Monday, January 4, 2010

Exclusive US Preview: Arthur and Excalibur - Chapter 1!

Chapter 1


THE RIDERS APPROACHED THE TOP OF THE GRASSY KNOLL, soon they would be in sight of their destination on the far side, as the lush green valley dropped slowly towards the shoreline. Only to climb steeply to the narrow causeway that connected the mainland to the fort, clinging precariously to the promontory jutting out into the wild sea way below. An easy place to defend with a small force, thought Uther as he paused to survey the rugged beauty of what lay before them. Glancing round at his men he could see in every face the relaxation and mirth returning as each turned their thoughts to the evening ahead and left behind the horrors of earlier. The day had been long and the fighting fierce, but now they could look forward to relaxation and merriment at the court of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. A large force of Picts had landed on the coast in the Severn Estuary and struck inland, killing and wreaking havoc on the way, then turned south towards Cornwall.

Gorlois had sent word to the High King, Uther Pendragon, who was camped near Caer Baddon [Bath] at the time, requesting assistance, and the two forces had trapped the Picts in a pincer movement. Gorlois brought his men up from the south and west, whilst Uther moved in from the north and east. Ensnaring the marauding Picts between them, slaughtering every one of them they caught, although they suffered heavy casualties themselves, as the Picts with their painted faces were fierce fighters. Now with the main body of his men encamped for the night, Uther with 30 of his knights was approaching the gates of the fort at Tintagel to be received by the Duke for a night of celebration and undoubted debauchery.

Uther, at the battle hardened age of 26, his red hair blowing in the gentle sea breeze as they descended into the valley, was pleased with himself and as he had more than a passing fancy for Igraine, the beautiful young wife of the middle-aged Duke. He was determined to make the most of this visit to satisfy his lust for her. His loins were already singing with fire at the thought of her and he hoped that the opportunity would present itself later to satisfy his lust. Which he was sure it would as he had been pondering on the problem during the ride and had come to several solutions. Now it was just a case of waiting his chance and taking advantage of any situation that arose during the evening, as there would be plenty of wine flowing freely. Unlike most this did not seem to affect him, except to increase his lustful desires. His reputation for the ladies was well known. He fought hard and played hard, such was his appetite for the pleasures of life, but he was always mindful of the lady’s reputation and was consequently discreet in his conquests.

The evening was progressing well with a plentiful supply of food and wine being served, the minstrels and jesters providing entertainment, often mocking their fallen foes, causing much laughter and merriment as scenes from the fighting were re-enacted. These scenes were either portrayed as a tragedy or a comedy depending whether it was the demise of friend or foe and were always grossly exaggerated for effect.

The Duke and Uther were in heated debate concerning how many of the Picts had been slain and whose men had done the deed, and this had been going on since the festivities had begun. Each had consumed great quantities of wine and were in good spirits as well as voice, but Igraine and the ladies were beginning to show signs of wear as they repeatedly had their goblets refilled by various knights around the long table, no doubt with nefarious intent. Uther was aware of the state they were getting in, even though he was in constant argument with Gorlois over details of the battle and could see an opportunity arising that he could take advantage of and satisfy his lust for Igraine.

Uther suggested to Gorlois that the ladies be excused as the conversation was becoming too bloodthirsty for their delicate ears and the men had more business to discuss that would keep them busy for some while yet. Gorlois had been unaware that they were still there, being in such deep debate with Uther and promptly excused them. Igraine smiled a thank you to Uther, which set his loins on fire. The ladies departed holding each other for support until a couple of gallant knights offered their services, which two of the ladies eagerly accepted and hung on to them so they had no chance of escaping, even if they had wished too. Uther smiled to himself knowing that those knights would be rather busy until the morning just like he hoped to be later but he needed to keep Gorlois in conversation for another hour at least before he made his move.

