M3 Gerraint: The Isle, part 2 of 3

“Oars, too.  Ten to a side, maybe.”

Gerraint grabbed Gwillim by the arm.  Something itched in the back of his mind.  “Sails full against the wind?”  He noticed that their sail looked full because they were with the wind.

“Yes,” Gwillim said, and then he paused as he thought about it.

“British?  Amorican?  Welsh?”  He asked the man up the mast.

“No,” the answer came back.  “Never seen the like.  Long boats, like old Roman ships, but shallow draft.  No rams.  No height fore or aft either.  No upper deck.”

“Norwegian?”  Gerraint asked.  The word Viking was not yet common, but Norwegian ships were not unknown.  Thus far, however, they had been confined to the North Sea and the people who colonized the East coast of Britain around the Humber River had been brought to submission under Loth and Arthur’s sister-in-law, Gwenhwyfach, and their sons, Gawain, Medrawt, and his cousins.

“Could be Norwegian,” Trevor said.  “I wouldn’t know.”

“Ready to come about.”  The crew looked impatient, but Gwillim and Gerraint were eye to eye in thought.

“Hold to your course,” Gerraint said at last.  Their ship was virtually round with a single main sail.  It had been built to crawl along the coast, not for speed, but the sail stayed taught.  The wind blew from their rear.  The sails of the oncoming ships ought to be useless.

“Their sails are full?”  Gwillim confirmed.

“Tight as a drum and coming on fast,” Trevor shouted down.

Gwillim nodded.  “Hold to course,” he commanded.

“Captain!”  The steersman wanted to protest.  The only normal recourse for a merchant ship in the face of pirates was to make for the nearest coast, to a safe haven if possible, but at least to drop anchor, run for their lives and leave the ship to be plundered.

“You heard the order,” Gwillim said, and they watched as the ships began to draw near.

“Put up your sword,” Gerraint told Uwaine.  Uwaine leaned on the railing, sword in hand.  He expected to be caught and boarded at any minute.

As the ships drew closer, they could see the oarsmen and make out faces that were both grim and bloodthirsty.  “Don’t look at them,” Gwillim ordered.  “Keep your eyes to your tasks.”

Gwillim himself looked away, but Gerraint and Uwaine could not help staring.

“Our death, no doubt,” Uwaine whispered.  Gerraint felt the same, but he gambled and his face was not going to show it.  Right before the lead Viking ship reached them, right when they began to hear the screams and shouts of men ready for the slaughter, it was over.  The ships vanished all at once, and several planks of some old merchant wreck floated by.  Uwaine looked up in wonder.

“Manannan.”  Gerraint named the god responsible for the illusion.  “It’s an old trick.”

“If I didn’t know you, it would have worked, too,” Gwillim said, as he came up beside them.  “But I’ve learned one thing.  The sea can play mighty tricks on the mind.”

Gerraint ignored the comment from his friend and pointed to the sky.  The clouds started coming up and darkening faster than possible.  “You better batten down the hatches or whatever you do,” he said.  “That’s no trick.”

Gwillim’s jaw dropped.  “Come about!”  He panicked.  “To shore.  Tie down the rails.”  He ran off, and Gerraint’s advice to Uwaine was to hold on.  They barely got the sail down before the storm hit them with hurricane force.  The sun immediately got blotted out and their vision cut to half the distance of the ship.  They got lifted on a monstrous wave and spun around so fast and so many times, no man could tell which direction was the shore and which was the deeper sea.  Gerraint and Uwaine tied themselves to the ship in the stern, on the port side.  Gwillim and his mate, Trevor, were tied to the starboard side.  The rest of the crew tied themselves to the bow, except for the two men who were too slow and had already gone overboard.

It might have been half an hour.  It might have been half a day.  It felt impossible to tell how long it lasted.  Their only saving grace was the oak and hardwood construction of the vessel made it nearly impossible to sink, and the round design made it equally impossible to swamp or turn over.  They rode the waves like men on a roller coaster, lifted on mountains of water and sliding into impossibly deep valleys with mountains all around.  Surely, Uwaine would have gotten sick if he had not been so petrified.

Nothing they could do but stay tied, pray and ride out the storm.  They had no way to drive or direct the boat, and no one knew which way to go in any case.

“Rocks!”  One of the crew shouted back from the bow.  He saw the foam of the crashing waves and knew what to look for.

“Hold on!”  Gwillim and Gerraint shouted at the same time.  They slammed sideways into a boulder just beneath the surface.  The sea drew them back and they slammed again and again into the same spot.  They heard a terrible crushing sound which made several men scream.  The mast fell toward the bow, crushed a man and knocked another over the side.

