Thursday, January 14, 2010

Exclusive US Preview: Arthur and Excalibur - Chapter 11!

Chapter 11


“YOU HAVE BEEN BUSY MY LORD,” commented the lead horseman, surveying the carnage as he stopped in front of Arthur.

“What news Flindel?” recognising one of Sir Bors’ men. “Where are the others, your numbers are not as great as I had expected?”

“We experienced a heavy concentration of Saxons at the southernmost crossing,” explained Flindel, “and suffered some casualties, including King Esla and Sir Kay, but fear not my lord they still live and Sir Bors has escorted them to Hlew with fifty men to receive attention to their wounds.”

“That is better than I hoped when I first saw that they were missing,” replied Arthur, “and at least Taliesin is there to see to them.”

Arthur remembered that his sword had been broken by the giant and enlisted Gelda’s aid to find the broken piece, being the Sword of Kings that had been handed down over the years, with the hope that Merlin with all his knowledge knew of a way to repair it. Having successfully accomplished that, as Gelda knew exactly where to locate it, Arthur gathered his men and congratulated them on their success. Remarking to Legionus that he had learnt something new that day, and that was not to get carried away in battle but keep his wits about him as Gelda might not be there to rescue him next time. Legionus smiled and said that it would be a good idea otherwise she might get mad at him, and she was not a woman to tangle with, as he saw.

They made their way back to Hlew without incident and Arthur immediately sought out Taliesin to discover how King Esla and Sir Kay were. Being greatly relieved to discover that their wounds were not life threatening, but several days rest would be needed as they had lost a fair amount of blood. Arthur found them resting and asked what had happened, then recounted the events at Glynde Reach and the benefits of well trained cavalry, especially against foot soldiers and overwhelming numbers.

“We lost very few men in total compared to the Saxon loses,” Arthur observed, “that should make them think very seriously for some while before considering mounting another attack in this area. I suspect that it has depleted their forces somewhat with the massacre that they suffered today. They will certainly know that I mean business now even if they ignored the message that I sent to them before, when we intercepted their attack on Stocksford and virtually wiped them out then. One of the sad events of today however was the damage inflicted on the Sword of Britain, even though in the process it saved my life, it is now in two pieces and I only hope that Merlin and his knowledge can somehow repair it, although it will only be of use as a ceremonial symbol and not as a weapon. It has served me well and I am disheartened to see it in such a state but I feel that it must be preserved as a mark of the High King of Britain to hand down through the generations.”

King Esla thanked Arthur for his timely response for help in repelling the Saxon attacks without which they would have been hard pressed to contain. Arthur responded by saying that was why they should all pull together in the fight to bring peace and stability to the country, and it was what he would endeavour to do, but it would take some time to accomplish. They discussed how the battles had gone and what could be leant from them that would be of use in future conflicts, until Taliesin said that there had been enough talking and now his patients needed rest if they were to make a speedy recovery.

Arthur and Sir Bors wandered off in search of Legionus and Andulus, as they would remain in the area for a few days at least. Arthur’s thoughts wandered, it was a good opportunity to show his face around the villages and hamlets and get to know the people in this part of the country and give them the chance to meet their High King. He did not want to be a nameless and faceless King to his subjects, but wished to connect with them and be seen and known, to understand their problems and to explain his vision for the country. What better way was there than moving amongst them and giving them his time, creating a bond that would eventually bear fruit and bringing them altogether as one, with one vision and one direction. Showing them that he cared for their welfare, understood their concerns and would strive to bring peace, justice and right for all, irrespective of their station in life. No man should be looked on as better than another, all were important and entitled to a voice and he Arthur, High King of Britain, would listen and respond. It was time to change the way of thinking of the people to get them involved in their own destiny and to be proud of it. A heaven sent opportunity to lay the foundations of a different and better way of life, that future generations could reap the benefits of and look back and see how far they had progressed. It can be done, and I will do it, even if I do not live to see all of the benefits, it is still worth the pain and effort to bring it about, that hopefully others who follow would continue to build on. Merlin has seen it all before I suspect, but he is still here helping and has faith in us that at some point we will get it right, otherwise why would he bother and care so much. His vision for our future is good, but at the end of the day it is down to all of us to make it happen, even if at times we fall by the wayside we must still push forward and overcome these obstacles. Life will only return to us that which we put into it, so we must be positive in our outlook and push forward, removing those barriers that hold us back, slowly yes, but ever forward until we make that transition. Many generations will pass, as there are many ancient principles that we have forgotten and need to relearn before we can really progress and leave this power and possessive culture behind us and attain that true freedom of life that we all seek. There is a difficult time ahead, but I have made my choice and will follow it through to the end, whenever and however that might be, it is the right choice.