Argument continued on the finer points of the battle and who did what and to whom and many of the other knights from both sides joined in to clarify a comment or challenge it as being incorrect. Uther was waving his hands around and in the process knocked over the Duke’s wine. Apologising profusely he summoned another into which, as no-one was watching, he poured a small amount of liquid into the goblet that was hidden in a phial in his hand. This was a sleeping draught that he had asked Merlin for on the pretext of not being able to sleep, with the stipulation that it would knock him out for half a day, for Uther obviously did not want to be disturbed when he seduced Igraine. Uther passed the goblet to the Duke and to make sure he drank it and nobody else did he proposed a toast to all the good men that had fallen that day. Everyone who could staggered to their feet and downed their wine, such was the custom on those occasions, then all the goblets were refilled, not that there were many now left drinking as the majority had fallen asleep where they sat.

Conversation had all but lapsed although Gorlois tried to get it going again he was falling asleep as the potion took affect and Uther suggested that they retire and carry on the celebrations the following day when they were all refreshed. The Duke thought that would be a good idea and stood up, only to collapse in a heap as his legs gave way as the sleeping draught took effect. Uther bent down and picked him up commenting that he would take him to his quarters as it was not fitting that he should sleep on the floor like one of his men.

Gorlois was not a light man but Uther carried him easily, despite the amount of wine that he had drunk, and made his way to the Duke’s bed Chamber where he hoped to find Igraine sleeping deeply. Sure enough in the light of the moon he could see her sleeping soundly beneath the bed robes and his lust for her began to rise. Letting Gorlois slip gently to the floor Uther made his way to the bed and drew back the covers. Even in her night attire Igraine looked beautiful as he bent forward and kissed her gently on the lips, to which she made no response. Good thought Uther, she is overtaken with drink and sleeping deeply and not likely to awaken shouting the place down, thereby bringing others running to see what the fuss might be about. Gorlois was on the floor snoring gently in a deep sleep and if Merlin was right would stay like that for many hours.

Uther undressed and slipped into bed beside Igraine, barely able to control himself as he was hard with passion for her, even when he slipped her night attire off she hardly moved. Uther kissed and caressed her body but then could contain himself no longer, mounted her and possessed her with all his passion to which she started to respond. He took her again and again such was his pent up desire for her as she began to moan and respond very actively although she was still asleep, muttering, ‘husband you excel yourself tonight.‘

Such was the noise that she was making that her maid came to the bed chamber thinking that Igraine was having a bad dream. Knocking loudly and calling out, but receiving no answer she entered the bed chamber, catching Uther in full flight of his passion. Uttering a cry she stepped forward, tripped over the Duke asleep on the floor, as she had not seen him and fell on the bed, whereupon Uther grabbed her and held her until he had finished and told her to be quiet otherwise he would slit her throat. He detached himself from Igraine and put the bed robes back over with one last look at her voluptuous body and still holding the girl he gathered up his clothes and dragged her from the bed chamber towards his own with continued threats of slitting her throat if she made a noise of any kind. The girl was wise enough to know that he meant what he said, having been caught in the act of seducing her mistress, although she was not sure who he was at that moment.

Once in his own bed chamber he wasted no time in stripping the clothes of her and she made no resistance as he was much stronger than her. It was an accepted way of life at court that knights could take a woman if they chose to, she had little say in it. He told her that if she ever told the Duke about what she had seen then she would suffer a very nasty death and with that proceeded to seduce her too as Uther had a great appetite and stamina for the ladies. For the next four hours he seduced her continuously until she had to ask him to stop as she was exhausted. It was then that she realised who she was sharing a bed with as it was beginning to get light. The King bade her get dressed and return to her own quarters with a reminder not to say a word to the Duke about what she saw in Igraine’s bed chamber upon pain of death. The girl departed and although afraid because of the King’s warning about what took place, he had not told her that she could not mention being seduced by the King himself, and that brought a smile to her face as she saw that there might be some advantage to be had from that at some point, especially with the other ladies in waiting.

