, if at all possible.

“What room is beneath us?” Gerraint asked first thing.

“A storage room for hay and straw for the horses,” Pinewood said from the corner where he and Percival appeared to be doing something.

“Like a barn,” Percival added.

“We can’t tear up the floorboards,” Croyden objected.  “This floor is solid.  Even if we had the equipment it would bring every guard in the fort down on our heads.”

“Then we use the escape hatch,” Gerraint suggested.

“Over here, Lord,” Pinewood called.  He and Percival struggled to remove a six by six trap door that had no lock or hinges but looked to fit perfectly into the floor.

“I think I don’t want to ask,” Arthur said, while Gerraint lowered himself into the dark space below.

“Alleluia,” Gerraint breathed as he let himself drop. He whispered back up, but it sounded sharp and plenty loud.  “Pile of hay. Soft landing.  Come on down.”  They came, one by one, and Pinewood came last of all so he could, somehow, close the flooring above them.

The room had only a small touch of light around the door, unlocked, of course, because no one would steal hay.  It let out on to the small courtyard by the back of the great hall.  “You know, the Romans built the same thing over and over.  Once they found a good design, they tended to stick with it.”

Arthur nodded.  “This way.”

Pinewood tapped Gerraint on the shoulder and kept back to be last.  “Get your men and meet us in the gatehouse.  Cornwall hunters,” Gerraint said, and caught up to Arthur.

The going got slow.  The moon had risen three-quarters full in a cloudless sky, so they had to avoid the open spaces.  They inched along the wall and Gerraint could not help himself thinking, “Louie.  I said the coppers would never hold me in Alcatraz.”  Fortunately, he held his tongue.

When they arrived at the gatehouse, the guards were all sleeping except one.  Word had evidently gone around not to expect any activity until morning.  Arthur insisted on taking out that one guard by himself, and he almost succeeded.  The man cried out, but in surprise, not in fear or death.  It sounded as if one of his fellow guards snuck up behind him and said, “Boo!” Even so, it got enough to rouse two sleepy men.  They barely got out the door to yawn before they were riddled with arrows.

Pinewood, and his half-dozen hunters came forward with a jar of anti-blue gel and different clothes.  “I stepped out and picked these up,” he said.  “We don’t want your own men mistaking you for the enemy.”

“Quite right,” Arthur said, and he dressed to receive the army.  Percival got the torches as soon as he changed, and he and the three men from the RDF climbed to the top of the wall.  Two of Pinewood’s men climbed with them, just to watch, they said, but everyone understood that meant watching up and down the wall to stop any unwanted intruders.  Arthur, Gerraint and Captain Croyden took care of the rest of the sleepers and then went to open the gate.  The rest of Pinewood’s men had their back.

Meryddin, the first one in, got loud.  Gerraint took a great risk when he wrapped his hand over Meryddin’s mouth.  “You will probably bite my hand off,” he said.  “But if you don’t be quiet you will get a lot of people killed.” Gerraint slowly removed his hand and then swore he could see the steam coming out of Meryddin’s ears.

The first third of Arthur’s army came in quietly, but then the impatient idiots in the back third began to shout war cries, which quickly ended the silent surprise.  Even so, many of the Saxons were caught in their sleep, and many others got killed or taken when they were still half-asleep.  Some fighting broke out on the main courtyard and in taking the Great Hall, but the defenders soon got overwhelmed with numbers and knew their cause had been lost.

Colgrin lost his head, though no one confessed. They assumed he lost it to a Saxon blade because someone thought Colgrin betrayed them.  When it was over, they brought up the Pictish prisoners and they and the Saxons were offered their lives.

“Hear me,” Arthur yelled at the Lords of the Saxons and the Chief men of the Picts.  “I destroyed two armies in two days, and you had no strength to stand against me and no way of stopping me.  You dared to set foot on British soil.  I should hang every one of you.  But I can be gracious.  Pledge, by your strongest pledge, that you will go home and never again set foot on British soil, because understand this.  If you come again to British soil to attack and do harm to the British people, I will set foot on your land and destroy your people.  You have failed.  But I will not fail.  I will so destroy your homes, not a child will be left to cry and your land and inheritance will be given to others.  So take heed and go, and do not come back.”

