The Fox now goes on a personal journey that will change his life forever, torn from Arthur’s side, he sees the face of true suffering…
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The Silurian is Art
Taken from the Clan Bear, the Fox is forced into the army of Cadwallon Llawhir to fight for the Men of Gwynedd. Longhand needs Bedwyr’s help to destroy Arthur’s rise to Imperator of Britain, for only Bedwyr knows how Arthur fights and wins. Longhand takes the Fox prisoner in his stronghold; here Bedwyr is forced to marry into the Dynasty of Longhand and White-tooth. Here he is abused and beaten, yet rises above all things to somehow join again with Arthur – now called the Red Ravager; the leader who hammers the Angle, Colgrin, in battle after battle. Away from these battles, the Fox’s journey is no less painful, and the wait is arduous; he waits for the Silurian to come into Gwynedd and tear down the armies of Owen White-tooth, who will kill the Fox if his wishes are not carried out. White-tooth wants Bedwyr to kill Arthur for him...
I could not remember how I came to get back to Lelah’s house, only Magnus told me later that they had to carry me on a rough-made stretcher, and even though he said I had woken up on the trip back, I could not remember it. Neither could I remember how I came to be in a large comfortable bed, in a warm room that turned out to be the loft under the roof of Lelah’s house.
I woke here, under the roof with a powerful headache that made me feel sick. Below me, down in the main room, I could hear voices talking, laughing, the warriors were all there, all of them safe…this was good, though every time I tried to move or sit up, I was attacked by a terrible spinning in my head and had to stay still. I stayed still for a long time, sleeping mostly, as I found I could not stay awake.
I must have slept for days, awake and then asleep. Sometimes I felt Lelah stroking my hair as she sat at my bedside and bathing my brow with a cloth. I said to her one day, “How long?”
She understood me, “Two days, though it must seem longer for you. You have not eaten, you must begin to eat. Will you eat now?”
She helped me to sit up, and this time when I moved, my head did not spin, and though I still felt too tired to blink, I could move, though the effort made me sweat and she smiled at me in the darkened loft, where all below I heard nothing but silence.
Lelah put a bolster behind my back and I dragged the hair out of my eyes. I was a mess, I knew, but she smiled.
“I will take care of you,” she said. “Master Magnus has gone back to Segontium with the other men; he has left you alone here. He told me to tell you that he trusts you, and that you can stay here till you are well enough to go back. Only, he has taken your horse, so if you go, you must walk, or else find another way. I will go and get you some supper now.”
She went to leave but I grabbed her arm and held her back, I asked, “My horse?”
“Badly cut and gashed by the rocks and stones. Master Magnus took him back for the stables in Segontium are better than here; your horse will be looked after.” She touched my face, lingered a moment then left me.
So I stayed in the big bed under the roof, and it was warm too. A lamp sat on a tiny table at the base of the bed, a large pot to piss in, and a chair sitting in a corner, wedged there under the lean of the roof that was thick with spiders’ webs.
For an age I sat up leaning against the wall, thinking and thinking as my head was clearing, Magnus had left me alone in Lelah’s house, and I remembered then…the day before? I had woken to see him sitting on the edge of the bed and staring at the floor like he often did, and dragging his hands through his hair and sighing.
Once I saw him get up and march up and down till his head reached the slope in the roof and he turned back and sat down again. And then, thinking and thinking like I did, I could know finally that Magnus was a troubled man, troubled and desolate, and he trusted me enough to leave me behind, alone. And if there was thing I despised, it was the betrayal of trust. If I wanted to run, I could do it from Lelah’s house. I knew I could escape over the mountains towards Dinas Emrys…and yet, to go that way in the depths of winter…maybe I would make it, maybe I wouldn’t, or maybe I would not betray Magnus’ trust in me at all, as I would despise myself if I ran.
But I would not run, I wanted more than anything to stay close to Cadwallon and follow his every move, his plots and his plans against my cousins, his plans against Arthur. I had to stay to know what Cadwallon was planning…all of this seemed far more important to me right then than getting back to Arthur…and this was the strangest feeling I had ever had, to chose a path away from him, rather than back where I belonged at his side. I believed then I could serve Arthur best by staying where I was to watch over the Men of Gwynedd and their plans to destroy him…
I would not run.
I waited for my supper and knew I was starving. I had not eaten since the morning of the battle against the Gael bandits—had we destroyed them all? All of it was a fog in my mind. I closed my eyes, dreamed for a while, all till I heard Lelah coming up the stairs…up she came with a large bowl in her hands, trying not to spill what she carried.
She came and held the bowl out towards me, she told me as I took it off her, “All we have…Master Magnus said he would help to feed you, to send payment for your keep.”
“When I get better,” I told her, “I’ll go out hunting, maybe rustle some pigs. Aye? What do you think?” and I tasted her broth; it tasted like something dropped on the floor then scraped up again, gritty and fatty, though when I gave it a good stir with the spoon, it was not so bad then…I could eat it as I was starving and a man could eat dung when starving…she sat on the edge of the bed and watched me.
