Facing the Bear – means facing the Imperator Artorius Rex in battle; it means facing death.
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The Silurian is Art
FACING THE BEAR:
Here begins Arthur's greatest battle and Britain's greatest victory over the Saxon and Angle alliance as they seek to wipe Arthur's forces from the land. The Angles, led by Arthur's old enemy, the Atheling Colgrin, begin their invasion at Badon Hill, where Colgrin and his force of eight thousand Saxon war-dogs face the Bear's two thousand in their last and devastating conflict.
Will Arthur stand up to the unbelievable pressures of his command? Or is this the end of his sense of duty to Britain?
The final astounding book in The Silurian series, Facing the Bear, will take Arthur, Bedwyr and Medraut to the summit of power, then level them as they take their last steps to Afalon when Arthur finally elevates Medraut to King of the Lothians.
From the Snake's king-making, Arthur leaves the Fox behind as he disappears into the outer world, opening the way for Bedwyr's own saga, the journey to The Last Man.
And there again, a great pounding in the distance, a monstrous pounding, I could feel it in the air. Birds began to rise out of the oak-woods to our left and away to the south. Flocks of them in flight and fear from the invaders and their terrible raping noise. I was terrified, but I must not show it. These were the very men who had almost killed me, my enemies, marching towards me, and in greater numbers than ever before. I could hear the incessant pounding drums, a great booming wave of them coming towards us, yet still we had not sighted them.
But the carnyx on my left was blown and its voice was so loud I cried out and covered my ear, then the other, and it hurt and yet, the sound was masterful, and ripped through the sky in answer. The other trumpeteers joined with the first and I could not bear the loudness of them. Arthur gave me a push and together we took to the stairs and down. With Efan was Llwyd and Brodi, for Arthur, there was Leon. I stood still so Efan could strap my shield on my back, he fixed the buckle over my fish-scale armour and as he did, the Saxon drums came louder. “Time to go,” Arthur said. And he said it without emotion, without fear. We took to our horses and rode out of the rear open gates of the fort, at the gates lined all those men and women who were not combatants, with them was Sawyer. I looked right at him as I went out, it seemed a moment unreal.
Down through the oak-wood behind the hill, down in a swing towards the plain, Arthur beside me and beginning to change. I could always feel him changing. I thought and believed that this change was a marvel in him. Powerful he rode, powerful he was, he led us to the plain and under the open sky where the birds had gone in flocks of fear. And when the captains saw him riding in, they blew their horns and the muster began. And I had never seen so many horses massed on a field before. For this day was unprecedented in our time.
All of the other wars I had fought at Arthur’s side were massive, but this? I had never seen its like before. Eight hundred mounted warriors? I could not be sure, with another two hundred with Lucan and Cadwallon, near another hundred Gothic mercenaries…a thousand equites. I swallowed hard as I saw them amassing in their units and lifting their hundreds of banners and flags and pennants. I could not breathe with the wonder of it, and I could feel them away to my right as they ranged across the entire open mouth of the valley.
And when Arthur took to the field, at their head, the sound they made to greet him was again, like nothing I had ever known before. For they cried out his name in one huge sound that rocked the ground under me, Artorius! They cried and the sound made my horse rear and buck and I rode him hard, pulled on his bit and made him still, for the voices behind us had scared him.
Arthur looked across at me, watched as Brutus fought against me, I took his reins hard and made his mouth bleed as I took away his head and jabbed him with my spurs. He cooled, shaking his head and I pulled in line with Arthur and we turned to face the onward marching Angles with their Saxon allies. I glanced behind me, I could not believe the sight I saw. They seemed thousands, not hundreds, these armoured equites. Directly behind us in a single long line fronted a row of horses and riders in a cavalry testudo, and behind them again, wedged shaped units of attack, spears up, like a walking forest, covering the entire plain from east to west.
“Unbelievable,” I said. I looked at Arthur, I said, “How do you do this? All this? How do you do it?”
It was almost as if I had never been to war with him before, and it was all new and amazing to me, breathtaking. I was cold and hot at the same moment. He looked across at me and in his eyes was the sign of emotionless command and power. And yet I knew well enough the true depths of his passion, that he was controlling it like no other before him. He never answered me. He looked forward again and said, “Wait.”
I waited as he told me, and listened to the endless pounding of enemy drums, and then, their voices, and…there they were, coming around the sweep of land between the two hills of Baddon and its sister hill opposite. A great sea of marching men, packed in tightly, wide and long, they had come on us in a huge single battalion. No units, only a single mass, just under eight thousand strong and trampling everything in their path. We could feel them coming, a thumping in the ground and our horses began to shy. As they marched they gave battle cries. Was this Death I saw coming towards me? Is this what Death looks like, sounded like, felt like?
They gave a monstrous roar when they saw us fronting them and blocking their forward path. A huge roar, for surely they were uncontrollable? No wonder their leaders had trouble controlling them, it was a great hideous animal, the head of it was a beast, and the tail of it was wounded…and it was angry and savage and remorseless.
Its noise was offensive, and it filled me again with terror. I doubted. I looked across again at Arthur, and saw he was breathing fast.
We could not make a charge on this!
No, no…no, no…we could not charge this…
I tried to swallow my fear but it was impossible, it lodged in my throat and I could not move it. I moaned aloud…no, it was the Battle of Lindsey all over again, only worse. My courage slipped, I wanted to run, but stood where I was, could I face them again…?
“Arthur!” I cried out. I couldn’t stop myself. The fear…
“Come with me, Prince of Gwynedd,” and he heeled forward to meet them, and I went with him, too afraid to stay behind alone.
We rode forward together, side by side.
The cavalry testudo moved forward behind us and stopped.
I could hear their horses behind me, and I did not look back. My guts were in a roil, but I forced it down, down, down…I moved closer to Arthur, because he was my shield, my rock, my home, my safety…we rode and stopped. Before us, a sea of Saxons, with their shields up and their spears down. They stopped. They could not advance with Arthur Rex sitting in front of them.
Then out from the head of their ranks stepped a man.
The Atheling Colgrin.
He walked towards us, as if taking a stroll, and as he came closer, there was a look on his face, a smug look. But to me he had changed since I had last seen him. Once he had been handsome, even beautiful, now his face was covered in a beard that was streaked with dirt or something…his hair in a long filthy blond braid, he was dressed in a heavy battle-jacket and there, a great axe in his belt and I growled low…just like the one that had taken my arm. He was brave though, to come so close, and he stopped mere feet from Arthur’s horse. There was no fear in him, and he smiled wide and laughed, hearty, like meeting old friends.
“Arthur!” he cried in our tongue, and held out his arms, as if Arthur was expected to jump down into them for an embrace. “Oh, brother, you look good, still young! Still dark. So, I come to face the Bear. Man, you have brought all of your kinsmen to their slaughter. Ranks of horsemen I see there. And you want me to fight for that hill behind me yonder.” He nodded. “But I have a mind to push on for your city of Badon, and bypass this hill entirely. I did not come all this way and suffer so much for a single hill!”
“Oh, but you did,” Arthur answered him and moved his horse forward a step. Colgrin did not move, and behind him, his ranks lowered their spears.
They were too close to each other and I moved forward, ready for my spear, Colgrin would taste its tip in his throat if he moved against Arthur now. But the two regarded each other long, and for some reason, on this wide plain, Colgrin’s ruddy face suddenly paled. It was as if he realised his mistakes always too late, for wherever Arthur stood, Colgrin could never pass.