The enemy left, and Gerraint asked his little ones to please watch to be sure they went home.  He asked them just to watch, but he knew the Germans as well as the Picts and Scots would be harassed the whole way as incentive to keep their pledge.

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 3 of 3

In the morning, Gerraint, Pelenor, Peredur and Meryddin accompanied Arthur to a parlay with Bearclaw and his lieutenants. Arthur spoke quietly as they rode out.

“Meryddin said you could come because you are an imposing sight.”

“What?” Gerraint joked.  “I’m now the big, dumb guy there to intimidate the enemy by my mean stare and bulging muscles?”

“Mostly, yeah,” Arthur went along with the idea. “Percival’s going to be upset at being left out, you know.”

Gerraint nodded, but said no more.

Once there, Arthur suggested the Saxons leave Britain and return to their own land in Essex.  “You’ve been sitting against this river for more than a month when you could have moved north.  Now that the army has arrived, moving north is not an option.”

Bearclaw laughed.  “You see, Goatlib, my son.  This British boy thinks he has us surrounded.”  He laughed again and his lieutenants laughed with him.  “The army I see is not nearly as big as the force mustered in the old days by Uther.  I heard some of your Lords were not happy with you and you wasted all your men fighting among yourselves.”

“And so you sat here for a month waiting to find out how strong my arm is?”

“Bah!”  Bearclaw spat.  “We don’t waste good men on arguments.  Brecca wanted to move to the shore and crawl up the coast like a coward.  Edgard wanted to slink away, back the way we came. But we settled things and only two men died.”

“Who died?”  Arthur had to ask.

“Brecca and Edgard,” Bearclaw gave the obvious answer and looked very pleased with himself.  “Now, you go away.  Have your partridge and mush and we will fight in the morning.  We have twice your number and good German steel.  The fight should not take long.”

Both sides went back to their lines, and Arthur laid out the battle plan in less time than it took to parlay.  Gerraint had a thought.

“You know, partridge and mush sounds pretty good.”

The Saxons came out from the river’s edge in the morning.  They had camped on the open field where they expected to do battle.  In those days, battles were always fought in the open air, where it was said, real men of fortitude could stand face to face.  The truth was, fighting over hills and especially in the woods, it became too easy for men to get lost and turned around, and maybe even cut or skewer their own.  Certainly, every group Bearclaw sent into the woods never came back.

Arthur dressed up his foot soldiers first thing, and made sure they understood their part in the drama.  Kai and Loth had both sent contingents from the north that arrived in the night.  That gave Arthur fifteen hundred regular men or about half the estimated number of Germans. He let the Celts and the Germans yell at each other for a time before he moved the horsemen to the front.

Arthur had four hundred and ninety-seven horsemen, all well armored and outfitted with lances.  More than half were trained members of the RDF, but behind them were the Lords and their squires.  Pelenor, Gerraint, Peredur, Arthur and Meryddin rode to the front.  When they stopped, they gave the horses a chance to settle down.  The Germans stopped yelling their war cries and watched.  When Arthur yelled “Lances,” they came to point at the enemy with far better unity than the first time.  The RDF let out one big “Ha!” and then fell silent.

Percival came riding up to stop beside Meryddin, and Ederyn, who failed to keep the young man at the back, came up beside him. Pelenor kept mumbling “relax, twist and yank,” over and over.  He got very good at hitting the targets dead center, but he sometimes forgot the follow up, in particular the relax part.  More than once, he found himself shoved off the back end of his galloping horse and deposited roughly on his rump.

“Drive them into the river,” Arthur yelled.  He got ready to call the charge when Percival and Gerraint interrupted, in unison.

“For Arthur!”

The RDF, the squires, and those Lords who were not caught off guard echoed, “For Arthur!”  And this time when Arthur yelled charge, it was barely heard as the horses went rumbling forward.  The foot soldiers did their best, but they would be a few minutes extra before they reached the enemy lines.

To their credit, about a third of the Saxons, or about a thousand, tried to hold their ground.  They got skewered, and those who were not killed outright, were finished as soon as the footmen arrived.  The rest of the Saxons did flee to the river and most of them swam for their lives.

Arthur stopped at the river’s edge where the trees lined the water.  He signaled, and Captain Croyden lead his RDF a half-mile up river to a point where they could ford across.  The good Captain had been charged to make sure the Germans went back to where they came from.  He later reported that a number of them hit the Essex border and still did not stop running.  That was a few days on foot, so there is no telling what could be believed.

