( Author's note: Okay, this is my take on the Arthurian mythos/the matter of Britain. Much like Geoffrey of Monmouth, I scraped together little bits and pieces of legend and history into a big heap, mixed in some of my own imagination, and told my own version of the story. I focused mostly on the works of Gildas and Bede, as well as the welsh legends/mythology, while mostly ignoring Everything that came after Nennius, using it only sparingly. I am writing this in fragments, as if it were pieces of a tattered manuscript found in an old monastery, with parts and pages missing. So the narrative will be a bit jarring, but it should be easy to follow. Also, there are a ton of anachronisms and historical inaccuracies in here, but remember I am writing this as a fairy tale/mythology/fantasy story, and not as history. Anyway, I hope somebody besides me enjoys this, and more chapters will be coming soon! )
It is the fifth century. The Roman Empire, once the great protector of the western world, is a dying beast on its last legs. When the last of the legions having left the island decades earlier, the inhabitants of the province of Britannia have been left to fend for themselves. Angered over their abandonment, the native Romanized British have expelled the last of the Roman magistrates and officials from the island. The chiefs of the British clans, formerly loyal to Rome have all declared themselves kings, carving the Roman province of Britannia into several small kingdoms that covered the island south of Hadrian's wall.
The regional kings, desperate for leadership with the Roman governors gone, return to the ancient custom of electing a High King to rule the island. Their first ruler, Coel Hen (King Cole) turned out to be quite the merry old soul, ruling with wisdom and justice. Under the protection of the ninth legion of the Roman army- called the Pendragon warriors by the local Britons, due to their red dragon banner- the island was kept safe from any outside invaders. Out of all the Roman legions, the Pendragons alone had remained behind when the other legions left, and they helped old King Cole's government keep order.
But the tragic day came when King Cole died of old age. The people barely had time to mourn before a usurper, Prince Vortigern, was chosen as the next High King of Britannia. Vortigern turned out to be a cruel and despotic ruler, hated by all of his subjects. The tyrant gorged himself on his luxury and wealth, while his subjects suffered under the heavy yoke of oppression and crushing taxes. Having no need of the brave men of the Pendragon warriors, he dismissed the proud legionaries back to civilian life, and they returned into their countryside villas and estates.
And it came to pass, that the Picts and Irish took advantage of the Roman withdrawal, launching raids and attacks on the near-defenseless Britons. Out of utter desperation, Vortigern hired a group of mercenaries to protect the people; an assemblage of brutish thugs from the tribes of northern Germania- the vicious and brutal Jutes. But these ruffians soon got out of Vortigern's control, and began preying upon the very people they were brought in to protect.
There were those among the Romano-Britsh nobility, however, who opposed the tyrant. In the village called Tintagel, at the far western tip of the Cornish peninsula, the last remaining Roman family of note still carries on life as they always had. A wealthy customs official, called Emrys Wledig by the local population, is well known for his hatred of the tyrant and his barbaric horde. But the tyrant will not long stand for any who would dare oppose him. Meanwhile, the aging Pendragon warriors were hatching a plan to retake control of their island, and to get rid of Vortigern and the Jutes at the same time.
Meanwhile, far away from the chaos and unrest of warriors and kings, stood a peacful port town on Britannia'sfar western coast. There, a young boy played among the meadows of his youth, unconcered with the violence and darkness of war...
Chapter one: Beginnings
Dandelions... he always loved coming out into the open fields in the summer, romping and jumping around, and sending their little seedlings flying. In those small and delicate pods, he saw the tiny fragility of life take flight, looking for a better future elsewhere after being violently thrust from the place of their origin. Even though he was already eight years old, even the little things such as this seemed to amaze him far more than the greatest wonders this world has had to offer.
"Ambrosius!" A middle-aged woman's voice called out to the brown-haired youth, urging him to come inside. "Ambrosius, it's time for supper!"
Looking out across the rocky soil, Ambrosius smiled at the woman with the gentle voice. His mother Eygir, gazing upon him with he golden hair and shimmering blue eyes, the face that he had known since he had first looked up from his cradle. She had brought him up here in this misty and cold place, where the sea rushes up to crash against the shore. Running towards his mother's arms, he embraced her before they both entered the large stone house.
This was his family's villa, far better than some of the smaller houses he had seen dotting the countryside. After all, his was the last Roman family left in these lands. Or as his mother liked to say, the last link to civilization in this distant and deserted outpost of Britannia. His father was a nobleman; born into the purple, and overseeing the merchant's ships coming in and out of this far corner of the kingdom of Dumnonia (called Cornwall by the Jutes).
As he and his mother walked into the kitchen he could hear angry-sounding voices coming out of the main hall. Normally, this would probably be his father meeting with the townsfolk from the neighboring village of Trevena, probably over some kind of fishing dispute or something. But what he was hearing on the other side of that door barely sounded like unhappy fisherman. For it was the voices of his father's friends, Kyner and Efrawg, who had not visited the villa in many a year.
"I'm telling you Emyrs, he's gotten completely out of control!" The deeper voice of Kyner complained, as the sound of his feet paced the floor. "Vortigern has gone totally berserk back east, letting those Jutish brutes run amok through our lands, it's unbelievable!"
"Well, what did you expect, old friend? The legions are gone, and Vortigern has to defend the island somehow." He heard his father's voice reply, in its usual calming tone. "Did not you and the other chieftains of the council elect him king, even over my very protests?"
"You told us he had eccentric and unpredictable behavior. But a lot of kings are like that." Efrawg's higher-pitched voice chided him. "How were we to know he truly was this mad?"
"You don't know those savages he's hired, criminals from the Jutish tribes of the mainland." Kyner warned. "And the two brothers who lead them, the ones called Hengist and Horsa. I have seen them burn down whole villages that refuse to pay the tyrant tribute." The voice grew angrier. "And he is throwing many arglwydd (the nobles) off of their ancient villas, and giving the land to his foreign mercenaries as payment!"
"So what do you wish me to do, my friends?" His father demanded, clearly at the end of his patience. "Commit dishonorable treason? Start a civil war to unseat the legitimately elected high king?"
"You are a respectable and honorable man, Emyrs Wledig Aurelianis. In the eyes of both the other kings and lords, and the church." Efrawg explained. "The other lords will follow you should you choose to lead them."
"You were our captain when we served in the Roman legion under high king Coel Hen, and you were a great leader then." Kyner added. "The warriors would be more than happy to follow you into battle once again."
"Kyner... Efrawg... I am sorry. But I cannot join your cause." His father said with a sigh, slumping into a chair. "I will most certainly pray to our lord for your success, but I cannot put my family and the villagers that rely on me in danger for such a perilous endeavor."
"You will regret this decision, my friend." Efrawg told him, as Ambrosius heard him depart through the door. "You may think you're isolated out here in Cornwall, but the great troubles will find their way to your doorstep."
"Take care of yourself, Emrys. Keep an eye on your family." Kyner advised, following the first out the door. "I hope and pray you are not putting your family in more danger by not taking action!"
Later, he and his parents were seated at the table, eating fine foods and drinking wine as his parents talked.
"Are you sure we should be ignoring their warnings, Emyrs?" His mother asked, worry clearly filling her voice. "I've heard rumors from the village women of attacks as far west as Londinium (which the Saxons called London)."
"The other chiefs can handle those ruffians, my love." He smiled, putting a hand on her shoulder. "There is no way the Jutes will come to Tintagel."
As the couple continued to talk, Ambrosius turned to stare out the window at the harbor. Ships from all over the Mediterranean sat in the dock, carrying trade goods from as far away as Alexandria and Byzantium to be bartered in the merchant stalls of Tintagel. These were the source of their family's wealth, his father told him, one of the few places goods still flowed in from the continent.
This wealth is what allowed his family to afford their white and glistening roman clothes, and the large house they dwelled in. But this wasn't just for their family, for as long as prosperity flowed into the island, the people would prosper as well.