She said, “You killed all the Gaels, Magnus told me. They are all done. He said they were trying to get that cloak of yours off you. They were going to batter you to death for the cloak.”
I shrugged and said, “Every time I cheat death…I think next time, next time-”
But she stopped me from saying anymore with a look…
A distressed look and I knew then she was getting sweet on me and this was the last thing I wanted…so I ate her food and said nothing more.
And when finished, I gave her the bowl and she said, “Come downstairs if you feel better.”
Then she got up and left me again, and I went back to sleep.
By the following day, I was able to get up and move without any signs of a spinning head, the headache was gone too. I got up and found some old clothes lying on the bed for me to wear. A pair of breeches that seemed to be made of the same stuff as boat sails, though worn enough to be comfortable, only when I put them on, they fell around my hips so low I had to tie them tight to stop them from falling down altogether. I slipped on the shirt Lelah had given me and went down the stairs. Here I found her sitting on a stool before the fire, rugged up in blankets against the cold, where over the top of them all, she was wearing my foxtail cloak. And when she saw me, she jumped up and said, “Oh! I am so sorry for wearing your cloak. It’s so warm and I am so cold.”
She looked afraid, as if I was going to be angry with her.
I told her, “Wearing that cloak can get you killed, but I won’t kill you for it. Lelah…wear it.”
She got up and ran to me and tried to kiss my cheek, but I stopped her with a hand on her shoulder and she dropped back and looked at me sadly. I did not want her falling for me and I sensed this in her, it was coming, and I knew I had to keep a distance between us, so I went and crouched before the fire and warmed my hands, hearing her go and sit back down on her stool.
She said, low, “We don’t have much food left. Tomorrow, I will go into town and barter for supplies.”
And I knew her means of barter was to sell her body, I hated it. And I looked at her, sorrow was on me for the way she was forced to live. All alone in this hut with a mad mother and an ancient old man. Already I felt responsible for her, to look after her somehow. But I had as little to give as she did, if not less. My sword-arm I could sell in battles local around the hills, but all was quiet since we had cleared out those Gael bandits. Perhaps I could find work somewhere in the town she spoke of, and even as I thought of this, I heard her crying. I looked at her, she was so sad and destitute.
I got up and went to her.
I sat down near her on the long bench and told her, “I’ll stay through the winter with you. I’ll help you get through till the spring. But then, I will have to leave, as King Llawhir will come for me and take me back to Rhos. You know who I am, don’t you Lelah?”
“No. Master Magnus said you are a prince. And once fought for Lord Arthur of the Clan Bear.”
“I am Prince of Dogfeiling, but Lord Cadwallon stripped me of my princedom. I was born a prince and this he cannot take away from me, even as he tried. I have to stay to win back my rights. And aye, I once fought for Arthur, he’s my foster-brother. Listen, Lelah, I cannot be with you. I can stay and look after you, but you cannot have me. I’m already married.”
And as I said this, it was like a shock inside me, as much as it was for her. The shocked look on her face.
“But I thought you were unmarried!”
“Na, Lord Cadwallon forced me to marry his niece, Lady Eira, the sister of Master Magnus. I do not recognise a forced married as legitimate, but the Men of Gwynedd do. In this kingdom, I am married into the king’s dynasty, and if I stay and prove loyal, Cadwallon will make me a prince of his kingdom. My own realm, he will destroy. So I stay to fight him, somehow.”
Her tears ran down her cheeks, and she told me, “And here I was…believing I had found a prince of my own, but that is too much to ask. I feel such a fool.”
I took her small and cold hand in mine, squeezed her fingers and told her, “Tomorrow, if the weather’s good to us, I’ll go to town for you.”
So we spent the rest of the day together, and Lelah was heartbroken I knew it.
Then I went to help her with her grandfather.
He was so old now, we had to get him out of bed and take him to his toilet, and back to bed again, sometimes he soiled himself and his bed-clothes, and I surprised myself by finding I could help clean him up, such things I had never done before, and yet I found I could do it with strength and I began to feel a lot of compassion for the old man…he spoke very rarely, though I could see in his ancient and watery eyes, the look of gratitude, that as a man myself, he could feel more comfortable with me helping him than with Lelah.
So Lelah boiled up the water for washing him, and once, he smiled at me as I bathed him, said in an ancient voice, “Where did you come from, angel boy?”
He made me laugh.
I told him, “I am no angel, sire. I’m a demon in disguise. So, I come from Dogfeiling, that’s all.”
“That is all? Why come so late in my life, when I am shitting myself in my own cot?”
“Maybe now is the right time for me to come, and not before. Did you need help before this, in your youth?”
“Never!” he crowed at me.
“Then, sire, the time is right.”