“It won’t always be this easy,” Peredur told Arthur.  “They will find a way to counter the lances.”

Arthur nodded, but he had three things to keep him busy.  First, he needed to find Bearclaw, which was not hard.  The man lay among the dead in a large pocket of men that tried to stand up to the charge.  Unfortunately, Goatlib was not there, and Arthur imagined Bearclaw’s son might be one to watch.

Second, Arthur needed to choose a number of men for inclusion in the Round Table.  He started with Peredur and Ederyn, who were happy to be included, and Pelenor, who did not go in for those sorts of emotional moments, but also felt secretly happy to be included.  Captain Croyden and three members of the RDF that he singled out for extraordinary acts of bravery in defense of the locals against the Saxon raiders were given the title, “Sir,” along with several of the older Lords who were known to be stout believers and defenders of the church.

Mesalwig of Glastonbury appealed for inclusion, but he only turned twenty, and Arthur decided that a man needed to be twenty-one and fully grown to be joined to the table.  Mesalwig went away angry, but it could not be helped because he was still technically a squire.  Besides, his master, Badgemagus the Welshman, still held to many of the old ways and had no desire to be included.

Melwas got included, though Arthur said it was mostly for Gerraint’s sake.  “But hereafter,” Arthur made it clear.  “Just being in battle and fighting for the realm is not enough.”  Melwas fought bravely and did his duty, but no more than the rest on that day.  “We are looking for extraordinary men who perform as Gerraint has said, above and beyond the call of duty.”

“Still, it was good to include some of the most important Lords in Britain and Wales.  There are almost twenty now, and that should make the table attractive to any young men coming up in the ranks,” Percival thought out loud.

“And you knighted two second sons and a commoner among the RDF, and that will give your army something special,” Gerraint added. “Extraordinary valor will be honored, even among the common people.”

“What do you mean, knighted?” Arthur asked.

Gerraint put his hand to his mouth and spoke through his fingers.  “What is the third thing we have to do.”

“My turn,” Arthur said.  “Last time you dragged us off to Cornwall.  This time I am dragging you off to York.  We will take the younger members of the RDF with us, not to threaten Colgrin but simply to say we are watching.”

“I think I will bring Sergeant Paul and the men from Cornwall if you don’t mind,” Gerraint said.

“I could bring the contingent from Lyoness,” Melwas offered.

“No,” Arthur turned him down.  “We don’t want to look like an army.  We just want enough to guard against possible treachery, not that I distrust the Jute.”

“Besides, Sir Melwas” Gerraint grinned.  “You have to visit Thomas of Dorset.  Gwillim told me Thomas is joining his uncle and will Captain one of the family’s seven merchant ships out of Southampton.  Tell him I sent you and he will give you a special deal on something nice for Cordella.  Then you can perform that act of valor and charity and tell her that you love her.”

Melwas returned Gerraint’s grin.  “I can do that.”

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

MONDAY

Colgrin the Jute, Lord of York, is charged to keep an eye on the Norwegian shore.  Instead, he makes a treaty with the Picts in the north.  He intends to take north Britain for himself, and Loth and Kai alone are not able to stop Him.  Monday, trouble with the Picts.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 2 of 3

Soon enough, Arthur found a number of young Lords who became interested in joining the RDF.  It often turned out to be the second and third sons, as Gerraint had originally suggested, and they came with their own horses and some equipment. That was a great help to the treasury, even if they had to be fed.   Gerraint also pointed out, “if one of these should prove themselves worthy of admission to the Round Table, granting them the title “Sir” should cause less consternation among the Lords than granting title to a bunch of commoners.”  Arthur nodded, but he clearly did not feel too concerned about that.

Arthur had plenty of lances made, though not nearly as long and heavy as they would be in the centuries to come.  This time he had the hand-guard built right into the lance and put no barbs on the point.  The straight point would be something that could put a hole in an enemy, be pulled out with a relaxed hand, a twist and a yank, and used again on the next enemy.  He also had armor made, strong chain on leather, and helmets all modeled after his memory of the armor and helmet of the Kairos.  Gerraint imagined it as the first military uniform in history, but deep inside he knew it wasn’t.