But as the boy continued to stare out at the docks, he could have sworn he saw a few strange looking people crowded around what looked like a longship; such as the kind that came to trade from Germania. But as he tried to take a closer look at the keel, his father noticed his staring.
"Something out there you're looking at, son?" Emyrs asked, following his son's gaze curiously.
"Oh, it's nothing, my father." The boy replied, turning back to his meal. "Really, nothing at all."
That night, the town was ablaze.
They had come out of their hiding place aboard the keel boat. Over twenty Jutish warriors, armed and ready to wreak havoc on the village all around them, emerged and scatted all over the town to pillage and destroy. They set fire to the boats and houses, and the terrified villagers who came running out fell easy prey to their swords and axes. The two leaders, clad in chain mail and helmets, moved off towards the great Roman house with a mission on their minds.
He remembered awakening... his eyes opening to the sounds of screaming, and the smell of burning wood and timbers. Hearing the sounds of struggling, he ran out into the hallway. To his horror, he saw his father fighting with one of the brutes, whilst the other held his mother, obviously intent on actions that were less than savory.
"Let me go!" His mother pleaded, pulling against the Jutish commander forcefully holding her arms. "Please, let me go!"
"Not on yer life, me dearie!" The dirty heathen snarled, curling his lips back into a toothless smile. "I'll be takin' yer jewels and valuables, unless ye want ta feel the rage of me blade against yer throat!"
"Let her go, you monster!" Emyrs called out, swinging his sword at the other barbarian, while at the same time blocking his blows. Turning to see his son standing there, the Roman noble called out, 'Ambrosius, Run!"
Without hesitating an instant, the seven-year-old was out the door like a shot from a bow. The second Emyrs had been distracted, however, was just enough time for the barbarian to sink his blade into the Roman's chest.
"Hengist, the boy's getting' away!" The other barbarian exclaimed in his broken Brythonic dialect, clearly not understanding it as well as his native Jutish tongue. "Should we go after 'im?"
"Nay, let the lil' blighter go!" Hengist told his brother, plunging a dagger into the chest of Ambrosius's mother, and letting her lifeless body drop to the floor. "Vortigern's orders was ta kills Emyrs, an destroy his village. We'll take all the valuables here back at him as a prize, an' let the local woods take care 'o the boy. Without any food or family 'e won't last out there for very long!"
The two brothers chuckled, as the terrified child ran away from the village, and deeper and deeper into the Cornish woods. Fear welled up in his heart for his parents, and the friends he had left behind in the village. His father was a great warrior! His father would slay the Saxons, and protect Tintagel and it's people. His only concern was following his father's instructions, and running forward as far and as fast as he could to get away.
The boy was quickly stopped, however, when he suddenly ran into a towering form. The startled youth was knocked over, and at first, he believed he had run into a tree. But when he saw the imposing body of a man standing before him, the lad became frozen in fear.
"Riothamus Ambrosius Aurelianis?" The bearded man in a hooded cloak of green asked him. "Son of Emyrs Aurelianis, lord of Tintagel?"
"Y-yes?" Ambrosius nodded his head in silence, seeing the torque around the stranger's neck, and realizing he stood before a mighty Druid.
"I am Menw fab Teirgwaedd, seer of the oaks, and druid of the bardic tradition." Menw said solemnly, reaching forward."And I have come for you."
Overwhelmed by the shock and pain of all that had transpired, the exhausted Ambrosius simply fainted in this newcomers arms. Watching the far-off village at Tintagel burn, Menw carried the unconscious youth away to safety.
It was nearly a week after the attack on Tintagel, that word reached Britannia's capital of Wirtgernesburh. There was gossip all around the royal palace about the death of Emerys Aurelianus, and the disappearance of his young son. And when the high king discovered what had occurred, needless to say, he was less than pleased.
"Hengist, where are you?!" Vortigern's voice roared, filling the great hall. "I wish to speak with you, this instant!"
It took only a few minutes, before a towering man dressed in furs and a winged helmet came into the high king's presence, and kneeled before the man and woman seated on the two thrones.
"What is the matter, my lord Vortigern?" Hengist asked, removing his helmet, as he struggled to speak in his best Brythonic. "How may I be of service?"
"Word has gotten out to the people about your little raid on Emry's villa at Tintagel." The tall, beardless blonde man snarled, his blazing blue eyes glaring at the barbarian from under his spiked crown. "I told you to be discreet about getting rid of Emrys, not burning his estate to the ground! The island's king's and nobles will blame me for his demise!"
"I am sorry, my lord, but it seemed best to catch him by surprise." Hengist replied, through clenched teeth. "Emrys was a warrior, and taking him during the daytime would have made far more of a commotion."
Vortigern merely stared down at Hengist in disgust. Sometimes, the high king of Britania wasn't really sure why he kept this filthy barbarian around. Hengist and his brother Horsa had first arrived as the leader of a band of mercenaries from Germany- a collection of criminals from the Jutish tribes. Vortigern had called on the hired thugs to protect the Britons from the Irish and the Picts, but also used them as his personal soldiers and fighters; disbanding the Pendragon warriors they had replaced, who were far too honest and freedom-loving for Vortigern's liking.
"Vortigern, darling...please don't be too hard on my father." Queen Rowena pleaded, placing a hand on her husband's arm, as she sat on the throne beside her. "You know he was merely trying to do what is best for our kingdom."
Hengist smiled at his daughter's words. Beautiful little Rowena, the perfect little angel to control High-king Vortigern like a puppet on a string. Vortigern had immediately fallen in love with the Jutish beauty when she had first arrived in Britannia, and Hengist had claimed the entire British province of Kent as his bride-price for Rowena. Having his daughter married to the high king, put Hengist in a great position of Power of Britannia's government. And it was a position of power that would one day allow the angry Jute to one day betray Vortigern, and seize the entire kingdom for himself.
"Oh, very well, Hengist." Vortigern waved a hand dismissively. "You may go, but be ready for another mission I may have for you and your Germanic mercenaries soon."
"As you wish, my king." Standing up, the barbarian chieftain strode back out of the royal hall. Horsa was waiting for him just outside the doorway, and the two went storming down the hallway towards the castle's exit.
"So, got yelled at by the royal fool again, eh brother?" Horsa laughed. "It was a good thing Rowena was there to bail you out of trouble ."
"It will be the last time she has to bail me out, Horsa. The time has nearly come to set our plans in motion." Hengist pulled his long seax knife out of its sheath, running its sharp blade along the fingers of his thick leather glove. "I have sent word back to Jutland for more mercenaries, paid for by the land I revived from my dear son-in-law, King Vortigern."
"Ha! His bride-price gift is paying for the very army we will use to take his kingdom from him!" Horsa laughed again. "But won't it take some time for the entire army to get here?"
"Five or six more years, my brother, and then we can finally start our war." Hengist re-sheathed his long knife. "We shall drive these weak-willed Welsh back into the mountains on the island's western coast, and we Jutes shall take the green and fertile farmlands of Britannia for ourselves..."
After the destruction of Tintagel, Menw and his two comrades had decided to meet at the ruins of Dynas Emyrs, their commander's old fortress. The three conspirators were preparing for a bold move- one which, if they were caught, would spell doom for everyone involved in their little scheme.
"The boy is the key to a successful revolt against Vortigern," Menw told the other two simply, pacing the ruined courtyard as they talked. "All of our old comrades will flock to the banner of their old commander's son, and we will have the army we seek."
"He will need lessons in the art of swordplay." Efrawg agreed, placing a hand on the gladius upon his belt. "I shall teach him the use of a blade, and the tactics of a warrior in battle."
"And I shall tutor him in the written word." Kyner told them. "I shall teach him matters of statecraft, as well as politics, and literature, as well as history."
"Are you sure Kyner, an ill-tempered warrior, can handle the boy's education?" Efrawg asked uncertainly, looking over at Menw. "Perhaps a clergyman would be better suited to handling the boy's learning?"
"Oh very well, perhaps I can get a monk to assist with his education." He sighed, looking over at the druid. "Unless you think you could teach him better, old friend?"