* * * * *

The days extended into a week before Sir Kay was fit enough to make the return journey to Cadbury and Arthur had made the most of the time visiting many places with Andulus, in his usual role as guide. The reception that they received at all their stops was one of pleasure, if tinged with a little surprise, that the High King had taken time to stop by. It enhanced Arthur’s reputation considerably as he listened to and spoke with the people. Legionus and some of the Sarmatians accompanied him on these trips and Arthur went up even more in their estimation as a good leader, not just in battle, but in his rapport with the people and his concern for their wellbeing.

They finally took their leave of King Esla, who was remaining at Hlew for awhile longer, Taliesin was staying in the area too so that he could carry on his work as the King’s ambassador, and keep an eye on the Saxons at the same time. Arthur had asked Andulus to take them on a different route back so that he could see more of his domain, therefore they were following the coastal path to Portus Adurni [at Portchester]. Before swinging inland to the large estate at the old Roman Villa at Rockbourne, near to the village of Forde [now Fordingbridge]. This was a vast agricultural region that produced food for a wide area and had a thriving market, Arthur realised that he would need extra supplies for the increasing numbers at Cadbury and this visit would be a good opportunity to make those arrangements.

There had been sufficient stocks for the winter, but they were becoming rapidly depleted and would soon need replenishing to sustain his growing army. Greyfus had done a good job in seeing that enough food had been sourced prior to winter arriving, through the normal taxes and levies, but additional supplies would be needed now with the burden spread more evenly throughout the region. He would negotiate that on his arrival at Rockbourne, after discovering what taxes were being paid and to whom and decide if the distribution was fair, which he doubted, and reorganise them accordingly. His understanding was that this was a large estate with many tenant farmers, who were often squeezed hard by the local lord and left with very little for themselves. That was something that he intended to change, even if it made him unpopular in certain quarters, the taxes and levies must be fair to all concerned and the people must be left with sufficient for their needs, with some left over to be put by for a bad harvest, or to sell at the markets. He did not know who the local lord was, Andulus for once did not know either, so it would certainly be an interesting discussion, but that was some days away yet, in the meantime they would journey towards Portus Adurni and learn about the people on the way.

Their first stopover was at Old Bury [Cissbury Ring], a magnificent major fortified position with commanding views for miles around, an ideal defensive position from attack by land or sea and one used by the Romans until abandoned a long while ago, and now utilised by the local populace as a safe haven from attack. News of the events at Glynde Reach had already reached them there and a warm welcome was extended to Arthur and his men with many requests to tell the story of the battle, which was done with the usual exaggeration of how many of the enemy there were. Such was the way of stories, it was not the facts that counted but how good the storyteller was in keeping the suspense going.

Arthur spoke to many people, listening to their views and how life was generally, being close to the coast and therefore exposed to many foreign raiding parties. Most accepted it as the way of life, something that would always happen and they saw no end to it, so they had people watch the sea for signs of trouble, to give them time to seek refuge within the fort. Arthur always learnt much just by listening, including the fact that the local lord lived some way inland and was rarely seen, only his tax collectors came there, nobody could remember seeing him or remember what his name was. Typical thought Arthur, living off the toils of the people but not concerned about them at all as long as they paid their taxes, so that he could live his good life of leisure.

