Arthur Trilogy

 Excerpts

 Excerpts 


(all excerpts are taken from an un-edited original pre-proofread file)

From The Kingmaking : Book One of the 
Pendragon's Banner Trilogy


June 450
§XIV

With ringing triumph Cunedda finished his speech. “There is another Pendragon – still young, I grant, we need wait for him to come of age. We, Uthr and I, had hoped we would not need to reveal him until he was ready, but that was not to be.” Cunedda chivvied Arthur before him and shouted above the rising excitement, his voice ringing out almost to the watching mountains. “Here, before the hallowed sanctity of our Stone, I give you your next king. I give you the Pendragon – Arthur!”
He stepped back leaving Arthur to stand alone as a great clamour rose up into the sky. The lad smiled now, the pain and sorrow fading with that great roar of acclaim. Cunedda was wrong: five had known Uthr had his heir. Arthur had known, all these years in his dreams and thoughts, he had known Uthr to be his father. Why else had he loved the man so, and the man been so fond of a lad? All the doubts and fears planted by Morgause fell away. He grinned, broadly, triumphantly, at the pride in Cunedda’s face, the unexpected pleasure on those of his sons. Arthur winked boyishly at the exultant Gwenhwyfar.
   Unexpected, Cunedda knelt before the lad, offering his sword as a token of his loyalty. Few heard the words he spoke, above that tumult of approval raised by those watching men. It did not matter, all knew the oath of allegiance.
   “To you, Lord, I give my sword and shield, my heart and soul. To you, Lord, I give my life, to command as you will.” Arthur could not hide his consternation at so great a man kneeling at a boy’s feet. With shaking fingers, he touched Cunedda’s offered sword then, impulsively, he raised the man and embraced him as a friend.
   It if were possible, the roar increased. Men of Gwynedd yelled their delight at seeing their lord accepted by the new Pendragon, and men of Uthr, heartsore and bruised, shouted and cheered, relieved to have their anxiety and uncertainty so splendidly lifted.
One by one the sons of Gwynedd stepped forward to follow their father’s example.
Etern too knelt. “I am not yet come to manhood, I cannot swear oath to you. But this
I can swear, Arthur, when the time comes you will not be wanting for a more loyal sword, for mine shall be yours, whenever you have need of it.”
   Arthur choked, almost unable to speak. He clasped his friend’s arm and stammered, “Then I shall indeed be blessed with a greater fortune than I deserve.”
   As Etern stepped aside, Gwenhwyfar, with head high, strode forward.
   The sun burst through a low covering of misty cloud, making her hair and jewels sparkle with dazzling brilliance. She knelt solemnly before Arthur, her grace and hint of woman’s beauty showing clearly through the lankiness of her child’s body, catching every watcher’s attention.
The noise abated. No woman took the oath of loyalty. What was this girl-child about?
   She held Arthur’s eyes and her voice, young though it was, carried clear and bold.
   “I too am of the blood of Gwynedd. Were I born male I would swear my oath, but I am woman-born. I have no shield or sword.”
   Arthur took her hands in his. Like a fool he felt a sudden urge to weep. Looking down at her earnest face, his dark eyes seeing deep into the hidden secrets of her tawny flecked green, he realised how much he wanted her for his own.
   Tremulously Gwenhwyfar said, “I have something else to give, Lord.” Her heart was hammering.    “When I am woman-grown I shall have a greater gift to pledge. I offer you, my Lord, Arthur Pendragon, to use how you choose, my unborn sons.”
   The family behind, ranged behind the Stone, roared delight and approval along with the excited host. Cunedda almost burst with pride as he shouted with the rest of them. Aye, his only daughter was as fine a woman as the one he had taken in marriage. Had he not always known it would be so?
   Arthur gripped Gwenhwyfar’s hands and raised her to her feet. He spoke quietly, words for her alone, not trusting the emotion to lie easy.
    “I accept your pledge, my Cymraes fach – only, before you take him, ensure your future husband agrees also!”
   Gwenhwyfar tossed her head, a little annoyed. “I told you: I will not wed with any but the best.”
   Arthur grinned, suddenly confident, emboldened. “Would you consider a Pendragon the best?”
   The men of the war host were jostling forward, eager to take the oath. Gwenhwyfar found herself swept aside, her answer lost to Arthur’s ears.
   “I will not bear my sons to anyone less.”

