Thursday, June 16, 2022

Logres III

 Book I continued

Chapter 7

Hearing Merlin's words, Vortigern summoned his men and withdrew to Caerwynt, known to the Romans as Venta Belgarum; but most of the men did not know why, and speculated freely and fruitlessly about the cause. 

Merlin went his own way. Before he went, however, he spoke to Ulfius. "The world changes," he said. "If you aid those who are coming, you will no longer be sent through the land seeking children to kill, a task with which no knight should sully his hands, but will instead have glory whose memory shall last long."

The child then went to the lands north of the Humber, to the place he had sent his teacher Blaise. There he told Blaise all that had happened, and much of what would. He spoke of battles, and Blaise wrote in his book the way the battles would go.

In less than three months, as Merlin had said, Ambrosius and Uther arrived, with Ector son of Kyner at their side; ten thousand knights from Brittany, which the Romans called Armorica, were with them. Vortigern commanded the arms, to defend the ports, but the people were astonished when the boats coming into the haven unfurled the banners of Duke Constans. They sent a message under flag of truce, asking who came, and they received the response, "Ambrosius and Uther, sons of Constans, to retake the lands that were stolen from them and to punish Vortigern who had stolen them." Then, seeing the size of the host under the banners of Constans, and having no great love for Vortigern, the people in charge of the ports exacted a promise of good treatment, and let the fleet disembark. Many of the people there joined the host, including even some who had been Vortigern's men, and Ulfius was among them. Others were sent by Ambrosius, Uther, and Ector as messengers to the various tribes and chieftainships of the land.

As he began to understand that the people would not fight for him, and had turned against him as an enemy, Vortigern withdrew to his unfinished castle, which he called Caer Guorthigern, sending at the same time messengers to Hengist. Ambrosius and Uther came against him and laid siege to him there, but the castle, still unfinished, had many gaps in its defenses. Ambrosius cast fire into it; the castle took to flame; and Vortigern was burned alive.

The people then celebrated, but Ulfius came to Ambrosius, Uther, and Ector and the other leaders of the men as they sat in council, and said to them, "Your war has not ended with the death of Vortigern; it has only begun."

"It is not the time for riddles," said Ector. "What is your meaning?"

Then Ulfius said, "To fight his enemies, Vortigern hired the Saxons and the Jutes, giving them first the Isle of Thanet, then many lands besides. They have brought terror and flame to all of the peoples of Britain, and their host is larger than yours. They march under Hengist, a dangerous warrior, and to have the protection of the Saxons Vortigern married Hengist's daughter Rowena. Now that Vortigern is dead, Hengist will doubtless attempt to seize all that Vortigern ruled in the name of his daughter and in vengeance for Vortigern. In truth, I do not believe Hengist cared at all about Vortigern; but you can be sure he will use this as an excuse to come against you."

Another, Eldol, who was known as the Count of Glevum Nervensis, and who had once been allied to Vortigern, agreed, then said, "Hengist will certainly do anything he can to have the supremacy. In the wars between Vortigern and the Saxons, Vortigern was gravely overmatched, but he received a message from Hengist inviting him to discuss peace at the plain near Sorbiodunum. An agreement was made that both sides should meet without arms, so that friendship might be properly sealed. But Hengist had his mean conceal long knives in their clothing. At the conference, Hengist spoke like a friend, but thinking like a wolf, at the common meal he had the Saxons fall upon the Britons, except for Vortigern. By great good fortune, there was next to me a stout wooden stake, and by means of it I alone escaped the treason of the long knives, as brother and friend fell around me. What Ulfius has said is certainly right; Hengist will seize power in whatever way he can."

"Then we must make preparations at once," said Ambrosius.