All of the Lords and their squires came to Caerleon now and then.  Pelenor thought it would make things easier when Arthur got old enough to take what he started calling the grand tour of the land.  The squires, of course, went straight for the lances and the practice grounds, and this time their lords were not slow to join them.  Arthur began to think that these men would form the backbone of his army, and he was not wrong.  Indeed, heavy cavalry would rule the battlefield until the invention of gunpowder.  But Ederyn always reminded Arthur that in war, the footmen would still be the vast majority of his soldiers—and the enemy soldiers, too.  There were not enough horses for everybody, and even if they had the horses, most men did not know how to ride.

In the spring of 497, Storyteller’s estimate, Arthur turned nineteen and got ready to be certified for claustrophobia if he didn’t get out in the countryside for some fresh air.  Gerraint, now eighteen, sat at the chessboard across the table and concentrated, because he thought he might be winning.  Pelenor and Peredur sat at the other end of the long table quietly catching up over a bit of beef and a tankard of ale.  Meryddin also sat quietly, mumbling to himself now and then, and staring out a window in the Great Hall.  He had been saying for some time that they had trouble in the East, and it appeared to be pointed north, but he could not pinpoint it exactly.  No one else presently disturbed the tranquility of the moment until Percival burst in the doors and yelled, his sixteen-year-old voice still cracking on the high notes.

“The Saxons are coming out of Essex.  They have their eyes on York and on cutting off the whole coast.”  Everyone jumped and said “What?” except Meryddin who said something like “I knew it,” and Arthur who said something completely different.

“Salvation!”  He threw the chess board up in the air and scattered the pieces everywhere, mostly because he was losing.  Ederyn arrived a moment later to explain.

That very evening, Arthur sent out the call.  The Lords prevailed on him this time to allow a whole three months for the force to gather.  Arthur was willing, but only because he had two hundred fully trained men in the RDF, and another hundred in various stages of the training program.  True, most of the trained men were home, working their farms, or in the towns and cities, but they were sworn to be in Caerleon within a week once the call went out.

In truth, it took three weeks to gather and supply the two hundred, but that still felt remarkable, considering.  After another week, they were in a position to harass and slow the enemy, and that happened a full two months before the rest of the army was due to gather.  When Arthur finally arrived with the army, now four whole months gone by, because it took an extra month just to get across the width of Britain, Captain Croydon had a most interesting report.

“We arrived in time to drive a raiding party from one village, only to find they were spread all over the countryside, looting and burning villages, towns and farms as they went.  They were not much of an army.  More like a loose collection of Saxon raiders.  We set patrols and a strategy of picking off the small groups one by one.  Soon enough, they began to run on sight of us, and like cattle, we were able to herd them together.  They united at last under the banner of a man named Bearclaw, a Saxon with a nasty disposition, and they are bunched up along the banks of the Glen River, here.”  He pointed to the crude map his men made of the area.  “Since that time, for the past month, or almost six weeks, they have been arguing. Any small groups sent out to get food and supplies have been dealt with, but for the last few weeks they haven’t even dared to do that.  They seem stuck, living off weeds and river fish, I guess, and the occasional horse meat which won’t do their cavalry any good.”

“Casualties?”  Arthur asked.

“We lost two-dozen, very fine and very brave men. Another dozen are out of action, being wounded, but we hope they may recover.”

“We must visit them,” Percival said to Arthur, but he looked at Gerraint, and wondered if there might be anything he could do, like let Greta the healer help.

“Before that,” Gerraint spoke up to avoid Percival’s eyes.  “What news of York?”

Captain Croyden had prepared for the question. “We have a squad of men, in rotation, that have kept a close watch on the fort there.  So far, Colgrin the Jute has made no move to link up with Bearclaw. He is pledged to you, so he may be loyal, but then he has made no move to stop Bearclaw either.”

“He has a good and large contingent of soldiers there watching the Norwegian shore, but he doesn’t have nearly enough to face down an army,” Pelenor said.  “Maybe he felt it best to watch the Danes and deal with Bearclaw if he had to from behind his stout walls.”

“Maybe.”  Arthur studied the map.  “Too bad we have no way into the Saxon camp and no way of knowing what has them bogged down for a month.”  He also looked at Gerraint, but it was only a glance before he turned back to the map with a shake of his head.