It was several hours after the day had dawned before any real movement appeared in the confines of the fort and one of the first to awake was Igraine who was surprised to find herself under the bed robes without any clothing on at all and even more surprised to see her husband fully clothed asleep on the floor. She summoned her ladies in waiting to see if they could throw any light on the situation, but to no avail although she sensed that one or more of them knew more than they were willing to say at that moment. She was still feeling a bit heady and the lower half of her body was aching as if she had been out riding for many hours, but she had not done that for several days. As her ladies helped her dress she started to have small flashbacks of the dream she had when asleep, a very nice dream, but she dismissed it as her husband was flat out on the floor and still snoring gently, but why did she have no clothing on when she awoke, perhaps it wasn’t a dream. Igraine decided that she would have to speak to her ladies privately one at a time and find out the truth, but first she would make her husband comfortable and have them lift him on to the bed which after several abortive attempts they managed to do.

Uther meanwhile was just coming out of his slumber and feeling very pleased with himself and the night's events. He had waited a long time for the opportunity to seduce Igraine and all had gone to plan, except for that silly little girl interrupting the proceeding before he was finished, still he had given her an experience of a lifetime too, especially as he had not released all his passion for Igraine when she disturbed him. Not every young girl gets the chance to be seduced by the King and no doubt she will brag about it to the other girls, who probably wont believe her or anything else that she might let slip. The King is surrounded by many ladies of rank why would he want to dally with a maid they would say. Yes Uther was pleased with himself for making the most of a rare opportunity.

Igraine had gathered from her ladies in waiting that they had prepared her for bed in the normal manner although she had been quite drunk and kept collapsing. They had seen her to bed and then retired themselves although the two older ones were waylaid by a couple of knights and taken to the men’s chamber where they stayed the night. Rowena, her maid and the youngest of the ladies, appeared to be the one hiding something, but would not at first say anything until pressed very hard by Igraine, with threats of having her lovely head removed from her body. Only then did Rowena recount what she had seen and what the King was doing when she burst in, and had been for some while by the noise that was being made, that she had decided that Igraine must be having nightmares as the noise never went on that long when she was coupling with her husband. She said that she was shocked and froze as the King grabbed her and threatened her to stay quiet, then took her to his own quarters and seduced her for hours until she became exhausted and begged him to stop. He said he would have her killed if she spoke of this to his Lordship. Rowena then broke down and swooned and collapsed onto the floor. Igraine smiled to herself, that was no dream I had that was Uther seducing me, what a man, no wonder I ache if he went on that long and then to take this young girl for hours too, coupling with a man will never be the same for either of us now my girl. Igraine pulled Rowena gently to her feet and told her now that the truth had come out it must be forgotten and never spoken about again, otherwise great trouble would ensue for everyone involved and if that happened death might be a blessing. Igraine told her to go about her business and keep out of sight until the King and his party had left.

Uther Pendragon had hoped to stay with the Duke for a few days with the chance of seducing Igraine again but it was not to be as word had come from the main camp that a request for the King’s help had just arrived that would require several days hard riding north to Glevum [Gloucester]. Uther gathered his men and bade Gorlois farewell and good hunting, deer or Picts it didn’t matter except they could only eat one of them, at which comment there was a roar of laughter. As he turned to go Uther caught sight of Igraine and was sure she blew him a kiss, well perhaps she wasn’t asleep after all, and he smiled to himself as the urge in his loins had finally subsided, for now, and he broke into song as they headed back to the main camp and then north to whatever lay before them.