Hengist gathered together all the Saxons and Jutes his summons could meet and as it happens, the armies of the sons of Constans and of Hengist met at a place known as Maesballi, where there had long been a Roman fort. Both armies had set out to seize it as a strategic location, but as they had drawn near, their scouts made them aware of each other. One hundred thousand men were in Hengist's army, and only ten thousand in that of the sons of Constance, but the Armoricans were better armed and better prepared, and Hengist chose to withdraw to a place the Saxons called Cunungeburga, where he had a castle. The sons of Constance laid siege, but the castle was well fortified and there were rumors of a gathering Saxon host.  Then the sons of Constance took council with Ector and a number of the British barons, and as they had been rightly warned by Ulfius, they summoned him too to council.

Then Ulfius told them of all that he had seen and heard with respect to the child Merlin, and the British barons confirmed his words. "He is the best diviner, save God himself," said Ulfius, "and I truly believe there is no riddle he cannot solve."

Then Ambrosius said, "If he is anywhere in the land, we will find him."

Chapter 8

Ambrosius sent messengers throughout the realm to find Merlin, and the boy, knowing this, told Blaise of what had trespassed and went directly to the nearest town where such messengers were. However, he appeared to them in the form of a stern-faced beggar, with a long tangled beard for gray, dressed in a torn cloak.

"You are seeking Merlin as your master has commanded," he said. 

They were astonished, saying, "Who has told this carl our business?"

Then Merlin laughed, and responded, "I can find Merlin faster than you can find him." When they questioned him further, he said, "I have known him, and he gives a message for you, that your labor is for nothing, for he will not go with you. But go to your prince and say, first, that he will never win the castle until Hengist is slain, and second, that he should send messengers asking aid from the kingdom of Rheged and Gorre, and third, that if he wishes to find Merlin he should seek him himself in the forests near here."

When he had left, the messengers looked at each other. "We have spoken with the devil," said one. But the others said such a strange event touching on their mission should be reported to Ambrosius, so they returned and told Ambrosius and Uther all that the carl had said. 

Then Ulfius, hearing it all, said to them, "My lords, this carl was surely none other than Merlin."

"Did you not hear?" Uther said. "They met an old beggar and not a young boy."

"Truly, my lords," said Ulfius, "I have no doubt that there is no limit to what the boy can be, if he wants it."

Ambrosius reflected long, then said, "We shall do what was asked. We will send messengers to Rheged and Gorre. I will leave the matter of Hengist in the hands of Uther my brother and Ector my foster-brother, and I will seek Merlin myself."

Then Ambrosius went to the forests of Northumberland. In every town and village they asked of Merlin, but they could find none who knew of him until they came upon a shepherd, who said, "I am merely a servant and have never met such a man, but yesterday I saw a man who said that a great lord was seeking a man named Merlin in the country round about."

"This is true," they said. "Can you tell us where to find this man?"

"If this matters so much," said the shepherd, "I should tell the king myself."

"Let us go, then," they said.

But the shepherd replied, "I have my sheep to keep. But if the lord will come to me, I will tell him of this man."

They returned to Ambrosius and told him of this, and he bade them to bring him to the shepherd, which they did.

The shepherd said to him, "You are seeking Merlin, but you will not find him unless he first finds you. Take lodging in a nearby town and he will find you."

Ambrosius would have asked more, but the shepherd and all his sheep vanished. So he rode to the next town and stayed at the house of the headman.

While Ambrosius was seeking Merlin, Hengist came with his army against Uther and Ector, and many reserves he had drawn up in stealth. Then, as Uther lay sleeping at night, a messenger came into his tent, a blond-haired man brown of eyes.

"Awake, awake," said the man, and Uther woke. 

"Who are you?" Uther asked.

But the man did not answer the question, instead saying, "Hengist comes to murder you in the night. You must rise to fight." Then he gave Uther an accounting of Hengist's army, the men and their equipment, and vanished.

 All happened as the blond-haired man said. The Saxons and Jutes came against the Armoricans, who were hard-pressed in the field, because the Saxon numbers were still greater than those of the Armorican host, and they had the advantage of high ground, although the Armoricans were better armed and better skilled. Back and forth, back and forth, tipped the weight of the battle. But when it was a little past mid-day, horns rang out, and both armies saw another army rapidly drawing near. They were both uncertain of their luck, but soon they could see unfurled and waving in the wind the raven banners of Rheged and Gorre. 