The following day saw them on the way to the small hamlet of Fiseborne [Fishbourne], so called because the stream that ran through the middle of it contained an abundance of fish, more than was normally seen in a small stream. It was local knowledge that this was a breeding ground for several varieties and provided a good source of food. Arthur was greeted with suspicion at first, arriving with so many men, strangely clad Sarmatians that hadn’t been seen before didn’t help, but he was flying his pennon which was recognised by some. A feeling of ease was noticeable after he had introduced himself and the Sarmatians, then being made welcome, he spent a pleasant overnight stay, and was encouraged to try some of the local fish, which was a pleasant change to the normal dried food when travelling.

The next morning saw then on their way, following the lowland path towards Portus Adurni, winding through the multitude of colourful meadows and crossing many small streams. Few people were around and those that they saw watched them nervously until they had passed by, no doubt the only large body of men they normally saw were raiding parties, Arthur could sense there was a feeling of tension and unease about them. He asked Andulus about this and was told that attacks were fairly frequent along the coast, as there were so many little bays and inlets that boats could easily approach the shore and land men. The raiders would be small parties on foot though, to plunder and escape as quickly as possible, so seeing so many horsemen must be even more worrying for them. This is our weak spot, thought Arthur, the Saxons and others could land in force anywhere along here and establish a strong footing before we could muster enough men to counter them and push them back into the sea, They could so easily get around behind us too by landing in several places at once and that could be disastrous, even though we would have the benefit of cavalry against foot soldiers, its bad tactics to allow yourself and your men to be surrounded and have to fight on all fronts at once. I will need to give this some consideration and speak to Legionus on the best way to deploy the men should we encounter trouble at some point, which I’m sure we will, as the Saxons are known for using their keels to make surprise attacks. After their recent defeat they will probably attempt something different and we do not have the men to permanently guard the landing places that would be easy for them to use, there are too many. I need a way of receiving warning without having to rely on Taliesin or Merlin to give me indication of trouble, as they will often be on their travels and delay could be devastating. They have their own way of communicating, and I believe even travelling in a mysterious way, but at the moment I do not share their knowledge or skills and need to make other arrangements to safeguard the people and the country.

Their brief stay at Portus Adurni was interesting and beneficial to Arthur as he spoke to many of the people, as was his way, learning more of the different problems that these people had, being so close to the sea and subjected to unexpected raids. The fort had commanding views over the bay and surrounding area and was in a good defensive position, it was obvious why the Romans had built it there many years ago and it continued to thrive after they left.

They struck inland to circumvent the many waterways before heading west again, making camp on heath land at the edge of a vast forested area that was unsuitable for farming but rich in wild life, Several groups went hunting, returning with deer and boar, which provided a grand feast for the evening around roaring campfires, with plenty of singing and story telling as the men relaxed. Arthur took the opportunity to discuss with his commanders what had taken place recently, what their thoughts were on what they had seen and heard and their views on what they thought the Saxons might attempt next. Mentioning how difficult the coastal area was to defend fully with so many possible landing places. Sir Bors and Sir Kay could see what Arthur was driving at but Legionus reminded them that if they landed in force from many keels then they would be foot soldiers that could easily be dealt with by the mounted troops. Arthur agreed to a point, but indicated that if they landed in different places at the same time they could find themselves fighting on many fronts, which could split their forces. It would be better to let them come inland and join up with each other before attacking them, as the tables would then be turned to their advantage and they could attack them from different directions, cutting off their escape to the sea. It would be necessary to hit them hard to dissuade them from attempting other landings in the future, otherwise the Saxons would keep on probing their defences. They tried on land and failed so he expected them to attempt an attack from the sea, perhaps hoping to catch them unawares and get around behind them unsuspected, by landing in different places at the same time. They needed to have many coastal lookouts and a way of sending that information to them of any trouble as soon as possible, so that they could counter any attack, as it was a good three days hard ride from Cadbury after they had received the news. Andulus suggested that the old system of signal fires be brought into use again to send word of trouble and summon help, they hadn’t been used for some years but had been very effective in the past. All agreed that using them again would certainly spread the word quickly and effectively and when Taliesin next appeared Arthur would seek his advice, but if that did not happen for some while then they would have to make arrangements themselves.