Arthur made his camp on top of a rise where he could look down on the Saxons and the river.  He had seventeen hundred men, which proved better than during the rebellion, but still not near the estimated potential.  The Saxons and Angles combined, even after their losses over two months, had closer to three thousand.  “As Melwas says, it is a challenge.”  Arthur spoke long with Meryddin, and for the first time, Gerraint heard them arguing.  He thought it a good sign that Arthur started gaining his own mind, but he supposed that depended on what the argument was about.

Gerraint felt tempted to get off his seat, enter the tent and interrupt, but he got distracted by the approach of Melwas. Melwas became the chief of Lyoness, now that his father had passed away.  He came prepared for this war with fifty good men who he said were all volunteers. Gerraint’s stepfather, by contrast, sent twenty under a grizzled old sergeant who had taken the Christian name of Paul.   It seemed a pittance, a token compared to what Cornwall could provide, but Gerraint satisfied himself by saying at least it was not nothing.

“Can I talk to you?”  Melwas looked uncomfortable.  Gerraint felt tempted to say something outlandish, something very Festuscato to lighten the moment, but he knew this would be serious.

“Of course,” he said.  “What about?”

“It is about your sister.”  Gerraint just listened.  Melwas took a moment to come out with it.  “She will be sixteen shortly,” he said.  “Your mother said I needed to talk to you, and not just her and Lord Marcus, you being her only sibling and all.”

Gerraint knew where this was going, but he needed to hear it out loud.

“You know, sixteen is considered an acceptable age to marry.”  Gerraint frowned ever so slightly, but Melwas felt sensitive.  “What?”

“A man is considered fully grown when he turns twenty-one.  You are what, Twenty-five?”

“Twenty-four.”

Gerraint nodded.  “A woman, on the other hand, is considered mature when she turns eighteen.”

“Cordella is very mature for her age.”

“So, you are asking me because I am eighteen? Do I look like a woman to you?” Gerraint stood six feet tall, more than big in a five-and-a-half-foot world.

“No,” Melwas admitted.  “But your mother seemed unwilling to make a decision.”

“Cordella is her baby.  Mothers cling to their babies.”  Gerraint stopped talking and waited, but Melwas did not appear to have anything to add.  “My opinion, but mother and Marcus have to decide, but my opinion is she should wait until she is eighteen.  She will hate me for saying that, but you are a mature man.  She should be fully grown as well.  Just my opinion.”

Melwas nodded slowly.  “I can understand your thinking.”

“Good,” Gerraint said and grabbed the man’s arm gently. “Maybe you can explain it to me. Oh, and just one more thing.”

Melwas smiled a little.  “Yes?”

“Tell me, does marrying my sister count as an act of valor or an act of charity or both?”

Melwas’ smile got big just before Meryddin came stomping out of the tent and tromped off to be lost among all the tents.  He looked red angry.  Arthur followed with a word.

“I told him I was leading the charge and nothing he could say would talk me out of it.”

Gerraint shaded his eyes against the sun as he looked up.  “So, we are charging?”

R5 Gerraint: The Road to Londugnum, part 2 of 3

They crossed the Thames at the ford of the ox where a fort first got constructed by Constans, son of Constantine, the first Pendragon.  Ambrosius, son of Constans was the one who defeated the usurper Vortigen and got proclaimed Pendragon before he got poisoned, and his brother Uther took the reins of the War Chief.  The fort had been built to protect the easy ford across the Thames and keep the road to Londugnum open, but in recent years they were doing well to keep themselves from being overrun.  The fort got burned once by Saxon raiders since Uther passed away in battle.  The local Lords made a temporary alliance to drive the Saxons back and rebuild the fort, but it became then more of a British outpost than a real line of defense.

The river crossing at Oxford was as easy as reported, and they spent the night feeling secure behind strong walls.  The Bishop visited the local Monastery, and stayed with the monks with strict instructions that the group not leave without him.  In the fort, the squires had little time for pleasantries.  They had to care for all the horses and equipment and only finished in time to eat and pass out from exhaustion, while their Lords stayed up drinking and talking about nothing important.

In the morning, Gerraint felt surprised that along with two guards, which was all the fort commander said he could spare, they picked up three new young Lords.  Kai and Bedwyr were the youngest at twenty-one and twenty-two.  Loth seemed the old man of twenty-five.  By contrast, Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn were in their thirties and fought for Uther when they were squires and young Lords.  Of the three, Ederyn was perhaps the youngest at about thirty.