Five days hard riding brought them to Glevum where they found it was being attacked by remnants of the Picts that had escaped previously, who seemed to have joined up with others, and with Saxons attacking from the east. Uther and his men, together with those loyal to the Duke of Gloucester pushed them northwards and pursued them relentlessly. The fighting lasted sporadically for several weeks as they were hunted down and killed. Many men fell on both sides but Uther’s force was much the stronger and they were battle hardened and determined. At last the fighting ceased and Uther decided that they should head eastwards towards Lindinis [Lincoln], only two days ride away, for some well earned rest and recuperation and to catch up on the news and affairs of this area of his kingdom. News of their arrival preceded them and a great banquet was awaiting them on their arrival.

Uther stayed there for many days enjoying the hospitality and the plentiful supply of wine, food and women before deciding, reluctantly, that they should make their way southwards again. The journey south to Caer Baddon [Bath] and thence to Cadbury via Glasteining [Glastonbury] was relatively uneventful and they took their time stopping off at many places on the way, accepting gracefully the hospitality bestowed upon them, even if at times it was given somewhat reluctantly.

* * * * *

Back at Tintagel life was not all that rosy, Gorlois was getting irritable and frustrated as his wife Igraine was not very approachable these days and he was feeling rather bored with the peace and inaction. He wished that he had gone with Uther and was annoyed with himself for not offering at the time. Igraine on the other hand had problems of her own as she was sure that she was with child from the night of passion that Uther had subjected her to and was wondering how long she could keep this from her husband, who would know instantly that it was not his as they had not coupled for some while.

Deliberating on this for several days she decided to seek the advice from that wise counsellor Merlin, whom she had met several times and had taken a liking too. As it was a very delicate matter and only her and the maid Rowena knew of the events that occurred, Igraine decided that she would send Rowena to seek out Merlin and request that he visit her urgently. Summoning the maid, Igraine gave her instructions on what she must do and told her not to divulge anything to Merlin other than to request his urgent attendance at Tintagel to see her and that he must call in as if passing and not as a result of her request, as the Duke must not be aware of anything amiss. As far as Igraine was aware Merlin was most likely at Caer Myrddin [Carmarthen], where he spent a lot of his time, if not Rowena was to do her best to locate him as quickly as possible. She was to go northwards to Beeds Haven, less than half a days ride, and find a fisherman who would be willing to take her across the channel and wait and bring her, and hopefully Merlin, back. Igraine gave her a sum of money and told her to take one of the spare horses. She should not encounter any problems en-route but if there were any was to say that she was on the King’s business and that if delayed he would have their head. Rowena, unaware of why Igraine wanted to see Merlin secretly (Igraine had not mentioned that she was with child) grabbed some clothes for the journey and raided the kitchen for food to take with her and then persuaded one of the young lads to prepare a horse, using her Lady’s authority. With that she departed and as it was still early knew she could reach her destination well before dark. Igraine meanwhile could only wait and hope that Rowena would locate Merlin and quickly return, as time was running out and in a few weeks she would begin to show a slight bulge where none should be.

* * * * *

Uther arrived in Caer Baddon [Bath] to find that Merlin had been there, but left a few days previously to go on an errand as he called it, no doubt to see that water nymph that he was supposed to hang around with, although nobody could say what she really looked like as she was seldom seen, except from a distance, and then only briefly as she disappeared from sight when observed. The King stayed for nearly a week with the usual round of feasts, good wine and loose women before leaving for Glastonbury and then Cadbury and many were glad to see him go as his appetite for all the pleasures was far beyond what most men could manage, especially the women. It was nothing for Uther to have two or three women in one night and still be up before anyone else and not even a hangover in sight, no wonder a lot of the men were relieved when he moved on, at least they didn’t have to worry about their own women so much then, or the amount of wine they had left.

Igraine was beginning to get worried as a week had gone passed and still no Rowena, and Gorlois was getting even more frustrated with his inactivity and obvious lack of attention from his wife, who when challenged on this matter had feigned sickness. This was true in part as she had started to suffer from morning sickness, something that she had not experienced before. Her two ladies in waiting were beginning to wonder what ailment she had, even suggesting that she should call for a physician, which Igraine said was not necessary as it would pass.