Men screamed in earnest, now, and Gerraint was about to agree with them as a sharp pillar of stone rose right up in the center of the ship where the mast had been.  The waves began to crash down on them, and Gerraint felt sure they would all be drowned in a moment, but then the tearing of the ship ended.  The stern and bow became completely separated, and the stern was pushed by a giant wave to crash against a rocky shore while the bow got pushed to sea. Neither the bow, nor the crew tied to it were ever seen again.

“You all right?”

“Get free.”


“Shelter of the rocks.”

“Hold on.”

Gerraint, Uwaine, Gwillim and Trevor all shouted at once.  Miraculously, none seemed terribly hurt and in a moment, they scrambled over the slippery rocks and held on to stone and each other for dear life.

“Incoming.”  Gerraint and the others yelled more than once as a giant wave came and tried to crush them against the stone or drag them back out to sea.  Gerraint lost his grip on the rocks once, and lost hold of Uwaine twice.  The second time he saved him by grabbing the Mate’s hand who grabbed Uwaine’s cloak.

There were taller rocks, deeper in, with coves in the rocks that offered some shelter against wind and wave, long ago carved out by just such storms on the relentless sea.  They huddled for a moment before Uwaine found a hole he could slither through.  It put the main part of the rocks between them and the sea, not that the waves were not crashing over the rocks, but at least they were no longer in danger of being carried back out into the deep.  Trevor, the mate wiggled right behind him, and Gerraint navigated the hole well enough.  Poor Gwillim got stuck around his middle, and he might have stayed there if a sudden burst of water had not pushed him through with a pop!  Gerraint and Uwaine, who each had one of Gwillim’s hands, fell on their backs, and Gwillim fell on top of them.  They got up quickly and put their backs to the rocks and shouted.

“Further in?”  Uwaine asked.  “Higher ground?”

“No,” Gwillim became adamant.  “Too risky.  Just hold to the shelter of the stone.”  Trevor shivered and stood wide eyed.  He was going nowhere.

The storm did not last much longer.  Those four had clearly escaped the storm’s wrath, so it seemed the storm decided to give up.  In a matter of minutes, almost as fast as the storm came up, it magically went away and left only a drizzle of rain against the night sky.

“Hours.”  The mate spoke at last.  They saw a three-quarter moon risen somewhere behind the clouds.

“Fire.”  Gwillim suggested the more practical matter, and they let go of their shelter and stepped inland in search of wood.  It seemed a difficult task, but the storm, for all of its violence, was quick enough to come and go.  It had not stayed around long enough to really soak the woods.  With the fire, Uwaine suggested they ought to reconnoiter, to see if they could find out where they were.  The other three stared at him, blankly, until Trevor began to snore.

Hunger came with the sunrise.  A cold wind swept along the beach in front of the edge of the forest in which they settled.  Gwillim immediately took charge, as a captain will.  He sent Trevor to search the shore and pools around the rocks for any fish which the water might have left behind while everyone else built up the fire.  Once they had food cooking, it was Gerraint who really pulled things together.

“Uwaine.” He pointed up the hill out of which the great rocks, near cliffs along the beach, had been carved.  Uwaine understood that he could get a good look at the lay of the land from there.  “I’ll head up the beach and around the rocks at that hedge.  Gwillim?”

“I think I’ll just see if there is anything salvageable from our half of the ship.”  He said.  Everyone said be careful, but then they started out because the smell of the fish cooking started driving them crazy with hunger.

Uwaine found the top of the hill cleared of trees.  From there, he easily saw that they were on an island, but in the dim light of dawn, he was just able to make out the glimmer of another land to the south.  Whether it was the mainland or another island, he could not say.

Gwillim found the ship caught handily on the rocks.  He did not find much inside to salvage, most having been gutted by the waves, but the lumber looked strong, and he already had in mind the idea of a raft, should it be needed.

Gerraint, by far, took the longest time.  Around the natural jetty of rocks, he found a seal colony.  He saw another jetty a hundred yards up the beach and most of the noise came from there, but on his side of the far rocks, he saw several females and their pups, and one little girl with long brown and greenish hair.  Even from that distance, Gerraint could see from her hair and her enormously round brownish-black eyes that she was not human.

“Hello,” he called.  Several of the females began to bark, and the girl looked startled, but she did not move. Gerraint walked up the beach.  He stopped when the girl appeared frightened and looked ready to run.  He had to think about this for a minute.  He heard a voice behind him.

R5 Gerraint: York, part 2 of 2

After retaking York, Gerraint found Arthur and Meryddin in a heated argument.  When he entered the room, Meryddin suddenly stopped talking and sniffed.  He turned his eyes on Gerraint and sniffed again.

“I need a bath?” Gerraint asked.