First thing, Pelenor, flanked by Peredur and Ederyn, strictly charged the three young squires to guard the Bishop at all costs. Arthur asked about Meryddin, but got assured the Druid was more than capable of taking care of himself. Gerraint looked at young Arthur and wondered what exactly the relationship might be between him and the Druid, but he held his tongue.

The group stopped for lunch before noon, and used some of Percival’s pots and pans.  Even so prepared, it became a three or four-hour ordeal, with the squires doing the lion’s share of the work.  Gerraint had something to say, but quietly to Arthur so as to not insult his masters.

We have been moving this slow since Caerleon. I don’t know how we can be expected to hold our lands against encroachment at this pace.  If the Romans moved this slow, Boadicea would have kicked them right off the island.”

Arthur looked like he had not thought of that. “We have been on the road from Leogria for three weeks, a distance people might have walked in six days.”

“We have been a whole month,” Gerraint agreed. “I could move a whole army in less time.”

“I could join your army,” Percival said, and Gerraint paused to lay a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“For better or worse, you are part of Arthur’s army, and I have a feeling I may be too, someday.”  Gerraint paused then as he caught a brief and unusual glimpse of things to come.  “This land needs a friendly dragon,” he concluded.

“And the lion,” Arthur said, kindly.

“I’m going to paint a cross on my arms,” Percival said.  “You can forget the lemming.  I don’t even know what one looks like.”

“A good choice,” the Bishop said softly.  As usual, he had been listening in and keeping his own counsel.

At that awkward point, when lunch started being packed and people started preparing to move out, a dozen horsemen appeared on the road ahead.  They charged the group, but then, whether they thought better of it or decided the odds were too even, they turned and rode off.

“Saxon raiders.”  Peredur said it out loud.

Pelenor said, “Mount up,” and all the men hurried.

Ederyn alone thought to remind the squires to protect the Bishop, and then the men rode away in pursuit of the enemy.

Gerraint immediately grabbed the Bishop’s hand and started to drag him into the woods.  “Get under cover,” he yelled.  Percival, who was still young enough to trust his elders, grabbed his pot-helmet and followed.  Gerraint found a sword in his hand and gave his long knife to Percival.

“What are you doing?” Arthur yelled at them and scoffed.  “We have to clean up.”

“It is obviously a trap,” Gerraint yelled back, and eight or nine Saxons took that moment to come out of the woods.  Arthur ran and pulled his own knife, which might have been a pretty good hunting knife, but not much against a sword.

The boys and the bishop backed up while most of the Saxons went for their supplies to see if they might find anything of value or at least useful.  Two of them went to take care of the boys and the cleric.

Gerraint looked big for fourteen, being five and a half feet tall, which made him as big as any number of men in those days.  He held his sword with two hands, at the ready, so at least it appeared as if he knew how to use it, even if he did not have much practice with it yet.

“A good-looking weapon.”  The Saxon who faced him grinned and showed only a couple of missing teeth.  “I’ll just have that.”  He drew a weapon that also took both of his hands, but only because it looked huge. He grinned again and swung straight for Gerraint’s legs.  Gerraint parried and barely held it off, but they heard a loud crack and the Saxon said, “Maybe not such a good weapon after all.”

“It is Salvation.”  Gerraint named his sword as he took a step back.  It was one sword which was not too heavy for him.  The Saxon grinned again and swung at his legs from the other side, the Gerraint parried easily with a strong backswing and the crack sounded louder than before.

“One more swing and you will be disarmed,” the Saxon said, and he lifted his broadsword to prepare a swing at Gerraint’s head, but as he lifted his heavy steel, the top half of his sword fell away. Salvation had shattered the Saxon’s more primitive steel

The Saxon looked dumbly at his useless weapon, and Gerraint did not hesitate.  He thrust the point of his sword through the Saxon’s neck, just above the armor, and it stuck out a little from the back.  Gerraint yanked on his sword with all his strength, and it came out as the surprised Saxon’s head lolled forward and his body collapsed to the dirt.