At last the following morning Rowena returned, slightly dishevelled looking tired and in need of a good soak, but unable to approach Igraine as the Duke was hanging around, so took herself off to refresh herself and change into more appropriate attire. This delay was extremely frustrating for Igraine but she managed to hide her impatience from her husband until he decided to go out for a ride to overcome his boredom, whereupon she immediately summoned Rowena to her chamber to hear the news. The maid entered and told her that although it had been a long journey it was successful and that Merlin was on his way, but would not arrive until the next morning, as he felt it best that way bearing in mind the cryptic nature of the request. Rowena explained that she was lucky that she had found him as he had only just arrived back from his travels and then there was bad weather in the channel that had delayed them on the return. Igraine thanked her and reminded her that what had happened that night with the King must still remain a secret and she hoped that not a word had been said to Merlin. Rowena assured her that it had not, even though Merlin had asked she had replied that she had only been sent to seek him out and was not privy to her ladyship’s reason. The day seemed to drag after her maid departed and she could not even concentrate on her sewing for long but eventually the time passed and the day drew to a close.

Igraine slept soundly and didn’t awake till late morning and only then because Gorlois disturbed her saying that an unexpected guest had arrived and that she should prepare herself to greet him. Igraine summoned her ladies and descended to the hall some two hours later, barely able to hide her disappointed at seeing not Merlin, whom she had expected, but Sir Ector, who had called in on his travels to inform the Duke that his wife was with child. and would in a few weeks give birth, that he had been going round making the appropriate arrangements. Igraine felt herself flush but managed to cover it by extending her congratulations with the hope that it would be a boy. At that moment another visitor arrived, and this time it was Merlin and after the usual courtesies and introductions the men disappeared into the courtyard with Gorlois inviting them both to stay the night, which they both gratefully accepted, much to Igraine’s relief as it would give her chance to speak to Merlin on his own. The day progressed slowly with the men catching up on the news from afar, especially from Merlin as he travelled widely on what he called his errands.

After several hours Merlin stood up and stretched and said that he was going to walk down to the sea shore for a breath of air and asked Igraine, who was sitting close by sewing with her ladies, if she would care to escort him. She indicated that it would be a pleasure and that she could do with stretching her legs, so they took the long pathway down to the shore with neither saying a word until they arrived, whereupon Merlin asked her what was troubling her so much that she had sent word to him to come quickly and to arrive in such a discreet way. Merlin already knew the reason for the summons, as he was aware of what Uther had planned when he had asked for the sleeping draught because he could not sleep, but he did not wish Igraine to be aware of his pre-knowledge.

Igraine told Merlin the whole story of the night with the King and how he had coupled with her without her knowledge or consent, been discovered by Rowena who he then took to his chamber where he coupled with her for the rest of the night. That she could cope with but the problem was that she was now with child and was beginning to show a little, her husband was not yet aware of what took place, or her condition, The only person aware of her condition was herself, not even Rowena knew, but she would not be able to keep it secret for many more weeks and she feared for her life and that of the child, who could be the King’s illegitimate heir if a boy.

Merlin, secretly pleased with the information but not showing it, was deep in thought as he listened and agreed that there was a problem that needed solving. He inquired how Gorlois was these days. She replied that he was bored with little to do and frustrated that she, Igraine, did not appear amenable to him. He would know that the child was not his, as they had not coupled for some while, he had been away for several months and therefore he would know that she had coupled with another. Gorlois had a fearful temper at times and doubted that he would believe that she had succumbed to another without knowing, which was why she feared for her life and Rowena’s too for keeping quiet.

Merlin pondered the intricacies of the problem and what might need to be done. It was good that the King had a potential heir in the making, which was what Merlin had hoped would be the outcome of such a liaison, as he had none at present, surprising though that might seem with his reputation. An idea was beginning to germinate but he indicated that he would sleep on it and decide in the morning the plan of action. With that he suggested that they made their way back and joined the others and not to worry as he Merlin would come up with a solution.