As usual, Menw simply looked at them and said nothing.
Even though they had served with the bearded druid, who had been the boldest and brashest member of their legion unit, the two warriors were still bothered by his mere presence. Menw had not aged a day past thirty winters since they first met him, they did not know quite what to make of the man he had become. Even though he was at least as old as Kyner and Efrawg, the druid appeared only ten years the senior of young Ambrosius. And they could not understand why he would not take the boy's learning upon himself, as Menw was more educated than the other two of his fellow conspirators combined.
"Personally, I don't think either one of you is fit to bring him up," Kyner grumbled, looking between the other two. "Perhaps I should just take the boy for my own to raise, he'd make a fine little brother for my son, Cei!"
"You mean he'd make a fine little servant to do all of your lazy son's chores!" Efrawg retorted. "My boy Peredur would make a far better childhood companion..."
The two comrades continued to bicker, until Menw slammed his staff on the ground.
"Enough of this foolishness! If our plan is to succeed, you two must put this quibbling with me aside, and concentrate on raising the boy! Neither of you will take young Ambrosius back to raise at your villas with your families! Instead, he will be taken to the restored hill-fort at Celliwig, where you will both check in on him from time to time!" He glared at his two fellow conspirators. "We must now vanish from the public eye for the next ten years, and proceed to shape the events that will lead to Hengist and Horsa's downfall. I shall keep an eye on him from afar, until the day we are ready to present him to the people..."
It was only a few days later, that Kyner and Efrawg were on horseback, galloping across the fields and forests of Britannia. With them was the recently orphaned Ambrosius, who was still recovering from the shock of all that had occurred.
"To where are we going, my lords?" Ambrosius asked nervously, as he sat on the horse's saddle behind Kyner. "For I should very much like to know what is to become of me."
The two men looked at each other in surprise, before Efrawg finally replied. "To the plains of Somerset, on the border of our beloved kingdom, Dunmonia."
The two horses rode on, until they reached a large fortress, sticking up from the countryside on a small hill. As they approached, Ambrosius could see men hard at work, moving large beams of timber around, and building a stockade and fortifications. As the trio on horseback approached the gates, one of the men motioned for two guarding sentries in Roman armor to open the large wooden gates.
"What-what is this place?" The youth asked in awe, looking around at the high walls and buildings. "It looks so... primitive."
"This is the fortress of Celliwig, lad; which the Jutes call Cadbury castle," Kyner explained. "It was used for defense by the ancestors of the Britons, in the time before the coming of our honorable Roman ancestors." He looked out over the construction work around the fort. "Celliwig has been in ruin for centuries, but the chieftains of the island have ordered the reconstruction of most of the ancient hill-forts, to protect ourselves from raiding Picts and Irish."
As Kyner spoke, the boy continued to take in his surroundings. the fortress was surrounded by three earthwork walls, each with a large wooden gate. Several smaller wooden buildings; soldier's barracks, an armory, and a chapel, all scattered throughout the enclosed palisade walls. At the very center, stood a large feasting hall, constructed of large timber beams, and a thatched roof. Workers were putting the final touches on the buildings and the fortress, as the two men and Ambrosius dismounted from the horses, and entered the large feasting hall.
"You are probably wondering why we have brought you here, boy, and I do believe it is high time we tell you." Efrawg began speaking, as soon as the has sat the Ambrosius down on a wooden stool. "First, how much do you know about who we are?"
"I know the two of you and Menw served with my father in the Pendragon warriors." The boy offered. "that all of you protected Britannia when Coel Hen was high king of the island."
"More than that, lad; your father led us in defense of the kept the roman fighting tradition alive. And we used Roman armor, and Roman tactics, to defend the people. " Kyner Continued. "He was the British war leader against the Picts, and although we were not well known by the commoners, every warrior on this island respected his skill and leadership abilities."
"But that all changed when Old King Coel died, and Vortigern rose to power." Efrawg picked up again. "Vortigern felt he could not control your father, and so dissolved the Pendragons. He then brought over an army of mercenaries from the Jute tribe of Germany, and they became his thugs, enforcing the tyrant's will."
"But old Emrys still opposed him. And so the proud tyrant set his two Jutish hounds, Hengist and Horsa, to kill your father." Kyner added. "So we have brought you here, to train you to fight and lead, so you may follow in your father's footsteps."
"We plan to reform the Pendragon warriors, and the knights, kings, and nobles of Britannia will rally to your cause." Efrawg finished. "Several of our other former legionaries have agreed to our plan, and raised their own children to join the Pendragon warriors when the time comes. They shall be the core of your army."
"This is our plan to defeat Vortigern, and his Jutish mercenaries." Menw spoke up, emerging from the shadows, and surprising the other two men. "But we have no right to force this plan on you, young Ambrosius. The choice to lead the Pendragon warriors must be yours, and your alone."
"Gah! How do you do that?!" Kyner yelled, as Menw appeared from nowhere. "Sometimes, druid, I wonder if you are a creature of the otherworld!"
"This fight is not yours, lad. And I was against Kyner and Efrawg using you from the beginning." Menw added, ignoring Kyner. "So, what say you? Will you aid in a cause you are not involved in?"
Ambrosius thought for a moment, before replying; "Vortigern got me involved, the moment he killed my mother and father." He narrowed his eyes. "Aye, Menw. I will dedicate my life to defeating Vortigern. and protecting our land from the Jutes."
"So, do you seek revenge, lad?" Kyner asked. "Is that why you are agreeing to help?"
"No, I do not seek revenge. For my father taught me revenge is a sin against God." Standing from his chair, the youth looked upon the three men with eyes that burned like a warrior's. "I wish to make sure a tragedy like mine never happens to anyone else, ever again!"
"Swing your sword lower, lad!" Efrawg shouted, swinging his gladius at the boy, and knocking him off his feet. "Your enemy won't hesitate to bash your head in if you give them an opening!"
"I-I'm sorry, sir!" Ambrosius apologized, pulling himself back up to his feet. "I'll try harder next time, I promise!"
The two were carrying out their weekly sword lessons, and Ambrosius was slowly learning the art of the blade. Efrawg was amazed at how quickly the boy seemed to take to the weapon, swinging it and using the sword as if it were an extension of his own arm. What normally took a new student several weeks to pick up the basics of Roman swordplay, the lad had learned much in only a year.
"Tell me, boy... how much training with the gladius did your father give you?" The amazed swords master asked, astonished by the boy's ability. "Your fighting skills are extremely rough and raw."
"My mother never allowed me to touch father's weapons or armor," Ambrosius admitted shamefully. "She never wanted me to take up arms, as he did."
"So she didn't want you to fight, hm?" Efrawg asked, shaking his head. "Well boy, there are times when such fighting can't be helped... and we need to stand up and protect those who cannot protect themselves."
It was sad for the once-loyal centurion to see his commander's son reduced to such a state, barely able to swing a sword by his eleventh year. Especially since the boy appeared to have the raw talent and ability that Emyrs had possessed during their legionary days so long ago; in fact, the boy may possess a talent that surpassed his legendary father! Such a pity Eygir had not allowed his training to begin earlier, because now he might never reach his full potential as a swordsman.
"Are you two finished with your training yet?" Kyner asked, working away in his smithy, putting the finishing touches on a weapon he had been putting the finish touches on. "It getting on towards suppertime, and you know how grouchy Mimi can get when we're not there to eat her stew."
The three of them grimaced at the thought of such an unappealing dish, but slowly made their way to the feasting hall. They quickly downed the food, while the old crone served up more slop as they grimaced while devouring the vile substance.
"Oh now, I hope you're all loving the meal I made for ye!" The old crone hissed, staring at the three of them with her one good eye and toothless grin. " 'Cause there's plenty more where that came from!"
"Thank you, Madam Mimi." Efrawg replied, trying to sip the bowl of glop through clenched teeth. "Your amazing cooking... defies explanation."
"Och, you're far too kind, good sir." Mimi smiled, spooning up another bowl of the putrid substance. "And as a reward, 'eres another bowel of my wonderful cookin'."