"The Welshmen are coming!" shouted the Saxons to each other, and their lines began to waver.

The Welsh band drove against the Saxon flank, and as the Saxons began to flee, Uther rode hard with his men against Hengist. Eldol of Glevum Nervensis, boldly and at great risk to himself, slew Hengist on the field, thus avenging the treason of the long knives. Then Uther and Ector met with the leader of the warband, who was a youth barely in beard named Urien, son of Cunomarcus the Cold. He had but newly been named chieftain of their tribe when the message had come asking for help against the Saxon.

"Then we rode here with all swiftness," said Urien, "that we might share in the glory of destroying the Saxon. But we would not have arrived when we did, were it not for that we met a beggar on the road. We would have passed him by without regard, except he called out to us, saying, 'If you seek the battle against the Saxons, you will not arrive in time if you keep on this road.'

"'On hearing this, we stopped and asked him his meaning. Then he replied, 'I mean what I mean. The first step in battle is to arrive, and you will miss it. Take instead the side-path up ahead, narrow though it might be, and go straight when it runs out, and you will come directly to the field.' Then he vanished from sight."

Uther and Ector marveled, but Urien said, "Perhaps it is different across the water in Brittany, but in this country, such things are not uncommon."

In the battle, Ulfius had saved Uther from a lucky stroke by a Saxon. They were ever after close friends.

As for Ambrosius Aurelius, staying at the headman's house, the next morning, a handsome man, black of hair and piercing blue of eyes, came to Ambrosius.

"You are seeking Merlin, but he was the man you met yesterday. He has this message for you: You have no need of Merlin, for Uther your brother has slain Hengist."

"May it be so," said Ambrosius Aurelianus. "How does he know this?"

"Merlin gave no more message, but if you do not trust him, you are foolish." And the handsome man vanished.

Ambrosius sent out two messengers to ask Uther if Merlin's message had been right, and they met on the way two messengers from Uther, seeking out Ambrosius to tell him of all that had been done. The messengers returned with the news, and Ambrosius went to church in thanks for it. 

When he was coming out of the church, he met a tall man, red of hair and green of eyes, who asked, "Why does such a great lord as you stay so long in this town?"

"I am awaiting a man named Merlin," said Ambrosius.

"Would you know him if you found him?" said the man. "They say that he is a shape-changer and a lover of illusion, and often walks about in disguise."

"What else do you know of him, good sir," asked Ambrosius.

"As much as a man may know of himself, which is both little and much," said the red-haired man, "for I am he, as I was the shepherd and the dark-haired man." And then, right before the eyes of Ambrosius he took his boyish form.

"What is the meaning of all of this charade?" Ambrosius asked.

"Those who fought Hengist needed to be those who would survive the battle against Hengist," said Merlin. "You have other battles to fight."

Then Ambrosius asked Merlin to return with him to Uther, but Merlin said, "I will come to Uther soon, but until then tell no one but Uther of me."

Merlin then took his leave and went to Blaise, telling him everything that happened, and it had all happened as Merlin had already told him.

"With your insight," said Blaise, "you could surely just tell me the whole tale and would have no need to keep returning to me."

But Merlin said, "I cannot visit my mother, lest the attention drawn to her should destroy her. If I did not visit you, I would be truly alone in the world."

Chapter 9

Ambrosius returned to his brother Uther and his foster-brother Ector, and met Urien of Rheged, and together the four set about on the smaller bands of Saxons and Jutes who had still not withdrawn from the region, or who had arrived to reinforce, as they thought, the army of Hengist. Their success was great, and the Saxons were almost wholly scattered for a time.