The day passed in quiet socialising with one or two other visitors stopping by to congratulate Sir Ector on his news and the evening turned into a small celebration as a result. Merlin, although joining in with the festivities was also formulating a plan in his mind to resolve Igraine’s predicament and possibly provide Uther with an heir. Which would help maintain and possibly improve the uneasy stability in the country in the longer term, and as promised he slept on it.

When Igraine appeared the next morning her husband and Merlin were deep in discussion and she left them be until she was invited to join them. Sir Ector had apparently left early to continue his arrangements. Gorlois indicated that Merlin had given him some good news and soon he would see some action at last. Uther was going to mount a campaign in the north of the country and had sent a request out for knights and men from the southern kingdoms to join with him. He Gorlois had been asked to join the King in this endeavour, but was surprised that Uther had not mentioned it himself when he was here last. Although as Merlin had said it was not decided at that time but came from recent information about marauding bands of foreign insurgents causing havoc in northern areas.

As the campaign was likely to be a prolonged one and the Duke would be away for some time Merlin had suggested that she might like a change of scenery for awhile. Igraine agreed that it would be good to have a change and that it might help her health improve as she had been feeling off colour recently, but did not know why. Merlin suggested a healing sanctuary at Lydney near Glevum that would be ideal for her health, she would be able to help the ladies who ran it, if she wished, as they were always in need of willing helpers. When she felt the desire to return home, it could be arranged without a problem. It was agreed that this would be the case and arrangements would be put in place immediately for the transportation of Igraine and whatever she might wish to take with her for a long stay. It would not be necessary for her ladies to go with her, they could stay in Tintagel and look after her son and daughter and take care of any social functions that might be required for visiting dignitaries. Gorlois would arrange with Sir Ector to look after the fort in his absence as he would wish to be close to his wife and her imminent birth and not be chasing round the country with the King’s men.

That decided the Duke went to seek out some good wine to celebrate and Merlin had a few moments alone with Igraine to explain that he would now travel to see the King and convince him of the need to mount the campaign that he had just sold to Gorlois. Not that he thought that this would be difficult, as Uther had been thinking along those lines in recent months. Igraine could go to the sanctuary and stay until she had given birth as those maidens that ran it were totally trustworthy and Merlin knew them well. Nothing would be said and nothing asked, all would be discreet and in confidence and after the birth Merlin would arrange for the child to be cared for and brought up according to their standing. Igraine must be prepared to let the child go and not ask where or who with because it would be better that she did not know, it must remain a secret until at least the child was of age. Igraine realised that this must be the way, however painful being parted at birth would be, it had to be for both their sakes and she agreed with Merlin that it would be so. She thanked him for his help, wished him a safe journey and went to seek out her ladies to prepare her requirements for her journey. Gorlois returned with the wine and goblets and they toasted the King and good fortune after which Merlin excused himself that much needed to be done and he must go. He would return in ten days with transport for the Duke’s wife and news on the campaign, which would give time for Gorlois to gather sufficient knights and men.

Igraine had much that she could take for a long stay away but decided to try and keep it to the bare minimum as there would be great difference in her size to take into account. She was glad to be busy knowing that she was getting bigger and it would soon be difficult to hide. Her ladies were very happy to be left behind as they would have free reign over what they did, looking forward to this unusual situation and the fun they hoped to have. Just a pity that there would not be many eligible knights left behind, but who knew what visitors that they might have. Her maid Rowena too was glad that the Duke would be away as well as she always felt embarrassed when he was around as she kept thinking back to that fateful night, what stamina the King had, not something you could easily forget. Gorlois was happy now and on the go all the time, sending out request's to knights and men to call on him soonest as he and the King had need of their services and they required the best.