"Wow, what a wonderful reward you've earned for yourself." Kyner noted, looking over at the bowl of bubbling vile that the old hag had set down before his old friend. "Remind me to never compliment the old crone on her cooking."
"We should just give this stuff to the Jutes, and let them eat some of it." Ambrosius croaked, trying not to throw up as he downed the strange gruel. I'm sure they'd surrender without a fight."
"Hah, is our little swordsman getting himself a sense of humor?" Efrawg chuckled. "You'll need that to survive the brutality of the battlefield, lad."
Efrawg was trying to keep his humor about him, but both he and Kyner knew what the boy would be up against. After rescuing young Ambrosius from the destruction of his father's villa, the two had brought him here to Celliwig (called Cadbury by the Jutes ). It was one of the old hill forts deep in the wooded groves of Dumnonia, the perfect place for the boy to remain hidden from Vortigern's men. Leaving Mimi and a small troop of loyal guards to watch over him, the two would take turns riding out here to continue his training whenever they were able.
"I say, my lad, isn't it about time for you to begin your studies?" Kyner asked him, raising his eyebrow. "Piran will be waiting for over in that makeshift schoolroom he set up for you over in the woodshed."
"Yes, sir!" The youth replied eagerly, leaping away from the table, and racing away from the toxic stew as fast as his legs could carry him. "See you after my lessons are finished, lord Kyner!"
"Piran? You mean that monk from the oratory at Perranzabuloe?" Efrawg asked in surprise. "I thought you were going to try and educate him yourself?"
"About after we brought him here, I decided to take your advice on having a man of the church educating him." Kyner admitted, taking a sip of wine from his cup. "He's done better with Piran than I ever could have taught him. After all of your visits here to teach him swordsmanship, I thought you knew."
"Excellent, the teachings of the church will do nothing but good for the boy." Menw merely shrugged. "He'll need to have his warrior spirit tempered by compassion, if he is to lead such a fierce people as we Britons into battle against the barbarians."
"Why would our people need compassion and mercy?" Kyner asked incredulously. "We can hold our own against the Jutish warriors!"
"It's not the Jutes I'm worried about, Kyner." The old druid replied, finishing off his wine with a final gulp. "If our battle lust is not tempered, there might not be a single one of those brutes to return home to Germania alive."
"And so, Master Ambrosius, Plato's theory of the forms were elaborated on by Aristotle, giving us a more complete perspective on the topic." Piran lectured the boy. "Now, let us turn our attention to your history lesson, today we cover Ceaser's battles in Gaul, and how he defeated the warrior Vercingetorix..."
The middle-aged monk walked in a semi-circle around his young student, constantly droning on and on about the history of the Gallican wars. but unlike most students his age, Ambrosius was hanging on the pedagogue's every word.
"Wow, that's incredible! Julius Caesar was such an amazing leader!" Ambrosius shook his head. "It's such a pity the Romans never made him their king."
"My lad, being a great warrior does not make one a great leader." The learned monk chided him. "And it is not always a king who leads the people when they need it most. Sometimes, what the people need is a great and noble duke... a hero, a symbol, whom the people can all rally around."
"But, wouldn't a great leader, such as a king, be better kind of symbol?" The lad asked, confused. "A firm, decisive leader, who people listen to without question, and respect his decisions as best?"
"While a decisive king can be an asset, my boy, but a good leader must also be respected." Pirian explained. "And a commander who leads by example, and serves instead of being served, will have far more respect than the leader who simply commands by fear."
"I understand, Brother Pirian," Ambrosius replied politely, nodding. "I will try to remember what you've taught me, and use it to aid the people."
"Very good, my boy." The monk replied, turning away from his stack of books. "Now, let us get our prayer beads, and head to the chapel to contemplate the glorious mysteries..."
"Young Ambrosius. " Efrawg asked, looking at the youth. "Are you ready to begin your training?"
"I am, sir." The lad replied, raising the rusty training sword he had been given. "Teach me the art of battle."
And so they began, repeating the words and little ritual they carried out on a weekly basis. the two warriors' blades clashed again and again. Thrust, parry, dodge, strike; it was liked a pre-determined dance, each move matching the one that countered it. No matter what move the master tried, the student managed to counter it.
"You have done well, my student. Your skill has improved greatly since you first arrived here." Efrawg smiled, twirling his blade. "But it is my moves you have gotten used to. If we are truly to improve your skills, you must have other opponents to face."
The trainer motioned towards the door, and two figures in Roman-styled armor entered the training arena. One had dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, and the other had dark tanned skin and coal-colored hair and eyes. The two youths bowed to Ambrosius, before turning to face his weapons teacher.
"We came as soon as we could, Master Efrawg." The dark-skinned one spoke, as the pair looked up respectfully at the tired old ex-centurion. "For what do you have need of us?"
"Ah, Bedwyr...Cai... so happy that you could join us." Efrawg smiled, returning the two youth's bows. "I was hoping the two of you could help young Ambrosius with his practice drills. Maybe give him more of a challenge than these old bones of mine ever could."
"As you wish, master Efrawg." The young boy he had called Cei replied, Before turning back towards Ambrosius. "So, you're the orphan my father is helping to train, the son of Wledig Emrys."
"It is truly an honor to meet you, Riothamus." Bedwyr agreed, pulling out his ax, and readying for battle. "But do not think we shall go easy on you."
Looking the two youths over, Ambrosius realized who they were, even though he had never met them before. These two were the sons of two of his father's warriors from the Pendragon legion, probably raised and trained to fight against Vortigern and the Jutes, just as he had been.
The paler boy was obviously Cai, the proud and stubborn son of his benefactor, Kyner. Cai was a proud and arrogant youth, who always spoke his hotheaded mind whenever he felt like it. No one could match his skills with an ax, and Ambrosius really didn't want to challenge him in that style of fighting.
The other was Bedwyr: a youth of Assyrian blood, who was the son of a retired centurion from the distant province of Syria. Serious and stoic, the honorable young warrior had trained throughout his youth in combat with a lance. Ambrosius was even more concerned about fighting the lance-wielder than he was about fighting Cai.
Trying to hide his nervousness, Ambrosius raised his training sword, steadying himself for the pair's attack. The two other boys charged at the young Roman, who swiftly moved to deflect several of Bedwyr's spear thrusts, and then spun around to defect one of Cai's ax swings from behind. Ambrosius managed to block and deflect several attacks from the two other boys, until his attackers both decided to gang up on him.
POW! As Ambrosius moved to dodge one of the lance thrusts, the wooden training axe came smashing down upon the boy's shoulder. Stumbling backward, Ambrosius was struck in the gut with the wooden spear, knocking the young Roman off of his feet. The boy was hit with several more blows, before he finally raised his arms and cried out.
"All right! Enough!" Ambrosius yelled in defeat. "I yield! you two are the victors!"
"Ha ha! So much for the great Ambrosia, son of Wleding Emrys!" Cai boasted, raising his lance. "You were no match for Cai Ceinfarfog, son of Kyner!"
"And I too have triumphed, noble Riothamus!" The other boy agreed. "I, Bedwyr Bedrydant, son of Pedrawd, have bested you in battle!"
"Both of you lads need to cease your bragging!" Efrawg spoke up, glaring at the two arrogant youths. "You seemed not to notice that it took the two of you, working together, to bring Ambrosius down!"
Both youths stood there, looking away in shame, as Efrwag turned back towards Ambrosius.
"And let this be a lesson to you, my young warrior." He put a hand on Ambrosius's shoulder. "The power of two, working together, can accomplish more than the power of one. Your strength as Dux Belllorum -the Duke of battles- shall come from how well you lead your soldiers as a team, rather than the strength of your sword, alone."
"Thank you, master Efrawg." Ambrosius bowed to his combat instructor. "I shall try to remember your wisdom when I am on the battlefield."