In the wake of so great a victory, the armies of Ambrosius and Uther acclaimed Ambrosius the Duke of Britain and Uther the Count of the Saxon Shore. They wished to give to Ector similar honor, but Ector, a modest man, declined. He said to them, "It is to Urien that this honor should be given, for who has done more to aid us." As this seemed good to all, Urien was then acclaimed the Count of the British, an office that had fallen into desuetude in the time of Vortigern. Eldol, who continued to fight with great courage, was acclaimed the Mighty, and all the leaders made a pact to aid each other in time of need.

Now Uther was a man much given to women, and shortly after all of these things, he was visited by a boy whom he recognized as a servant of one of his paramours, bearing a letter. He read the letter, a missive of sweet nothings, and as it was late, he gave the boy a meal. The boy told him many things about his paramour's doings, and in return Uther told him of the many remarkable things that had happened.

"This is truly marvelous," said the boy. "But strangest of all is that this Merlin promised to speak to you soon, but does not seem to have done so."

"Who knows what 'soon' means?" said Uther. "But strange things seem to be in the very air around him."

"Indeed they do," said the boy.

In the morning, Uther broke fast with Ambrosius, for they were both not far from a castle they were besieging, and Ambrosius, hearing about the boy, began to wonder. He begged his brother to bring the boy to him, which Uther did. Then Ambrosius said to him, "Shall you tell him who you are, or shall I?"

"As you wish," said the boy.

Then Ambrosius said, "Brother, this is none other than Merlin, the shape-changer, and the wisest man in the world, who spoke to me in several forms and directed the army of Urien to your aid." Merlin laughed and took again his proper from. Then they begged Merlin to become their counselor.

"I will be with you many times," said Merlin, "though I will come and go, and I will give you such counsel as a I may."

"Then tell us how this castle may be taken," said Uther.

"It is less difficult than you might think," said Merlin. "Since the death of Hengist, many of the Saxons have wished to withdraw, and among them are Octa and Eosa, who hold this fortress. Simply send them a message that you are willing to give them safe conduct to settle at the mouth of the River Vedra, near Alba, on the condition that they make peace with you and do not aid the other Saxon armies. They are men honorable enough to uphold such an agreement."

This Ambrosius and Uther did. Octa and Eosa departed in peace, along with all their men, and the armies of the brothers occupied the castle. Then Merlin told them of a gathering of Saxon forces to the south, bloodthirsty for vengeance for the death of Hengist.

"But do not go to meet them," said Merlin. "Rather, retreat, because a disease from bad water will spread through their camp. Although they are a great host, if you do not fight them before the third day after you first meet them toward the end of June, they shall be weakened and one of you will have victory over them."

Ambrosius, puzzling over this phrase, 'one of you', asked Merlin if one of the brothers would die in the battle.

"Nothing that begins can fail to have an end," said Merlin. "Nor should men be surprised that they may die, and at any time. But swear to me that you will follow my counsel and fight this battle regardless, and I will tell you." This they did. Then Merlin said, "You have sworn to be strong and of good courage in this battle, to be true to God and yourselves. But none may be true to themselves who are not first true to God. Therefore find yourselves a priest to hear your confession, because you go against an army to fight against those who do not believe in the Trinity. Shriven, you shall resoundingly overcome the pagan host, but it is set that one of you shall die, and therefore you must prepare to be summoned before your Lord."

The brothers, stouthearted, then did all that Merlin had counseled, and they gathered a great army on the plain of Sorbiodunum at Pentecost. And the brothers gathered, too, all the prelates and priests that they could, to shrive the men and themselves, so that none might go to battle without having forgiven his fellow and restored himself to charity and clean life. Feasts they had too, and many gifts, until the Saxons arrived in the last week of June. But at Merlin's advising, Uther rode with half the army. There he prevented the Saxons from reaching their boat to sail up the river and did so until the third day and a sign in the sky that Merlin had predicted, a dragon flying the air. When the Saxons saw the dragon, they were greatly dismayed and Uther set upon them vigorously. 

Many died on both sides, for the Saxons fought with vengeance and desperation in their hearts. Ambrosius fell by a spear, but Uther carried the victory. Not a single Saxon escaped.