The following morning saw them on the way to their last stop at the hamlet of Forde and the nearby large farming estate, of which the immense and impressive old Roman villa was the focal point. According to Andulus the local lord had been Galbrane when last he travelled that way, and it was his residence. A wily old knight that lived in style, but not very popular with the local people as he squeezed them dry with the taxes and levies that he imposed on them, so that they barely managed to survive. Much of the grain produced was sent to the coast and sold or bartered for fine linen, silks and wine, to the merchants that dealt with the many ships that plied their trade along the coast. He had many tenant farmers that worked the land and was renowned for replacing them without regard to their circumstances if they failed to produce sufficient harvest, or complained in any manner. His rule was enforced by an unknown number of overseers so that he was never personally involved, thereby keeping himself at a distance from the peasants, whom he looked down upon and regarded as expendable. Arthur commented that it looked as if it would be an interesting meeting with him and doubted that their intrusion would be very welcome, especially when he heard what Arthur had to say about taxes and dues to the King.

Shortly before noon they came in sight of their destination in the distance, and set their camp some way from the outskirts of Forde, as it was far too small for them all to approach at once and such a large body of men would cause anxiety and panic amongst the inhabitants. Arthur, Sir Bors, Andulus, Legionus and six of his commanders approach the hamlet leaving Sir Kay to rest up at camp, as his wound, although healing well still gave him some slight discomfort. They inquired of the first person they saw who the elder of the hamlet was and where he could be found, and were pointed towards a hut near the centre of the main group. Elfinius came out of his hut on hearing several horses approach and seeing what were obviously noble lords, although some wore strange garments, welcomed them to the small hamlet of Forde and asked if he could be of service.

“We seek the village elder and wish to have dialogue with him,” Arthur stated, without disclosing who they were or the nature of their business.

“Then you have found him,” replied Elfinius, “alight my lords and join me inside and take some refreshment, although it might be a little cramped to what you are used to it will be private, there are too many ears around that like to cause trouble I’m afraid.”

They dismounted and followed him into his hut, except two of the Sarmatians that remained outside keeping an eye on the horses and to see that they were not disturbed. Arthur said that they were going to call on Lord Galbrane and wished to know as much about him as possible beforehand, as the stories about him were not very flattering, and they were not sure of the reception that they would receive. Arthur noted that Elfinius became apprehensive and wary at this request, saying that it was not his position to judge others or give opinion, especially about their own lord, and certainly not with total strangers. Arthur acknowledged that was the answer that he had expected, especially from a wise one, so he had better introduce himself and the others and explain the reason for the request. Elfinius was totally surprised to find himself talking to the High King and was a bit sceptical that this was the truth, as he looked too young, until Arthur unfurled his pennon and clarified the point, as it had been well known in the area in the time of Uther Pendragon. Arthur explained what they were doing in the area and why, relating the events of Glynde Reach and how the Saxons were still a major threat to peace, and what he intended to do about it and his vision for the country. Peace and prosperity with all people treated the same, whatever their station, subject to the same justice and taxation, this was for the benefit of all in helping to protect the country from foreign usurpers as well as internal strife.

“A tall order my lord and I wish you well in your endeavours but to get the people on your side you will have to sort out the problems within the country caused by a few, like our own lord, who rape the land and people just for their own benefit.”

“That is why I asked you those questions Elfinius, I intend to start with Lord Galbrane, show him the error of his ways and tell him what he must do from now on, or suffer the consequences of a refusal, I will not be trifled with and deceit will be dealt with very severely.”

The discussion continued for some while and Elfinius told Arthur much of what he needed to know to deal with the situation, the problems he would encounter, especially from Lord Galbrane’s overseers and the obstinacy and trickery of the lord himself. Not to be taken in by a welcoming smile, as he was at his most dangerous then for his brain would be hatching a plot to take advantage of the situation and him, no matter what severe measures might be called for, the life of another meant nothing to him. Arthur thanked him for his advice and information and it would be best at the moment if his identity was not revealed, they were just a group of lords seeking their fortune westwards, needing some refreshment and directions.