Merlin set out on his travels, sending his thoughts out to Nimue to make the arrangements and despatch a horse and cart with two of the healing ladies on the slow journey to Tintagel to collect Igraine. Merlin would catch up with them before they arrived, after he had sought out Uther and persuaded him to prepare for a northern campaign.

* * * * *

Three days later Merlin arrived in Cadbury and sought a private audience with the King, and perhaps the difficult task of persuading him to raise an army and head to the northern territories, but he need not have worried as Uther was in a fighting mood. After the usual pleasantries the King asked him what news he had from around the country, knowing that Merlin always seemed to have his finger on the pulse and knew what was going on, from his numerous and sometimes mystical sources. Merlin said that the south and west of the country were fairly peaceful at the moment with very little of note happening, the east was suffering minor disturbances, but that was normal with occasional raids from across the sea, but the north was becoming a hot spot and things were getting out of hand. The Picts were pushing further south all the time and the Jutes and Saxons were mounting more frequent raids on the north east coast and increasing their incursions inland and it was time for the King to mount a campaign to purge them from his kingdom. Uther agreed indicating that similar information had been trickling in to him for some time and he was already gathering an army together to shortly move north.

This was excellent news and Merlin advised the King that Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall was in the process of gathering a force together to join with him on such a campaign. This surprised Uther as he had not yet sent word to the south west kingdoms, but Merlin explained that he had recently come from there and arranged it on the King’s behalf knowing that it would be most welcome should Uther wished to proceed, and would save time. The King laughed saying that Merlin was always full of surprises and often seemed to second guess him, but he also felt that there was another reason behind this. Merlin was pleased that Uther was aware that there was more and so told him the situation with Igraine and that she had confided in him all that had taken place and wished to find a solution to the problem. Uther was thoughtful and indicated that she was a damned fine woman that he couldn’t resist, it was a pity that he could not have her as his queen. Therefore the arrangements that had been made seemed the best solution in the circumstances, especially as no one else was aware of her situation. With Gorlois out of the way and Igraine at Lydney, out of sight of prying eyes, then the secret could be maintained and the child, if it was a boy, would be safe and brought up according to his station, but without knowing who he was until the appropriate time. Uther asked Merlin to give some thought as to who should bring up the boy the right way, knowing that his wise old friend probably had decided who this should be. Emphasising that no one else should be aware of any of the details, not even himself, the King, it had to remain secret to protect both Igraine and the child. The only stipulation that Uther demanded was to know, when the time came, whether he had fathered a boy and consequently an heir and periodic progress on his upbringing. Merlin agreed and the matter was concluded, detailed discussion then took place on the size of the army that was likely to be needed to secure the northern kingdoms.

Merlin departed at first light next morning and headed for Boscastle where he had arranged to meet up with the two healing women and their cart before travelling the final few miles to Tintagel. As usual his timing was good and three days later he caught up with them just before they reached their destination and within a couple of hours they were arriving at Tintagel Fort. Gorlois was out on an errand so Igraine, looking very flushed and pleased, greeted them and showed them to their quarters to freshen up, and then spoke briefly to Merlin advising him of the current situation. Preparations for her departure were complete and although she thought her ladies were beginning to speculate on her slight roundness in shape nothing had been said. The Duke, thankfully, had been too preoccupied to notice anything other than gathering the body of knights and men that he would take with him. Gorlois returned some while later and hearing that Merlin was back, sought him out to go over the final details with him before they wined and feasted. It was agreed that Merlin, the healing women and Igraine would depart northward in the morning and Gorlois would leave the day after and take his force to Uther at Cadbury.

The farewells next morning were a little tearful, with Rowena telling her ladyship to take care and have plenty of rest, which made Igraine more certain that her condition had been discreetly noted, and Gorlois sending her off with his love and he would be back when they had annihilated the troublemakers. With that the cart rumbled forward and they were off on their long slow journey to Lydney, with surprisingly little in the way of luggage for Igraine.

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