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 2 of 3

The Huns arrived about mid-morning the next day, and were wary, but having seen no sign of the enemy other than a couple of scouts that they readily killed, they imagined their ruse worked.  They headed north before they turned west again.  They wanted to give the impression they were headed for Wales, but they cut again to the south when they were well hidden by the trees.  They knew right where the ford was as Festuscato surmised.  They either explored out the river or coerced the locals into revealing the location. In either case, there were men waiting, and Julius moving up from behind.

When the Huns arrived, Hywel perhaps jumped a bit soon.  A thousand arrows blackened the sky, and Huns fell before they backed out of range.  The Hun commander sent men twice to charge the open area that lead to the ford, but the trees around were thick, and they did not get very far.  On the second charge, he sent a hundred men west to try and get on the Celtic flank, but they were cut down quickly.  Pinewood and Deerrunner figured the Huns would try a run around the end, and were prepared, hidden by glamours in the tall grass. Surely the Huns were frustrated, but that condition did not last long.  Julius and his men attacked from behind, and the Huns scattered.  They only had one way left to escape, and that was east, back to where Megla studied the ford.

 

 

Megla came to the ford of the ox and the scouts out front found the way blocked.  Megla knew the big and boisterous army of the Celts would still be two days out at their current rate of travel.  He needed to know how many men he faced.  He thought to stay upriver, and follow the water to Londinium without crossing over.  There were swampy areas and other rivers to cross, but none so deep as the Thames.  Unfortunately, that way appeared blocked by the Saxons.  In fact, there were more Saxons in that place than he had seen for quite a number of years.  So he and his men eyed the defenses on the other side of the river and decided in the end the only way across would be a frontal assault.  He would trust his men to get him through, and he imagined once he got to Londinium he might be safe.  There, he could call up the Hun army.  Britain was going to take more effort than he thought, but ten thousand men ought to do it, or twenty thousand if necessary.

Pinewood brought the bad news to Festuscato when he relaxed with Constantine and Ban over a cup of Ale.  Pinewood came in dressed like a hunter, with a green cloak and tall, mud colored leather-looking boots.  He showed the dragon tunic beneath the cloak, so Ban thought nothing of it. Constantine looked twice, but only because the man was not Amorican and he did not recognize him as one of the Romans.

“Megla is preparing to assault Constans at Oxford, probably in the morning.  He is a brave young man, but his thousand will not be able to repel the Huns or prevent their crossing, even with my support.  I recommend you order him to withdraw to the monastery grounds to defend the monks and let Megla pass.  There are enough soldiers left in Londugnum, so with the sailors and ornery humans they should be able to prevent Megla from entering the city.

“We need to get to the horses.”  Festuscato put down his cup.  “Pinewood, tell him to do that very thing.”  He looked at Constantine who nodded.

“Tell him his father orders it.”

“Horses?” Ban asked as Pinewood bowed and stepped from the tent.

“He is a teenager, or near enough,” Festuscato said.

“Since when does a young man do what his father tells him?” Constantine asked, and after a thought, Ban nodded

It became a race through the late afternoon and the night, with the foot soldiers left in the hands of Baldwin of Exeter, Anwyn the Welshman, and Kenan, a British Lord from the Midlands near Caerleon.  They were to come along as fast as they could while the horsemen rode ahead. Constantine had gathered an additional two hundred men on horseback in his travels along the British lowlands between the Thames and the coast, but half of them were on plow horses and mules, so not much good.  They were mostly farmers, with the British Lords in that area, and their families, killed by Megla.  For the Roman influenced Celts, it was not so easy to decide which among the elders should take the leadership position.  Roman-British Celtic leaders were more or less elected, though sons often followed in their father’s footsteps.  The Saxons remained more tribal in nature.  It seemed much easier for the Saxons to choose a new chief, though he sometimes had to fight for the position.  Most of the Saxons who had settled on the southern coastland survived Megla’s cruelty in much better condition.  But then, they were not going to come out and fight for the British lords.

Festuscato knew they were not going to arrive at dawn.  The road alone became enough to make it slow going in certain places. But they would not be too late. He did not worry until Pinewood returned in the dark with another message.  It got his full attention because fairies did not go around much after sundown.

“A thousand Jutes under Hellgard are crossing the river in the dark near the swamps where the river turns, below Megla’s position.  They will be able to come up behind Constans and squeeze him between the Hun and the German.”