Arthur’s group returned to camp, on the way he gave much thought to the forthcoming encounter with Lord Galbrane and the trickery that was likely to take place, during or after the meeting, for which they needed to be prepared. He discussed it with his commanders as they sat around the fire, feasting on the remains of the deer and boar slaughtered the previous day. Deciding on a plan that would involve several small groups strategically placed should trouble occur, whilst the main body of the army would keep out of sight some distance away, as they were unlikely to be needed. Arthur, Sir Bors, Legionus, Gelda and three others would be the main party, whilst Andulus who might be recognised by Lord Galbrane, would lead the other three groups to their given locations and wait in case they were needed. Sir Kay would keep the main army there in reserve and use his judgement should any be needed.

With that agreed they all took to their rest and Arthur lay for a long while in the clear warm night, staring at the abundance of stars in the sky, wondering what it was all about at the end of the day. What was the real purpose of life, why were we here? Was it as Merlin had said once,‘so that we could learn the real meaning of life and move forward in our evolution to a higher and better way of living.’ Leaving behind our incessant struggle for power over others, our need for material things that just generated greed and our egotistical thoughts and behaviour that falsely convince us that we are better than others. Merlin had always said that the Ancient Civilisations knew the correct way to live and connect with everything around them but over time even they lost that knowledge and wisdom and descended to the depths that haunt us all now. Was this the start of a new beginning as people like me tried to re-lay the foundations that had crumbled, and sought to re-build them and gradually bring the peoples of this world back to the true way of life, however long it took? The wise ancients like Merlin and Taliesin had come back to help this happen. Why now? Was it to build on the teachings of the wise master known as Jesus, before man twisted those words of wisdom to suit himself and maintain mastery over others again? Holding us all back once more from achieving true freedom and peace that we all really strive for inside. I must speak more on these matters to Merlin when we next meet and learn more of his wisdom and understanding, that it might help me to see the way forward more clearly. I wonder what part of the country he is in now and what business he is about? Arthur fell asleep as his mind sought the answers.

* * * * *

Merlin had spent his time travelling to many parts of the country as he usually did but at the precise moment that Arthur was pondering on his whereabouts he was with Nimue, the Lady of the Lake and the conversation was about Arthur. They were discussing how well he had progressed in a short space of time, the transition from young lad enjoying life to High King of Britain had been remarkable and taken in his stride, definitely the sign of noble birth. Learning quickly, with his willingness to listen to the wisdom of others and seek their views was admirable, yet still able to make decisions quickly and correctly when needed, although he nearly overdid things at Glynde Reach by pushing too far forward on his own. They discussed the breaking of the Sword of Britain in the battle and that it could be made as new again, but Nimue said she felt it was time to let him have his inheritance, Merlin was not so sure, but Nimue said he needed some stronger protection otherwise they might lose him too soon. Merlin agreed that would not be ideal if that happened and bowed to her judgement, asking where and when she would like it to be done. He would be back in Cadbury in a few days so they would do it there, and for once she would make an appearance before the people and they would know that she was not a myth or legend, they would see the power of wisdom and light and they would never forget. It would increase the air of mystery about her, but they would know that she was real and not just a story, for they would see for themselves. Merlin wasn’t too happy about the idea of her showing herself to the people, but knew it was pointless to argue with her as she felt so strongly about it, so reluctantly agreed.

Arthur might have been a little concerned had he known that they then discussed his concern for the poorly defended coastal regions, because they could read his thoughts on occasion when he was concentrating on a problem or idea. They both agreed that Arthur was correct in his assumptions that the Saxons were most likely to try this next and they would endeavour to indicate when a number of keels left the Saxon enclave in the south east and moved along the coast westwards. Discussions moved on to higher topics and carried on into the night, as they usually did when they had the time and chance for face to face talking.

* * * * *

Arthur’s party approached the Roman Villa of Lord Galbrane, the other small parties had been put into position by Andulus, now all depended on the welcome and reaction that they received; they were soon to find out. As they approached the villa gate an armed man appeared outside and seeing them turned his head and appeared to call to others inside and six more armed men appeared and joined him. It looked like they might have been half expected Arthur muttered quietly to his men, or was their normal ‘friendly welcome.’