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From Pendragon's Banner: Book Two of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy

October 459
§I

With an exhausted grunt of effort, Arthur, the Pendragon, raised his sword and with a deep intake of breath brought it down through the full force of weight and momentum into the skull of an Anglian thegn. Another battle. Arthur was four and twenty years of age, had been proclaimed Supreme King over Greater and Less Britain three years past by the army of the British - and had been fighting to keep the royal torque secure around his neck ever since. 
   The man crumpled, instantly dead. Arthur wrenched his blade from shattered bone and tissue with a sucking squelch, a sickening sound, one he would never grow used to. Oh, the harpers told of the glories of battle, the victory, the brave daring and skill - but they never told of the stench that assaulted your nostrils, bringing choking vomit to your throat. Nor of the screams that scalded your ears, nor the blood that clung foul and sticky and slippery to hands and fingers, or spattered face and clothing. 
He turned, anxious, aware that a cavalryman was vulnerable on the ground. His stallion was somewhere to the left, a hind leg injured. The horses. Hah! No harper, no matter how skilled, could ever describe the sound of a horse screaming its death agony. There was no glory in battle, only the great relief that you were still alive when it was all over. 
   Sword ready to strike again, Arthur found with a jolt of surprise there was no one before him, no one to fight. Eyebrows raised, breathless, he watched the final scenes of fighting with the dispassionate indifference of an uninvolved spectator. No more slopping and wading through these muddied, sucking water-meadows; the Angli were finished, beaten. The rebellion, this snatching of British land that was not theirs for the taking, was over. 
   The Anglian leader, Icel, had wanted to be more than a petty chieftain over a scatter of huddled, backwater settlements, and that wanting had plunged deep - deep enough for him to unite the English war bands. Fighting against the British had been sporadic at first, skirmishes, night raids and isolated killings. Arthur had not been King then, when Icel began making a nuisance of himself, but when the Pendragon bested Hengest the Saxon, away down to the south of Londinium, the army of Britain had acclaimed him as Supreme. And Icel sent word across the sea for his kinsmen to come with the next spring, to come and fight this new-made King of the British who rode at the head of an elite cavalry force; to come and fight, for surely the victory over such a warlord would be worth the winning! The damn thing had grumbled on through the roll of seasons ever since. 
   Those Anglians able to run or walk or crawl were escaping, running away to die or survive within the safe, enveloping darkness of evening. It was over. After all these long, weary months, over. Until the next uprush of the Saex-kind tried for the taking of more land, or some upstart son of a British chieftain fancied for himself the command of supreme rule.
   With slow-expelled breath the Pendragon lowered his sword and unbuckled the straps of his helmet, let them dangle free, his face stinging from the release of the tight, chaffing leather. He was tired. By the Bull of Mithras, was he tired! Arthur stabbed his sword-blade into the churned grass and sank to his knees. His fingers clasped the sword’s pommel as he dropped his forehead to rest on his hands, conscious suddenly of the great weariness in his arms and legs and across his neck and shoulders. It had been a long day, a long season. He was bone tired of fighting and this stink of death. He had a wife, two sons born, another child on the way; he needed to be with them, establishing a secure stronghold fit for a king and his queen; making laws and passing judgements - raising his sons to follow after him. A king needed sons. Llacheu would reach his fourth birthday next month… Arthur had hardly seen his growing; the occasional few days, a passing week. He needed Gwenhwyfar, but she was to the north more than a day’s ride away at Lindum Colonia, uncomfortable in her bulk of child-bearing. Love of Mithras, let it be a third son! 
   Movement. Arthur opened his eyes but did not lift his head. Two booted feet appeared in his lowered line of vision, the leather scratched and spotted with the staining of blood. He would recognise those fine-made boots anywhere; the intricate patterning around the heel, the paler inlet of doe-hide. He looked up with a spreading grin of triumph into the face of his cousin and second-in-command. Cei, wiping sweat and the spatter of other men’s blood from his cheeks grinned back, his teeth gleaming white behind the darkness of his stubble-bearded face. For a while and a while the two men stood, grinning at each other like inane moon-calves. 
   “That is it then,” Arthur said, climbing slowly to his feet and pulling his sword from the ground. It felt heavy to his hand now the fighting was done. “Happen we can think about going home to our women and families.” 
   Cei shrugged a non-committal answer. If God was willing they could go home soon. When the dead were buried and the wounded tended, the submissions concluded, hostages taken and the King’s supremacy over these Saex scum endorsed. When the grumbling and muttering from the British, discontent with Arthur’s objectives were silenced. Aye, happen then, they could. 
   Arthur bent to wipe his blade against the tunic of a dead Anglian lying face down in the blood-puddled, muddied grass. He gazed at the man’s back a moment then with his foot turned over the body. A boy, not a man, with only the faint shadow of hair on chin and upper lip. A boy who had listened to the harper’s tales of battle and had felt his heart quicken for the excitement and honour. Who knew nothing of the reality of this goddamned mess! Sons were needed to fight with their fathers. And to die alongside them. The harpers ought to sing of that! Sing of the cruelty of losing a beloved son; the pain of wounds that were beyond healing. Arthur sighed. So many sons and fathers dead. So much spilt blood. 
   He pulled the spear that had killed the boy from the body. Said with regret, “We ought to live together in peace, Cei. Angli, Jute and Saxon in peace aside us British. Surely there is enough land for us all to build our dwelling places, enough grass to graze our cattle?” 


