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The Charge of Forlorn Kings. A short story.
A short tale of the Kings of Ebrauc.
This is my first foray into fiction. I’m not great at it, but I thought it might be interesting to fictionalize the events that led to the deaths of Peredur and Gwrgi, the co-kings of Ebrauc, and two figures who I think are fascinating, as their motivations peer slightly through the veil of history, just waiting for you to catch a glimpse. I hope you enjoy this attempt.
Peredur’s heart pounded in his ears, echoing in his helmet. The sound of hoofbeats fading as his focus fixed on a big Angle in the front rank of the shield wall. The king aimed for the mans neck right above his shield. He would skewer him through the wood if need be, but that would be it for his ash-hafted spear. The thunderous sounds of the horsemen beside him began to get even softer. Peredur called out for his brother
‘Owain!” as he turned to look at his brother, he saw only Owain, his cousin Nudd, and ten of his three hundred horsemen. His eyes widened as his spear slammed home…
Three weeks before
“We should just leave now” Peredur moaned as he sat down at a table in their lodgings.
“No reason to wail over it Peredur, Clydno has been generous to us.” Owain cheerfully answered.
The king of Eidyn had been welcoming of them, though the feud between their dynasties was over a century old. Clydno was even claimed to be a cousin of theirs by some, but they all knew that was false.
“He wouldn’t even be king without us! Mynyddog Mwynfawr they’ve taken to calling him.” Peredur grumbled.
“He has been a generous king no doubt, I’m sure many think he deserves the title.” Owain answered his brother, ever optimistic.
“No doubt found Leuddan’s lost treasure. I have heard stories that it was buried Din Pendyr, maybe the lucky fool found it.”
“We would have heard if he did. He does well for himself here, and the men of Gododdin have accepted him as one of their own. They’d die for the man.” Owain answered.
Peredur looked up at his brother. “Well they can, I’d rather not. Has their been word from Rhydderch? Will he join us?”
“None. We’ll have to delay our plans if he does come at this point. His spears will be missed. I will be surprised if he doesn’t come. Any chance to wave Dyrnwyn around. You’d think he had found grandfather’s sword…”
Peredur thought of the magnificent sword, Caledfwlch, He had only faint memories of his father describing it, over a century old by the time his grandfather wielded it. The sword of his ancestors, used to fell Coel’s foes. He remembered the story well. His great-grandfather Mar was given it when he led his first warband, and used it until he died fighting Fergus Mor the Irishman. The sword was thought to be lost, but a young warrior named Bedwyr carried it away. Peredur remembered the old man and smiled. Bedwyr was the one who first told him of it. Bedwyr said he took it to the a widowed Lady who lived on a lake alone, her noble husband lost to the ever raiding Picts. She kept it safe, until Peredur’s grandfather was old enough to take it. The name reverberated in his head. Arthur.
“It’s funny Owain, Áedán named his brat after grandfather.”
Owain chuckled “Aye, that’d be his mothers doing. Remember grandfather ruled her kingdom for a time.”
Peredur had forgotten young Artuir’s mother was a Pict. He shuddered at the idea of such an unholy alliance. His grandfather took Pictland by the sword, Áedán with a marriage.
“I can’t believe Clydno convinced them to send warriors too. By any rate I’m glad the savages are on our side” Peredur shook his head.
“I’m going to sleep. We have a week before we march on Urien, no use mulling over who’s fighting with us, as long as they fight.”
“You’re right brother. Good Night.”
Peredur walked out of the dwelling provided for he and his brother and walked the battlements of Din Eidyn that night, restless. He drew the cold night air into his lungs as he thought on people dead before he was born. First his grandfather who had united the entire North, then his father, and again a cousin. Urien was his kin as well, his Uncle, as well as a distant cousin, but he had overstepped his bounds when he wouldn’t relinquish Catraeth once he and his brother had come of age. They would have taken it by force earlier, but the battle at Arfderydd was too costly. They had fought another kinsman that day, Gwenddoleu. The memories made him sick. Urien was the only one to benefit from Gwenddoleu’s death. His mind dwelled on Rhydderch who all but held a spear at Peredur’s throat to join him against Gwenddoleu. Rhydderch claimed Gwenddoleu was a pagan, and that Myrddin performed dark rituals for him. It was all lies. He had heard rumours that Myrddin was seen in the forests near Caer Wenddoleu. He wished there was some way to find him and bring him under their care, but Myrddin it was said that had grown as a wild beast, wily and untamed, evading all attempts of capture, either friendly or hostile. Peredur missed Myrddin and Gwenddoleu. They had all grown up together, as close as brothers. He thought of his father. The famed Eliffer, and his ‘Great Army’. If he hadn’t died to Ida of Bernicia none of this would have happened. He found an unguarded tower on the walls, sat down underneath, and slept.
Six days later.