Meryddin showed contempt in his eyes and went back to yelling.  “Who were those men?  I saw you with them and I say they were not men.  Who were they?  Why were they helping you?  I smelled them all over the battlefield by the river, but I could not pin them down. They seemed across the river, and in the woods everywhere.  Why should these glorious creatures have anything to do with the likes of you, especially you and your Christ.  Tell me. What were those men?”

Arthur just shook his head, glanced at Gerraint and finally said, “I will not lie to you.”  He respected Meryddin too much to ever lie to him, so the alternative became to say nothing.  Meryddin turned again to face Gerraint.  Gerraint put his hands up in surrender.

“Hey, I arrived in the middle of this conversation. If I am lucky, I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Meryddin sniffed again and said, “You know.”

Gerraint shook his head.  “I’m the one who needs a bath, remember?”

Meryddin stomped out to vent his anger on someone else for a time.

Arthur called Gerraint to come close.  “I just got a report this morning that there is movement on the Norwegian shore.  Gerraint, I don’t know if this army can take on another foe, at least not so soon.”

“I imagine the Danes have been waiting for just this moment,” Gerraint said.  “You have fought two battles and they must figure you are pretty banged up.  But the battle on the Ure was a giant ambush and we did not suffer much.  And the taking of York proved even simpler.”

“But this is three battles with no time to breathe.”

“What do you mean?  We have been resting and enjoying the hospitality of York for a whole day.  Men have had time enough to get drunk.  You have Croyden installed to run the fort and Loth to look over his shoulder.  Loth expressed surprise, but gratitude, by the way.”

“But will they do it?” Arthur got serious. Gerraint never saw Arthur with so little confidence and he wondered what Meryddin might be doing to his head.  In the end, there seemed only one thing to say.

“Ask them.  Ask the men.”

The next morning, Arthur’s army marched out to meet the Danes on the battlefield.

The Danes stretched out in an open field, slightly uphill.  There were woods to the left and right of the Danish line.  Percival said it looked like the British rebels all over again. Arthur agreed, “But I am sure they had spies at the Glen River and saw what we did to the Saxons and Angles there. I would guess they spent the time since devising a plan to counter the lancers.”

“If they didn’t, they would be fools,” Pelenor said.

Arthur rubbed his hands.  “I propose we bring up every nag and plow horse we can find and let them stand at the front with riders, like men with lances would stand. Then have our real lancers ride around and fill the woods on the Dane’s left.  I have it on good authority that certain hunters from Cornwall guarantee that none of the Danish horsemen in those woods will escape to warn the others.”

“They will try,” Gerraint said and threw his gauntlet to the ground.  He was not happy with the plan, even if his little ones were.  Arthur nodded that he understood.  They would try but nothing was promised.

“Then I have a second troop out of these northmen joined to some that have come all the way up from Londugnum.  They will take care of the horsemen in the other wood.”

“Northman?” Loth asked.

“Mine or with Loth?” Kai asked.

“In between.  Not counted or sided, but loyal to their Pendragon.”

“Criminals and hermits.”  That was how Loth interpreted it.

“And Londugnum?”  Bedwyr got curious.

“Not from your district,” Arthur assured him.

“So, we bring the fake horsemen to the front and make it look like we are going to repeat the tactic of the River Glen,” Gerraint moved the conversation along.

“At that distance, they will not suspect the ruse,” Meryddin said.  He actually appeared to like this idea.  “I have found no great eyes in their ranks.”

“At the last minute, the footmen will march out,” Arthur said.  And they will stop on level ground just out of bowshot.  This is crucial.  They must not charge uphill, and God willing, the Danes will charge them instead.”

“And immediately get within bowshot,” Pelenor got it.

Arthur nodded again.  “And that will be the signal for our lancers to ride straight into their side.”

“They should crush up like an accordion,” Gerraint said, but since no one knew what an accordion was, he added, “And any who try to escape to the woods will be cut down.”

“This could work,” Pelenor seemed all smiles.

“I see no great problems if everybody does their jobs,” Bedwyr tried to sum things up.  “If the lancers do meet resistance, they have the force to overcome.  And if they jump too late, though that would not be good, it could still work.  And if they jump too soon, that should not hurt our overall chances.”

“The men from Cornwall and Lyoness have formed a small troop of horsemen in case any Danish horsemen manage to find their way out of the other wood.  And if the two lines of footmen meet, they can swing a short around and hit the Danes on the other flank.”

The men left all smiles and prepared for a great victory.  Gerraint stuck around.  “No battle ever goes exactly to plan, isn’t that right Meryddin?”

“What?  Yes.” But Meryddin did not really pay attention.  He had something else on his mind.