“Who are you and what do you want?” was the curt challenge.

“A party of knights to see Lord Galbrane,” replied Arthur smiling and in a friendly tone of voice.

“What about?” was the sharp retort.

“We have come to see your master not talk to the hired help,” replied Arthur, this time in an icy tone, “so be so good and go and announce us.”

More menacing looking men had joined the others at the gate now and that bolstered their leader's confidence as he replied, “no one comes in without our say so, if our lord wasn’t expecting them, no matter who they are. His lordship does not like visitors disturbing his peace, so turn around and ride away.”

“Sorry we cannot do that, we have come to see Lord Galbrane and that is what we intend to do and any of you that tries to stop us will be cut down, so move aside,” with that Arthur urged his horse forward.

Next minute there were ten more men that had suddenly appeared from within the gate house, each with a sword drawn, blocking the way. Gelda, who was at the back of Arthur’s group turned and waved to summon the reserve group concealed in a small copse a short distance away, as she drew her sword and joined the melee. Arthur had taken the first man with his spear at the same time that he remembered he only had a broken sword, he hadn’t acquired another yet. Luckily Gelda realised at the same time as he did and spurred her horse alongside his to protect his right side, allowing him to use his spear to the left. Within moments the reserve troop was on the scene and the skirmish was soon over, twenty of the lord’s men were either dead or badly wounded and two had run off. Two of Arthur’s men had slight wounds and one of the horses had a nasty cut on his rump.

“Time to visit Lord Galbrane I think,” said Arthur, “and see what he has to say for himself,” as they made their way up the long straight paved road to the villa.

No one was in sight when they arrived and a search of the villa yielded nothing either but there were signs that someone had been there only a short time ago and apparently left in a hurry. That’s not possible thought Arthur, we would have seen them, they must be in hiding there still, so he sent the men to do a thorough search of all rooms and buildings, but told them to be wary of trickery as he was sure that someone was there somewhere.

He wandered around the large spacious rooms searching and looking, he noticed some female clothing in the bedchamber, and sitting on the bed as he cast his eyes around, realised it still felt warm. A slight noise made him shift his eyes at the same time as he jumped sideways off the bed, as a sword cut into where he had just been sitting. Standing there cursing was a tall scantily dressed old man about to wield the sword again and strike Arthur down. He had no choice as he drew the broken Sword of Britain, ducked under the old mans swing and drove it into his body.

Lord Galbrane collapsed with blood spurting from the wound. “Who are you?” he croaked.

“Arthur High King of Britain,” was the cold reply, “all your wealth didn’t save you in the end did it, now you wont get chance to enjoy it anymore my lord. Where is the girl?”

A hand waved weakly in the direction of the back of the bed as with a horrendous gurgle he took his last breath. There was a drape covering the wall, behind which was concealed a small chamber and crouching in the corner Arthur could dimly see a young girl totally naked and crying gently. Arthur spoke to her quietly saying that it was okay now and to wait there whilst he fetched someone to see to her needs, and went in search of Gelda. She was not far away, and he told her of his find and asked her to see to the young girl who was probably greatly traumatised.

Arthur gathered his men together and returned to their camp on the outskirts of Forde, with the young girl doubling up with Gelda on her horse. Summoning his commanders he reviewed the situation and stated that as there was now a void left by the demise of Lord Galbrane it was necessary to leave a small body of men at the villa as protection for the property, as no one was sure how many of his overseers might still be at large. It also needed a thorough search to find out, if possible, what he had been doing with the taxes and levies that were collected, all of which he appeared to have retained for his own use. He gave the task to Sir Kay and asked Andulus to stay and help him with thirty of the men, so that the estate continued to function as normally as possible. He asked Gelda if the young girl was less traumatised now and what information she had gleaned from her on the ride back. It appeared that she was the daughter of one of the tenant farmers who had been coerced to go and work at the villa but the lord only wanted her to satisfy his desires and threatened to throw out her family if she didn’t agree to his requests. Nobody else worked there, she was expected to do all the cleaning and cooking as well as give herself to him, if she didn’t perform well then she had a beating and was abused even more. She was confused and didn't know what would happen to her now as her parents didn’t want her to go to the lord in the first place and doubted that they would let her go back home now, a fallen woman. Arthur said he and Sir Kay would speak to her to see if she was willing to stay on at the villa, strictly as a maid to help run the place. Perhaps she had some idea of where Lord Galbrane kept his personal records, after that he would return to Elfinius and advise him of the death of his lord and introduce Sir Kay to him. Tomorrow they would break camp and return to Cadbury, enjoy a good feast and much merriment and give their bodies a well earned rest from the saddle.