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From Shadow of the King: Book Three of the Pendragon's Banner Trilogy



April 488
§ XXXVII

“If that bloody man does not leave here soon, I swear I shall slit his throat!” Gwenhwyfar flounced to the couch, flopped into it, began removing her boots, her fingers irritably unlacing the leather thongs.
   “You must wait your turn then,” Bedwyr laughed offering little sympathy. “There is a queue from here to Rome for the privilege!” He was at Arthur’s desk, sorting through the paraphernalia of letters and petitions;
tossed the parchment in his hand onto a growing pile of correspondence that needed primary attention.
   “What is his latest offence?”
   “Amlawdd,” Gwenhwyfar spoke the name as if it were poison, “has ordered the men to go out on overnight patrol on the morrow.” There came no response of indignation or anger. She lifted her head abruptly, frowned across her chamber at Bedwyr, suspiciously asked, “Did you know about it?”
   Bedwyr twirled a stylus between his fingers, had the decency to redden slightly. He cleared his throat. “Um, aye.” Embarrassed, he poked at the inside of his cheek with his tongue. “Did you, er, countermand it then?”
   “And allow the men to believe I am not in command while Arthur is away?” she retorted. Added sharply, “Although it seems I am not.” She kicked off the second boot, began searching for her house-shoes, peering beneath the couch, a table, her agitated manner indicating all too well her ruffled temper. “If ever my husband invites Amlawdd as guest here again while he is gone to visit the tribal lords, I’ll… ” she peered around room, her hands flapping like wind-tossed flags, “I’ll slit his throat also!”
   She knelt on the floor, felt beneath the couch. “I do not require him here for my protection. I have a Caer full of Artoriani – did have, until you stupidly agreed to have most of them sent off!”
“I’m here to protect you, not Amlawdd. And it was not stupid.”
   Standing again, she did not hear him. “I spent all that while alone while he was in Gaul.” Where in damn hell had she put those shoes? “Ider stays closer to me than my own shadow.”
   “As do I.”
   “And Arthur calmly suggests to Amlawdd I need protecting? From what? Who? Inane morons who send the Artoriani on unnecessary patrols mayhap?” She stalked to the hearth place, snatched her shoes from beside the log pile.
   “I had reason, Gwen.”
   “Damned insufferable, interfering bastard!”
   “Who, me?”
   Gwenhwyfar paused, the left shoe half on her foot. Relented, laughed. “No, bonehead. Amlawdd.” She crossed to him, patted his shoulder affectionately. Thank the gods for Bedwyr! If it were not for his humour she would probably have thrown herself in desperation from the watchtower by now.
   Lightly, with one hand, she ruffled Bedwyr’s hair, idled her other through the letters on the desk. Oh, Arthur had told her why he intended to encourage Amlawdd and the boy, Caninus, to come to Caer Cadan. The whispering on the wind had grown louder in its rustling through the winter. There was no doubt it was Amlawdd who had supplied those traded weapons to Cerdic. No doubt either, he was aiming to advance Caninus as Arthur’s successor. Typical Amlawdd, to plant one foot in either camp. No doubts, but no proof. 
   “My lands are vulnerable while I am away,” Arthur had told her, “I would feel easier with those two firm in view.”
   He had not told her how he had intended to get them here, but whatever it had been, it worked, for Amlawdd was at the gates of Caer Cadan no less than two days after Arthur would have taken his leave from him. More than four weeks past, that had been. Arthur had already promised Vortipor the men he needed, and had visited Gwynedd. He was in Powys now, so his last letter, arrived four days since, had said.
   It was a wise decision to entice Amlawdd here, yet the mood between Gwenhwyfar and Arthur had not been as warm and congenial as it ought when he had left, and yet again she wondered at part of the reason behind the invitation. For if she and Bedwyr were watching Amlawdd and his young ward, then equally, had they eye on them?