And so, the time passed slowly. For the next several years, Ambrosius continued to train with Kyner and Efrawg, and be tutored by Pirian. Once or twice a year, Cei and Bedwyr would stop in now and then, and Ambrosius would get to spend a day or two with someone his own age. But such occasions were rare, and the youth grew up mostly alone, with only books and teachers for company. But during that time, he had grown to be a skilled fighter, and an intelligent leader.
But upon the arrival of his sixteenth year, Menw finally reappeared for the first time since he had Ambrosius had been brought to Celliwig. Taking the youth away from the hill fort, he led Ambrosius across the countryside, towards the great plain of Salisbury.
"Lord Menw, why have you brought me here?" The boy asked, gazing at his surroundings curiously. "For that matter, where have you brought me?"
It was a simple question Ambrosius asked, looking around at the windswept fields of the Salisbury plain. The sixteen-year-old youth noticed that several others had gathered around in a large circle of in the area which they were walking towards.
"To a special place... a sacred place." The former Legionnaire whispered, lowering his voice as they drew near to the crowd. "It is the place where some of our people's nobles and lords met the hated Jutes, and their master Vortigern, in parley. And it is where those same chiefs, unarmed during a peace negotiation, were betrayed and slaughtered by the Jutish dogs, who had treacherously hidden daggers in their boots."
"Stonehenge." The youth said in awe, looking at the massive circle of stones they walked under. "But why have we come here, and why is this crowd of the nobility gathered?"
"Because we have arranged a ceremony, Ambrosius," Menw replied. "It is a very important moment in a young man's life when he receives his first sword, so we decided to make the receiving of your first non-training blade a spectacle to impress the nobility of Britain. All of those lords and kings who oppose the authority of Vortigern are present."
The crowd parted so that they could pass, and the boy and his master came to the heel stone at the center of the circle. As he approached the center, he could see what looked like a small outdoor smithy set up, complete with a roaring fire and the sound of a pounding hammer.
"My fellow Britons, I have invited you here today in order to show you a champion, one who will lead our beleaguered and blighted people," Menw told the gathered crowd, placing his hands on young Ambrosius's shoulders. "The son of your great hero, Emrys Aurelianus, who served as commander of Britain's last remaining legion, protecting you in the days before the usurper's reign began."
At the hastily set-up forge, Ambrosius saw Griffin, who was also among the greatest workers of metal that the Britons still had alive. The smith was heating a small crucible of liquid metal, which he now poured into a long stone mold, that Efrawg was holding upright on the heel stone.
"See now, as he draws his first sword- forged from the metal of a meteorite that fell to earth on the night of his birth- from the stone mold." The druid proclaimed, slamming his staff down onto the rock. "The very sword that he will use to protect you from the Jutes!"
"Now, lad! Pull the blade out of the stone!" Griffin whispered to the boy, handing him a pair of blacksmith tongs. "And hold it up for the crowd to see!"
Taking the tongs, Ambrosius reached into the mold Griffith was holding open, and grabbed the newly forged blade. Pulling the sword out of the stone, he held it up in front of himself, away from his own body so he would not be burned.
"My fellow Britons, I give you your hero -Riothamus Ambrosius Aurelianus ... Riothamus ap Emrys- and his mighty weapon... Caledfwlch!"
The crowd burst into a thunderous cheer and applause, as Ambrosius quickly thrust the heated blade into a nearby bucket of water, grateful that he had not scalded himself while handling the burning hot sword. As the blade cooled, Ambrosius withdrew the weapon from the cold water. and gazed upon the marvelous sword in awe.
The blade was a short roman gladius, having been pulled from the stone mold once used by the Pendragon warriors to make their blades. The hilt was decorated with the Roman eagle on one side, and the image of a wolf protecting the infant Romulus and Remus on the other. The blade itself was decorated with swirling line patterns, making the whole blade a hybrid of Roman and Celtic... a symbol of the Roman youth, and the Celts he would protect. As Menw, Kyner, and Efrawg went over to speak to the clan chieftains, Bedwyr and Cai came running up to congratulate their friend.
"Caledfwlch is a magnificent weapon, Riothamus." Bedwyr commented, as Ambrosius slid the blade into its wooden sheath. "It shall serve you well in battle."
"Actually, I prefer the name Caliburn... Excalibur." Ambrosius replied, buckling the scabbard to his waist. "But I do believe the blade will indeed serve me well on the battlefield."
"Indeed it shall!" Cai boasted, rushing up to where the two other boys stood. "For my father retrieved the fallen star-stone from the waters of Dozmary pool. It was a gift from Vivien, the lady of the lake, herself!"
"Let's just hope it will be enough to impress the kings and lords." Ambrosius replied nervously, as the great nobles of Britannia finished their discussion with Menw and the others, and began to come towards them. "And it looks like we are about to find out..."
As the kings and nobles approached, they greeted Ambrosius with smiles and congratulations. But when asked about giving their support in coin, supply, or soldiers, the responses could not have been more disappointing.
"I'm sorry my lad, but I cannot throw my support behind you." King Usai of Ceredigion told him sadly, "Vortigen's might is too great, and I cannot trust my warriors to a mere boy."
"Your father was a good friend, and I would have followed him into battle myself if he asked." King Erbin of Dunmora added, placing a hand on the youth's shoulder. "But you are untested in combat, and while I can allow you and all warriors you will follow you to remain at Celliwig, I cannot myself lend you any further aid."
"I thank you for that, your Majesty." Ambrosius replied respectfully. "I hope one day I may fight beside you in battle, as my father did."
"As much as it pains me to say it, I cannot help your cause... yet." King Caradoc of Gwent stated. "But when the day comes that your quality is measured on the battlefield... if you prove to be the warrior who will protect the Britons, I will give you the old Roman city in my kingdom, to serve as your fortress."
"Caerleon." Ambrosius replied, before bowing. "Thank you, your highness, I am truly honored."
Ambrosius was then approached by the most unlikely of supporters; Prince Vortimer of Powys, the eldest son of high king Vortigern.
"My father is a traitor to our people, he never should have married that wench Rowena, who calls herself my stepmother." Prince Vortimer told Ambrosius. "My brother Cartigern is the king of Powys, and both he and I will help your cause however we can."
"Thank you, Prince Vortimer." Ambrosius replied, encouraged. "I will look to your aid when the day comes."
"Riothamus MacEmrys! I wish ye the best of luck in your war with that tyrant Vortigern!" Surprised at being addressed in the manner of the Picts, Ambrosius looked up to see King Nechtan Morbet, ruler of the island north of Hadrian's wall. "I faced yer father many times in battle during the wars after the Romans left. And if ye be half the warrior he was, those foul Jutish brothers will be runnin' back ta Germany with their tails between their legs!"
"Uh, thank you, King Nechtan." Ambrosius bowed to the man covered in many blue tattoos. "And good luck with your war with the kingdom of Dál Riata."
"Lad, I have a boon to ask of you! But it is one I believe that will aid in yer quest!" King Nechtan stated. "Ambrosius, are ye aware ye have blood kin in the kingdom of the Picts?"
"Yes, I have heard my mother's sister, Lady Gwyar, married the Pictish Lord Leudon." Ambrosius replied. "Though I have never met either one of them."
"Aye, lad. And this be thier son; yer cousin, Gwalchmei." King Nechtan pointed to a young man about Ambrosius's age, his body covered in swirling lines of blue tattoos, and dressed in tartan and kilt. "His parents request he join your Pendragon warriors, so that the fires of battle will make a man out of him."
"Aye, let me join yer warriors, cousin!" The proud Pict held out his arm. "We'll drive those filthy Jutes back into the sea."
"Glad you have you, cousin." Ambrosius clasped Gwalchmei's arm, accepting him as a kinsman even though they had never met before. "We can always use another warrior, especially one as fierce as a Pict."
As Ambrosius continued to speak to the nobles, he noticed a beautiful young woman standing back among the chieftains, obviously the daughter of one of the lords or nobles, who was watching him. The youth had received little attention from girls in a situation like this, he simply stared back. His attention was finally drawn back to the present, when he was approached by King Cuneglasus of Gwynedd, who put a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm very sorry we couldn't give you more support, lad." Cuneglasus sighed. "But Britannia needs a true hero now, and you are most certainly no Arthur."