Arthur and his army started on the last leg of their journey as the sun rose on another glorious day. He was unaware that Merlin and two companions were also heading for Cadbury completely unnoticed by any living soul, such was their method of travel. It was a days ride, but spirits were high and often groups would break into song as the tension of the last couple of weeks eased from their bodies as they relaxed.

Arthur had taken Sir Kay to meet Elfinius the night before and had spent several hours with him, leaving him a much happier man than when they first met, knowing that life looked a lot brighter now for all the farmers in the area. The young girl had been very relieved that her ordeal was over and that she could stay on, if she so wished, as a servant and have extra help if she needed it. She thought that she might be able to help in locating Lord Galbrane’s personal accounts if she was told what they looked like as he had many secret hiding places. A good outcome, thought Arthur, bringing peace and justice to the area and letting the farmers have more freedom to do what they did best, after years of being squeezed dry by an unscrupulous lord. It would help raise his standing with the people when the news got about and that would spread to other areas, at last they had a King that looked to the people and was fair and just. Only good would come of it, even if other land owners rebelled against him, they would know what to expect in return, swift justice as he would not be trifled with. It wasn’t just the soldiers he needed to bring the peace, he needed the people behind him as well, to keep everything else running smoothly, they were just as important, if not more so. Some of them would be the future leaders of their communities and help lead the country forward.

Time had passed quickly and before they knew it the welcome sight of Cadbury was there in front of them, bringing his army to a halt he turned and raised his voice so all could hear as he praised them for all their recent endeavours and invited them all to the great hall later for some much needed refreshment, good food and merriment. A great cheer was raised in reply as he led them through the main gate and let them disperse and relax a little before the festivities began.

The great hall hadn’t seen so many people since the fateful night when Uther Pendragon and many others had been poisoned. Minor lords and ladies from the surrounding area were in attendance as Arthur had sent riders ahead with invitations and also to warn Greyfus, there were also a few knights that had stopped by to offer their services to the king and had awaited his return. The only ones of note missing were Sir Kay and Andulus, who had remained at the villa near Forde, Taliesin and Merlin, wherever they might be, but in one respect Arthur was shortly to be in for a surprise and find out.

A horn was blown, its sound echoing around the walls of the great hall, a sound with such a gentle musical pitch, that had never been heard by any there before, yet powerful and mystical in its affect that everyone turned to seek the source. Merlin had entered accompanied by a lady wearing a full length purple and gold cloak, with her head and face hidden by the attached hood. Following them was a tall young man with long blond hair bearing a long object completely covered by a beautiful gold and silver cloth. People moved aside, curious as to who these people were with Merlin, as they approached the King at the end of the great hall.

“Arthur, High King of Britain,” began Merlin in a voice that carried, “may I present to you Nimue, Lady of the Lake and fairest in the land.”

There were gasps from the gathering as most thought that she was a myth, just ancient folklore.

The King arose astonished and addressed her, “My Lady it gives me the greatest pleasure in welcoming you to this court, but forgive me but I do like to see whom I am addressing so that I might recognise them in future and pay my respects properly.”

“My apologies my lord but I am not used to such a gathering and am rarely seen in the company of others,” whereupon she unclasped the cloak and hood and let them fall to the ground.

Gasps of amazement and wonder echoed around the great hall and the King sank to his knees before her.