   She tossed the insidious thought aside. Arthur trusted her, he did not believe she was bedding with Bedwyr. Did he? Those vile comments Medraut had disgorged – for all it was nonsense because he was angry with the pain of hurting inside – it had rekindled those flickering doubts that she knew had never entirely fled from Arthur’s mind. Once before, long, long ago, he had fought with a man over just such a stirred lie.
   Who was it? Strange how your mind forgot such things.
   She had wandered over to the couch, sat, was fiddling with her earring – my God, she thought, of course! It was Hueil! Hueil who had accused her of adultery. They had fought, he and Arthur, and Hueil had drawn a dagger, which had somehow wounded her eldest boy, Llacheu. She unthreaded the earring from her lobe, held its delicate silvered beauty in the palm of her hand. How the wheel turns in its circle. That time, Llacheu
had escaped, not badly hurt; but later, because of Hueil’s treachery, her son was to be brutally slain.
   If he had lived. Or had Amr not been drowned, Gwydre not gored by that boar. She sighed. There was no unpicking the pattern once it had been woven. She breathed deeply through her nose, re-threaded her earring where it belonged.
   “The Artoriani, tomorrow. Explanation please, Bedwyr. And make it good.”
   Bedwyr set down the parchment in his hand, leant back in his chair, tipping it slightly. “It is Amlawdd’s Birthing Day – had you forgotten? He has organised a celebration feast for the Gathering and he suggested,”
Bedwyr paused, idly waved a vague hand – ordered would have been more appropriate, but Bedwyr’s own pride was as near to bursting as Gwenhwyfar’s. “Has suggested the Hall would become overfull with Artoriani and his own men. That could cause trouble, which would look ill for your hospitality.” And would augur bad fortune for Amlawdd during the coming year.
   “What men?” Gwenhwyfar interrupted.
   “Er, those arriving on the morrow.” Hastily, Bedwyr added, “A few only, he assures me, guests, nobles, a few lords. Friends.”
   “Friends? Amlawdd? Does he possess any?”
   Seeing the rise of temper about to boil again, Bedwyr lurched on, “I did not think it wise to insist our men pay honour to a man we have small patience with. For them to have deliberately kept away could cause embarrassment for you, so…”
   “So you played into Amlawdd’s hands and have allowed the Caer to fall into half-strength defence. My God, Bedwyr,” abruptly she stood, strode across the room to face him across her husband’s desk. “Arthur will be furious with us for this!”
   Patience wearing thin, Bedwyr slammed his chair forward, barked, “It was Arthur’s bloody suggestion!”
   Incredulous, Gwenhwyfar stood, her palms laid flat on the desktop, staring at the man before her.
   “He suggested it when he was at Amlawdd’s stronghold. It is all a part of his strategy.”
   “What strategy?” Gwenhwyfar asked coldly. “And why did he not tell me of it?”
   Opening his mouth to yell some equally belligerent answer, Bedwyr paused, said instead, “I do not know why, I think because he did not want us to give the wrong reactions. He is rather hoping Amlawdd may do something rash on the morrow.” And he told her what Arthur had arranged.
   Gwenhwyfar leant forward, closed her eyes. She was tired, had been awake for most of the night and through the morning. “Arthur is taking a risk with this,” she said, looking up, her eyes holding a slight, questioning glance.
   To hunt, you need release your hawk,” Bedwyr answered. “There is always the risk she will fly free and not return.”
   “And Arthur hopes Amlawdd and the boy will try for freedom?”
   Bedwyr could only shrug, spread his hands.
   “And us?” Gwenhwyfar asked. “Has he thought we too may fly free, were he to unleash our tether?"

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