Fetuscato called up Constantine and explained.  Constantine looked about to shout, but Festuscato spoke first.  “We don’t know that Hellgard may be friendly at this point.  Megla did not spare the Jutes, Angles and Saxons from his sword.  Like the British who joined us, the German’s may be looking for a little revenge.  Pinewood, set up a delegation to get Hellgard’s attention and ask his intentions. Be prepared to fly and bring Costans back to the monastery grounds, but if he plans to support the British at Oxford, tell Costans and help coordinate the defense.”

“You ask a lot of my people,” Pinewood said.

“No.  I ask too much.  I am sorry.  I have no business asking you to get involved in a transient human event.  But you have the option to say no, honestly, and with no ill effect.”

Pinewood nodded slowly.  “I know this is true, and that is why we will help as much as we can.”

“Fair enough, and thank you.”

Pinewood left, and Constantine had a comment.  “You seem to have a remarkable relationship with the creatures, er, people of legend. How is this so?”

“I was made their god almost five thousand years ago, but that is a very long story,” Festuscato said, and spurred his horse up to the point.

The whole troop walked their horses when the sun began to lighten the horizon. Festuscato, Constantine and King Ban mounted without a word.  Now they had to ride, and the men joined them.  They rode flat out, not caring in that moment if their horses collapsed at the end of the trip.  They had three hundred men to add to the defense, or at least two hundred with the nags and mules trailing behind.

The sun looked fully up when they arrived, and most of the fighting was over.  There were over a thousand Huns taken prisoner, disarmed and on foot.  Hellgard looked covered in blood, but none of it seemed to be his own.  Constans and Vortigen were all but dancing.  Vortigen lost his helmet and Constans had a shallow cut in his arm, but they did not even look tired.

“Youth,” Constantine said as he got down, and Ban nodded in agreement.

Festuscato looked across the ford and saw Aidan the Lord from the British highlands, and Eudof from north Wales, his lieutenant.  They waved.  They hustled down the thousand and some odd foot soldiers, following right behind Megla the whole way, and they fought to prevent Megla from escaping back to the north. He also saw Deerrunner, whose people got there ahead of Julius, and he knew they filled the gap at a crucial point and made Megla’s doom certain.  He returned the wave, but wondered where the Druid Cadwalder was.

Festuscato stepped up to Hellgard when Pinewood arrived dressed as the hunter. Festuscato’s Four Horsemen accompanied him and Constantine.  Festuscato put out his hand and shook Hellgard’s hand before he spoke.

“Lord Agitus,” Hellgard said.  “I have heard about you.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato said, but then he paused to hear what Constans started saying.

“Lord Pinewood told me Hellgard, King of the Jutes was coming to reinforce our position, so we stayed where we were and passed that information down the line.  In the morning, Megla found twice the numbers he expected, and it became a real battle to hold the ford.  The Huns are smart.  They sent some men to test our line first.  When we surprised them, they ran and Megla tried to return to the north. His way got blocked by the British Highlanders, and I think he charged us out of anger and frustration.  Some broke through, and it looked like they might overwhelm our position.  Many of the Huns got down from their horses and they used our own walls against us, but just then, boatloads of Saxons showed up in the river and came ashore behind the Huns.  That was when the Huns began to surrender.”

“How many escaped?” Festuscato asked and pointed down the road toward Londinium.

“I don’t know,” Constans said, like a man who did not realize that might be important.

“I don’t know,” Vortigen echoed.

“My eyes were on the battle,” Hellgard admitted.

“About five hundred,” a big Saxon with an eyepatch said and he came up to join the group. “Gregor,” he gave his name with a big smile, but that was all he said before he got interrupted by one of Deerrunner’s elves who came racing across the water and up to Festuscato.

“Lord, the Huns are coming, Lord Julius driving them on.”

Festuscato looked to Constantine, and the man started to yell.  “Constans, get those prisoners on the road, away from the ford, face down and guarded.  Get the rest of your men behind the barriers.  Ban, take the monastery side.  Hellgard, the riverside.”

“You heard him,” King Ban yelled at his men and waved them toward the monks.

Hellgard paused only to look at Festuscato smile before he began to yell at his men to take cover.  Constantine looked at the Saxon, but Gregor spoke first.

“We hide real good,” he said, and he grinned an elf-worthy grin before he also began to yell.