The words hit Ambrosius like a tidal wave. Out of all the heroes for a Roman Briton to be compared to, the mighty and legendary Arthur was the most famous of all. Lucious Artoris Castus had been a Roman general from the second century, whose heroic deeds lived on in the stories and songs of the Britons. Artoris and his Sarmatian cavalry had saved the Roman provinces of Britannia from a massive Pictish invasion, and grateful Britons had never forgotten him. If only Ambrosius were Arthur come back, the kings and nobles of Britannia would give them all of their troops and support to defeat Vortigern and his Jutes.
And as he stood there, those words began to turn over and over in Ambrosius's brain; If only he were Arthur come back...
It was late the next evening, when Ambrosius was able to return to the training grounds. He was just doing some practice moves with his sword, when he heard footsteps approaching from behind him.
"There you are." The girl from earlier declared, coming up behind the youth as he trained. "I didn't expect to find you out here so late, practicing with your blade"
"I always try to get a little practice in each day, it's what everybody expects of me." Ambrosius replied, turning to bow to the lass, whom he recognized from the sword-pulling ceremony at Stonehenge the previous night. "It's a pleasure to see you again... Gwyhanfader, is it?"
"That's right, Roman. I am the Lady Gwen, adopted daughter the Briton nobleman Cador, though many say the giant Ogyruan is my true parent." She stared at him, with blazing eyes. "My father served your father in the protection of this island, and now I will do the same."
She glared at Riothamus, a defiant look in her eye as she waited for his smug comment about a woman picking up a sword to enter battle. Instead, he merely looked at her curiously, walking around her and studying the angry girl who had come before him.
"So you're father's a giant from the otherworld, hmm? Well. your muscles look strong enough, and I'm assuming your father taught you how to use a blade." He noted thoughtfully. "But I do have to wonder how useful you'll be on horseback."
Angered, Gwyhanfader immediately drew her blade, and lunged at Ambrosius. As quick as lightning the boy had drawn his blade, and he parried the warrior maiden's blow.
"Don't you dare question my fighting ability, Roman!" Gwyhanfadar snapped. "I am more than capable of holding my own. The only question is, are you ready to lead us by the sword?"
The warrior maiden was fast, but Ambrosius's reflexes were faster. He blocked blow after blow, before quickly turning the tide, and started driving her back, he knocked the blade from her hand sending it flying across the training field.
"Hm, it seems that Efrawg has taught you well." Gwyhanfader admitted grudgingly. "I suppose you may be able to lead us, after all."
"Well, he certainly taught me better than your father did." Ambrosius smiled smugly, putting his gladius away. "You didn't even last five minutes in a duel. I wonder if you even have any skills that'll be useful to our-"
The warrior maiden had drawn her bow faster that Ambrosius could blink, letting the arrow fly, and burying the shaft in the wall just inches from his head.
"I may not be very skilled with a blade," Gwyhanfader added, putting her bow away. "But don't underestimate me on the battlefield, Duke Ambrosius."
"Duke Ambrosius is too formal, and my given name is Riothamus." The youth replied, as the two walked out of the training grounds together. "Please, call me Rio."
Gwyhanfader smiled back, walking beside him. "In that case, Roman... Rio.. you may call me Gwen"
Following the disaster that had been the exhibition at Stonehenge, Kyner, Efrawg, and Menw had gathered to plan what they were going to do next. Needless to say, Menw's two fellow conspirators were extremely unhappy with the recent turn of events.
"I can't believe this!" Kyner yelled in anger, pacing back in forth in the great hall at Celliwig. "All of those years of careful planning, preparing the boy to lead the people against the tyrant and his foreign troops... wasted!"
"I hate to say it, Menw, but Kyner does have a point." Efrawg shook his head. "We have only a few supporters for our cause, and even their contributions are somewhat lacking."
"Calm yourselves, the both of you!" The druid exclaimed, glaring at both men. "You are both too quick to declare failure, even as the boy you two raised is already trying a plan of his own!"
The two stared at Menw tensely, not quite sure how to react to his words. Menw had always been the strangest member of the Pendragon warriors under Emrys, and he had only gotten stranger in the years that followed. It was said that after Menw had left the Pendragon warriors, a small band of druids had taken him in, and trained him for their order. Though Menw had not embraced the worship of the druid's gods, he became a master of their mystic arts... or at least their destructive aspect. What made it even more mysterious, was that Menw hadn't aged a day since Efrawg and Kyner had first met him.
"And what, pray tell, are these' alternative plans', druid?" Kyner asked sarcastically. "How could Ambrosius possibly turn this situation around?"
Menw motioned for the two men to follow him, and he led them out of the great hall, and towards Celliwig's small wooden smithy. There, the three men witnessed the Great Smith Griffith, forging several suits of Lorica Segmentata Roman armor, for Ambrosius's warriors. Riothamus himself looked on, as the master smith completed over two dozen suits of armor, then began forging the armor of a Roman general for Ambrosius himself.
Griffin forged a gold-colored breastplate, with the image of a fierce snarling bear on the chest. Then he forged a golden Roman helmet, which he fitted with a red-plumed headpiece. The helmet had a hinged faceplate, that completely covered Ambrosius's face. But once the armor had cooled and was fitted onto Ambrosius's body, Kyner and Efrawg suddenly recognized the armor's design.
"Ambrosius, you... you look just like...Arthur." Kyner stated, dumbfounded. "That's the exact same armor I have seen him wearing in the old mosaics."
"Indeed lad, you do resemble the ancient hero." Efrawg noted. "Why have you had your armor crafted to resemble Artorius Castus?"
"The people want Arthur to come again to save them, and so he shall." Ambrosius made his voice sound deeper from beneath the helm. "I shall march into battle as Arthur, and only my warriors, and the lords and Kings of Britannia, will know the truth."
Kyner and Efrawg stood silently, staring at each other for several minutes. Finally, both former warriors began to smile, as they realized the wisdom of Ambrosius's plan.
"Very good, my boy." Kyner smiled. "This may just be what we need to win the populace over."
"And you will have your first opportunity, lad." Efrawg added, shaking his head. "We have received word that a band of Jutes, under the Leadership of Horsa, are raiding the nearby Roman city of Aquae Sulis. This will be the perfect opportunity to strike at our enemies."
"Then we will meet the pagans in battle, and defend our people from their tyranny." Ambrosius replied, a grim look of determination on his face under the helmet. "Let this be the moment that Vortigern realizes that Arthur is coming for him."
"Even though you and your warriors will be wearing Roman armor that became outdated a century ago, you will be the shining fire that sets Britania ablaze." Menw assured him. "And I believe I know of one whose healing arts, may be of use to you in the coming attack."
As Menw walked out of the smithy, Ambrosius looked to Kyner and Efrawg.
"Will the two of you be joining us?" Ambrosius asked. "You and Menw are the only three of my Father's warriors left."
"No, my boy. We are far too old for this sort of thing." Kryner replied. "Menw is ageless, and he will have to be the warrior from our generation who aids you."
"Strike at the Jutes for all of us, lad." Efrawg agreed. "And make the spirit of your father proud."
While Ambrosius was preparing for his campaign to Aquile Sulis, Menw had traveled north, to a sacred place of the old religion of the Britons. There, he sought out a woman he had met there a few years previous; a healer, who when he had hurt his leg traveling the countryside, had actually managed to use her medical talents to heal his wounds. this woman's wondrous abilities (not to mention her skill with a bow) would be of use to Ambrosius, which is why he had come to this ancient stone circle to seek her out now. Even as Menw approached, the red-haired woman in a simple green dress was praying faithfully to her deities.
"Oh, great mother goddess, creator and defender of us all... please protect Britannia from these bloodthirsty barbarians who serve a tyrannical king. Let our warriors triumph on the battlefield over these Saxon demons who threaten our lands, homes, and families."