“It is I who should apologise my lady, for I have never seen so much beauty, or felt the power of love emanating from anyone before, to such an extent that it overwhelms me and fills my whole body with so much joy and love in return, beyond what I thought was possible. Truly you are descended from the ancient high order of elves that are said to have inhabited this land in the distant past, with your long golden hair, angelic and beautiful face and the light and love that shines forth so dazzling and moving.”

“My Lord,” the Lady of the Lake replied, “you should not be on your knees before me, for what you see is but a reflection of yourself and how you are perceived by others.”

Arthur arising replied, “thank you my Lady, you are so modest and kind but I couldn’t match you in beauty or love, it radiates so strongly from you that it captures all our hearts.”

“But my Lord, you have and you do, but you do not look into yourself enough to see it, that is why I have come,” Nimue replied in her soft lilting voice, “You have portrayed yourself as a good and wise King that strives to do his best for his people and it is time to assist you in fulfilling your vision. Your sword has been broken in battle and if I may my Lord I would like to take it away with me and have it re-forged by a master elf smith and in its place I bring you this.” She turned to the young man that had accompanied her and rolled back the gold and silver cloth in his arms to reveal a magnificent sword in a beautiful scabbard. Turning back to Arthur held it out to him. “My Lord I give you Excalibur, the Sword of Wisdom and Light, te anu (for you, in the ancient tongue).”

The King still overawed by the beauty of the Lady could barely mutter his appreciation as he took in the sight of the magnificent sword in his hands. As he withdrew it from its scabbard it began to glow with a soft light and when he held it aloft and muttered the name Excalibur in appreciation of such a beautiful sword, a brilliant golden light burst forth from it, far greater than thirty burning torches. The red eyes of the serpents that formed the handle and hilt glowed intensely and streams of red light, like fire, emerged from their open mouths, joining with the rest of the light and filling the great hall with the splendour of its brilliant rays. Gasps of amazement turned to cheering and echoed around the walls until Arthur, after what seemed a lifetime, returned Excalibur to its scabbard and extinguished the light.

Absolute silence reigned for a moment as everyone took in what they had just witnessed, then everywhere voices were raised as all present began talking at once and it is doubtful if any, except Merlin, were aware of the words the Lady spoke to the King.

“My Lord the sword will not fail your hand and will stay there until it is returned to its scabbard, only you or a guardian can unsheathe it, the sword will protect you if used for the greater good but should you break this covenant and use it in anger, or for your own reward, you will no longer be the appointed bearer of the sword. Its protection will immediately be withdrawn and the consequences could be dire and the sword will be returned to me as one of the guardians. With Excalibur I also leave with you my loyal companion Berius, the other guardian, who will be your keeper of the sword whilst you do not have need of it, and will look after it and protect it. Should it ever need to be returned to me he will see to it. You may have absolute faith in him as he is also of our lineage and of high birth, it is sad to part with him as we have been together a very long time, but it is for the greater good and at some point we will be reunited. Take care to use Excalibur wisely my Lord, it will serve you well and contains much of our knowledge and wisdom that it will let you have access to in times of need, just ask it whilst it is in the scabbard and see what answers come into your mind. It is time for Merlin and I to slip quietly away now as everyone is still engaged in talking about what they have witnessed. We will not meet again unless there is a need to, my love and faith go with you, beware anger and the covenant, I bid you good evening my Lord.”

“I am at a loss for words my Lady and do not know how to respond, except to extend my thanks and undying love, and I will do my best to honour the covenant of the sword. Your radiance and beauty will stay with me ’til the end, safe journey my Lady, my love goes with you.”

With that Merlin looked Arthur in the eye and told him to get the signal beacons working again as he would soon need them, and with the Lady of the Lake holding the Sword of Britain, slipped quietly out through a side entrance, without any noticing that they had gone. Arthur stared after them in puzzlement wondering how Merlin knew that he had been thinking of bringing the beacons back into use, then smiled to himself, he always seemed to know what was going on and was usually right about the outcome.

Much later the conversation died down and people began to realised that the Lady had gone, but each kept with them the vision of that evening, and it was talked about for many years hence.

Arthur felt that he was living a dream and would wake up, except for the fact that Berius was standing quietly by his side.

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