A young woman kneeled before the altar, surrounded by the circle of stones. She had drawn a circle around herself, and lit candles on the stone lying before her. She offered prayers, prayers to both the mother goddess and the horned god, the great protectors of the old faith. She was afraid for her friends, afraid for what the coming battles would bring.
"I kind of figured I'd find you up here, Nimue." A male voice grumbled at her sarcastically, a small smile spreading across his face. "When your fellow priestesses said you had left Dunmonia, and headed north towards Brywn Gwyn. It was easy to figure you'd come to the ancient stones to pray."
"It's so amazing, isn't it Menw?" The maiden in the green Celtic dress declared, raising her arms and almost dancing around between the stones. "Our ancestors built these places, long before the Romans came, to honor the gods."
"These places were built by the people our ancestors took this island from, to honor gods we remember nothing about." Menw replied, generating a fireball in his left hand, and tossing it over and catching it in his right. "I can't understand why you'd come this far north to pray to your old gods, when we have more preparation to do, before the next battle with Vortigern's forces."
"Have a care with your words, Druid." Nimue warned him, placing her dagger back into the small sheath next to her bosom. "It is not wise to insult the gods of your ancestors, even if you have abandoned them for the new religion, as all of the other Britons have."
"I don't fear your magic, witch, for I have magic of my own." He threw the fireball back and forth between his two hands, before breathing on it and turning it to ice, then letting it fall to the ground and shatter. "I am Menw son of Teirgwaedd, and my magic comes from the otherworld; it is a power that is greater than your own."
"Your power is nothing more than a series of tricks, Druid. Your abilities are unnatural, as is the fact you have never aged past thirty in all the years I have known you." Nimue scoffed, scowling at the man in the brown tunic, long coat, and goggles. "Real magic makes things heal and grow. It is said your father Teirgwaedd was a strange creature from the otherworld, and he gave you a power of the mind that can only destroy." She shot him a death glare. "Now, why have you followed me here?"
"Ambrosius is taking the Pendragon warriors on a quest." Menw scoffed, turning to walk out of the circle of stones. "Your medical talents and magical healing arts are needed in our coming adventure."
"Ah, Ambrosius the Roman, yes." She replied with a nod. "My mother, a great priestess of the goddess, had prophesied the son of Emrys would save Britania from the invaders. So it is my fate to help him. So, I shall gladly join you on this quest."
"Your mother? what happened to the Lady Vivian was a tragedy." The druid shook his head. The healing arts she taught you were great, but they could not save her from drowning in the frozen waters of Dozmary pool."
"She fell through the ice when she was trying to save a child from drowning." Nimue protested. "The Britons now venerate her as the lady of the lake, a queen of the fey world."
"Well, the lady of the lake is of no help to us now." Menw pointed out, as he started to walk away. "But your healing talents most certainly are, so if you are done with your silly little prayer, the other Pendragon warriors await us at Celliwig."
"How dare you take that tone with me!" before noticing Menw was leaving. "Wait, where are you going? Don't you dare turn your back on me, druid!"
Pulling a small dart out of her belt, she threw it at the back of Menw's neck. It froze just inches away from his skin, floating there in the air for a few seconds.
"You're nothing to be afraid of, witch." The druid chuckled, before casting the dart away with a simple gesture. "In fact, it is you who should be afraid of me."
Nimue howled out several curses and profanities, slowly following Mnew back towards where he had two horses tethered. The only thing that held her temper back, was the knowledge that the druid was simply provoking her to get her to come back to Celliwig.
The city of Aquae Sulis had seen better days. Once a proud and sparkling Roman metropolis, the homes and shops now had a ramshackle and run down look to them. Even the great Roman baths and the adjoining temple had cracked windows and peeling paint, though the baths and hot springs still remained in heavy usage. Still, the inhabitants of the city carried on life as best they could, proud to still be city-dwelling Romans in a decaying land, headed into a dark age.
As Horsa and twelve of his Jutish warriors came thundering into Aquae Sulis on horseback, all of the town's inhabitants scurried back into their homes and shops. Looking around with a satisfied smile, it always pleased the Jute to see how much the Britons feared him.
"This city owes taxes to lord Vortigern, men. And we are here to collect" Horsa motioned for his men to dismount. "Go into every home and shop, and help yourselves to anything- or anyone- of value."
His warriors fanned out bursting their way into homes, and stripping out anything valuable they could find. Mostly the Jutes simply carried off what they wanted, walking out of the houses carrying various gold, jewels, and irreplaceable roman treasures. Most townsfolk simply stepped out of the way, and let the ruffians take what they wanted. Those few who resisted were cut down by sword and seax long knife. Even the baths themselves, and the abandoned temple of Sulis Minerva. were looted of their ancient treasures and offerings left by pilgrims over the centuries.
All of this loot was heaped in front of Horsa, who stared down at it greedily. Dismounting from his steed, the jute picked up a small golden statue of the goddess Minerva, in order to admire it.
"We have gathered the spoils of the Romans and the Britons here, my brothers." He threw the statue back onto the pile, as the other Jutes began loading the wealth into a cart. "Let us enrich ourselves at their expense."
The Britons who inhabited the city glared out of their windows at the Jutish leader in contempt. Many rumors had spread around Britiania about the vile Horsa and his brother Hengist, few of them complimentary. The sons of the Jutish chief Wihtgils, the two brothers were named for a pair of Germanic horse gods their father admired. Exiled from their homeland in Northern Germania for crimes against their own people, the two had taken to the sea, gathering a band of mercenaries as they sailed from place to place in the crumbling Roman empire; sometimes fighting for their fellow barbarians, sometimes against them. Horsa was supposed to have a streak of sadistic cruelty his brother lacked, though Hengest made up for it with a cold and calculating strategic mind.
As Horsa admired their gathered treasure, the Jutes heard a series of screams coming from a nearby house. Two Jutes suddenly emerged from the Roman dwelling, dragging a screaming younger woman after them. Dropping her in front of Horsa, one of the Jutes pointed an accusing finger at their prisoner.
"Lord Horsa, this wench was resisting our attempts to collect Vortigern's tribute!" The Jutish thug growled. "She needs to be punished for her defiance!"
"You were trying to take my family's Lares!" The young woman yelled back angrily, pointing the small statues of guardian statues on the pile. "They are my family's household guardian spirits!"
"Ha! And here I thought all of you Britons had abandoned your old gods!" Horsa drew his blade. "It is commendable to be faithful to the gods, young lady, however, you cannot be permitted to show defiance to High-King Vortigern."
And with a single swift stroke of his blade, Horsa separated the young woman's head from her body. The lifeless corpse fell to the ground, as the head, a horrified expression on its face, rolled away to the side.
"Hey now, she didn't have to lose her head over the matter." Horsa chuckled, motioning for his Jutes to take the body away. "A woman's place is in the kitchen... put her head into the oven in her house, then set the whole place on fire."
The Jutes had cleaned out the last of the loot, and were preparing to leave, when one of them swore they saw movement on one of the rooftops. When the jute went over to look, he could make out a shadow moving along the tops of the buildings. Turning back to Horsa, he yelled;
"Hey, I think somebody is up there."
The words were barely out of his mouth, before an arrow shot through his skull, killing him on the spot,. Suddenly, four figures in Roman armor jumped out from hiding, catching the Jutes by surprise, and cutting several of them down before they could even move.
It all happened so fast... the young warriors, following the intense training they had received their entire lives, quickly overwhelmed the barbarians brutes. The Jutes, caught totally by surprise- and shocked to actually see Britons actually fighting back- were barely able to put up a fight from the vicious onslaught at first. Cei cleaved one jute clean in half before he could even raise his blade, and Bedwyr speared another Jute straight through the chest before he could even react. Horsa jumped back onto his steed, as his men started to fall all around him.
"We're under attack!" The Jutish chief cried out, trying to rally his men. "Defend yourselves! Defend yourselves!"
As two of his men rushed back to their horses, they were cut down by arrows to the back, shot by Gwyhanfader and Nimue standing on the rooftops. A third Jute jumping for his horse had Gwalchmei leap into his path, and the two exchanged several sword two swings of his pair of short swords, the dual-wielding Pict first knocked the jute's blade clean from his hands with one sword, before taking the barbarian's head clean off with the other.
The remaining Jutes rushed to fight their attackers, but the Pendragon warriors met them, blow for blow. Sword clashed against shield, and weapons clanged against one another in a fury of attacks. The heroes had the advantage of surprise at first, but now they had to fight for their lives against much more seasoned warriors. But from the sidelines, the people of the town looked out to see several fighters in outdated Roman armor, defending them from the Jutes. Then they saw one in golden helmet and gear, which they recognized from both their legends, and their mosaics.
"Can it be... Arthur?" One whispered.
"It is! It is Artoris and his Sarmatian knights!" Another called out.
"Arthur has come! He has returned to save us!" A third cried.
Ambrosius was right in the middle of it, hacking away with his gladius, and blocking with his giant tower shield. After absorbing several crushing blows from a Jute from a mace, Ambrosius saw an opening, and slashed one of the Jutes across the chest, causing him to drop. The Roman barely had time to absorb the fact he had taken a life- a Jute who had murdered countless Britons, but a life nonetheless- when he noticed Horsa trying to get away. But as he saw the Jute's face under the helmet, he recognized one of the barbarians who had attacked his family all those years ago.
"Hold it right there, barbarian pig!" Ambrosius yelled, jumping in front of Horsa to block his escape. "Surrender, and I give you my word you will be spared."
"A Jute never surrenders!" Horsa snarled drawing his own blade. "But tell me, who are you?"
"I am Arthur, who pulled the sword from the stone." Ambrosius replied simply. "I am Arthur, who will free Britannia from the Germanic invaders."
"You cannot be Arthur!" Horsa narrowed his eyes. "He died centuries ago!"
"There will always be an Arthur, for every age that needs one." Ambrosius replied boldly. "The last was a Roman general. Perhaps the next one will be a simple commoner... or perhaps he will be a king." He tossed his shield aside, and raised his sword. "I am only just a part of the legend."
"Well, yours will be a legend that ends here!" Horsa yelled, swinging his sword angrily. "None may cross the servants of Vortigern, and live!"
Horsa lunged at Ambrosius, and their swords clashed together. The Jute's attacks were as quick as lightning, and the Roman had to weave and bob quickly to avoid the slashes of Horsa's blade. The Jute had a slight speed advantage on the more muscular, burlier Roman youth, despite the fact Horsa was far older than his opponent. Their blades met again and again in the fiercest of combat- thrust, thrust, parry, parry, block, block, dodge... Horsa even getting a few slashes and cuts on the areas Ambrosius's armor left exposed. But the Barbarian finally began to slow, and Ambrosius finally saw an opening. Dodging an upward slash, the Roman youth moved as if he were going to perform a downward slice, then changed direction to slash the Jute's legs out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground. Ambrosius was upon him in an instant, the blade of his gladius at the barbarian's throat.
"You've bested me in combat, whelp. But only because you and your warriors took us by surprise." Horsa spat, even as he was slowly reaching for the seax knife in his boot. "My brother Hengist will avenge me, 'Arthur', and your body will be offered as a blood-eagle sacrifice to Wodan!"
"That may be, Jutish dog." Ambrosius replied angrily. "But you will not be there to witness it!"
Horsa quickly pulled out the knife, but Ambrosius plunged his blade into the Jute's throat before he could stab the Roman. Horsa gurgled as he spat up a crimson liquid, before his lifeless body collapsed back onto the ground. Wiping Caliburn clean of the barbarian's blood, Ambrosius raced back to here the others had been fighting the Jutes. But when he arrived, the Jutes were all slain, and Nimue was healing tending all of their wounds. Menw had also arrived, and stepped forward to greet his returning commander.
"Ah, it seems you have slain Horsa, well done." The druid congratulated him, turning towards the others. "And you all did well for your first battle, as well."
"We could not have done it without your magic, Druid." Cai stated. "Your spell had confounded their senses, and allowed us to take them by surprise, and keep them in a state of panic, was a great asset to us."
"It is only a pity you had to sit the battle out, in order to maintain the spell." Bedwyr sighed. "We most certainly could have used the aid of a druid in this battle!"
"Nevertheless, it would be best if we aided the townsfolk, then quickly returned to Celliwig." Gwen cautioned, even as the town's inhabitants began to emerge from their homes. "It will not be long, until word of this victory gets back to Vortigern and Hengist."
In his royal palace, Vortigern was tossing and turning in his bed, for the high king of Britannia was dreaming...
In his dream, Vortigern was trying to build a palace high on a hill, a retreat in the mountains where he could get away. But the walls of his castle kept crumbling, every time his workmen tried to assemble it. Vortigern's wise men tell him to sacrifice the son of a Roman consul, and mix his blood in the mortar. But when the high king's soldiers seize such a child and bring him to Vortigern, the boy tells the high king to have his men dig beneath the foundations of the castle. There, Vortigern finds two dragons- a red dragon and a white Dragon- fighting each other. But to Vortigern's horror, the red dragon -the symbol of the Pendragon legion, killed and devoured the white dragon- his own symbol. And as the dream ended, Vortigern realized the youth he had tried to sacrifice was Emrys's missing son, and the two dragons were an omen of his own destruction...
Then Vortigern woke up, screaming in terror. Even as Rowena tried to comfort her husband, the superb tyrant knew that death was coming for him.
And outside, on the ramparts of the royal palace, Hengist received a message from a Jutish courier. For a second the barbarian's eyes went wide, then he screamed a furious rage to the heavens, vowing vengeance on a mysterious Briton warlord named 'Arthur'...
Word of 'Arthur's' victory at Aquae Sulis had spread across the island of Britania, and fighters were coming from every kingdom on the island to join his warrior band. All of these proud warriors were now gathered in the great feasting hall of Celliwig, enjoying food and drink, as Ambrosius and Gwen sat at the head of the table, looking on. The two were flanked by Menw on one side, advising and counseling as best he could, and Blaes, the warrior- priest whom had been chosen as the confessor of 'Arthur's' war band. All of them stared in disbelief at all of the warriors who had come.
"I can't believe these many warriors have shown up to join us. "Ambrosius whispered to Gwen, his face... and identity... hidden behind his golden helm. "I now have twenty-four warriors, all ready to serve in the Pendragon legion!"
"They all believe you are truly Arthur come back." Bedwyr spoke silently, looking up from the table where he was eating. "Only the nobles and kings, as well as a few of your closest warriors, and kings know the truth."
"And it's best we keep it that way," Cai whispered in agreement, putting down his drink. "Ambrosius is becoming a rallying point, under this assumed identity. We don't know how these warriors would take the truth."
"You do not give them enough credit, Cai. These warriors will serve Rio well." Gwen replied, putting a hand on his shoulder. "They are all brave warriors, each dedicated to bringing an end to the tyranny of Vortigern and his Jutes!"
"Ahh, but you are overlooking something, my dear Gwyhanfadar." Menw cautioned her. "As a leader of a warrior band, it falls to Ambrosius to carry out quests for both his warriors, and anyone who claims him as a kinsmen." The Warrior-druid leaned on his staff. "Such quests could be extremely dangerous, and they could even take us on a journey to the otherworld!"
Overhearing Menw speak, Gwalchmei stood up from the place at the table where he sat with Cai and Bedwyr, and raised his glass in a boast.
"Ach, ye worry yerself too much, Druid!" The Pictish warrior boasted. "There isn't anything me co-ogha... me cousin.. canna handle, with us at his side!"
And it was at that moment, that Glewlwyd Mighty-grasp, the gate-keeper of Celliwig, came before Ambrosius seat in the great hall, and spoke;
"My lord Arthur... there is a young man at the gate, who claims he is your kinsman." Glewlwyd announced. "He is asking for the Pendragon legion's aid on a quest, something to do with the Jutes attacking his village..."