Peredur had convinced Owain that they should leave a day early. The twin kings of Ebauc had brought more cavalry than anyone else, and Peredur wanted to ensure the horses were well grazed and fresh before the battle. Clydno reluctantly agreed. Peredur chuckled to himself thinking of Clydno as a commander. Everyone knew Madoc was the one who came to Clydno planning this. His father was over sixty now, and couldn’t shy away from a fight. The plod of hooves was soothing to Peredur.
“Do you think Guallauc will fight?” He asked his brother who rode lazily beside him.
“The one-eyed bastard will be there for sure. That man terrifies me.” Owain laughed.
“He’s got to be older than even Urien right? Iesu help us if he’s there.” Guallauc had lost his eye while out hunting as a youth.
“You know the people of Elmet claim a tree reached out and plucked his eye right out of his head!” Owain with an air of incredulity.
“They’ll make any claim to make their king the stuff of legend. I’ve heard it said his mother was some long forgotten goddess.”
Peredur paused as he looked to the road ahead. They were following the old Roman road south. There was a dense stand of trees ahead, and the twins were wary, good place to be ambushed. Urien surely knew they were coming. His son, who he had no doubt named Owain in honor of Peredur’s brother could have been sent. Urien sent him across the breadth of the island like a hunting dog. Urien’s men had taken to calling Peredur’s brother Gurci to distinguish the two. While Peredur and Owain shared almost identical faces, Owain was lean, short, and hairy, which had led Urien’s men to make up the nickname Gurci, or Man-Dog. Peredur was often called Paladyr Hir, or Long-Spear, both because of his skill at arms, and for his stature. He was taller than his brother and lean like a spear’s ash shaft.
“We’ll stop here for the night. Have Rhys tell the others to make camp in that clearing.” There was a wide sloping plane before the dense forest ahead. If they were to walk into an ambush tomorrow they would at least be well rested.
One Week Later
Peredur turned a silver brooch wrought into the shape of a boar in his hands. He inspected it carefully and thought of his father and grandfather. The craftsman was old when Peredur’s father Eliffer was born, given to Eliffer by his father before his first battle. The glass gems were inset around the boar’s head, with eyes made from the same deep red glass. He picked up his cloak and pinned it in place with the brooch, grabbed his helmet and mounted his horse. His kinsman Madoc’s camp was to the east.
“Care to join me, Owain?” Peredur called out to his brother as he trotted near his tent.
Owain stood up and stretched. “I guess.” He picked up his helmet a silver foil to Peredur’s gilded helm and mounted his horse. They rode for Madoc’s tent, and found Madoc, Clydno, and Bridei the king of the Picts waiting outside. The brothers dismounted, tied their horses to a post near the tent.
Madoc approached Peredur with Clydno’s son Cynon. “Nudd is here, he will not make trouble I assure you.” Nudd was Gwenddoleu’s brother. “He would like his brother’s seat from Urien, and holds no grudge against you or your brother.”
“First battle Cynon?” Peredur asked the young man, who grinned.
"Father has given our horsemen to me. I’ll be leading them alongside Madoc”
Peredur smiled and nodded as he ducked into Madoc’s war tent.
“Ælle is with Urien” Clydno quickly mentioned.
“He would have himself be Emperor of the Romans if he could, he may as well pay the Saeson to do his dirty work as they would.” Nudd spoke with a snarl on his lips.
Clydno walked across the opening of the tent and eyed Nudd. “Don’t be so sure Ælle will fight I have a man in my retinue, Yrfrai, his father was one of Ida’s nobles, and he speaks their wretched tongue. He made his way into the Dieran camp, and overhead something about being sent to Ebrauc. Ælle’s warband headed south an hour ago. Urien holds the fortress still, and has well over a thousand spearmen.”
“Gwrgant holds Ebrauc. How many men does the Saeson have?” Owain asked looking at Peredur nervously. Gwrgant was a man now, but had yet to fight his first battle. Peredur hoped his son would fare well if they couldn’t catch Ælle’s warband.
“Five hundred at least” Madoc interrupted. “If your son can hold Ebrauc Peredur, we could use your horsemen here, it will be days before they reach it.”
Peredur shook his head in acceptance.
“MY LORD” a man came running into the tent. Panting he got out the word “SAESONS” in between labored breaths.
“Gather yourself” Madoc glared at the man. "
The warrior gasped “Ælle is here! They circled behind our camp”
Peredur looked at Owain and the twin kings stepped from the tent and mounted. Madoc and Nudd followed.
Madoc shouted at Peredur as Nudd raced to catch them. “LET ME GATHER MY HORSEMEN, WE WILL FOLLOW YOU” Nudd caught up to them shortly after.
“I’ll ride with the two of you.” Nudd wore maille, and had a garnet encrusted sword at his side, but no spear or shield.
“You can have one of my spears and my larger shield.” The larger shield was awkward on horseback, but could still be the difference between life and death Peredur thought as they stopped in front of their camp. He bellowed “TO ARMS”, and the cacophony of men readying for war began.
The spear’s shaft shattered as it went through shield, maille, and bone of the man Peredur had targeted. The thirteen left in the charge wheeled through the enemy and tried to flee following Peredur. “Iesu help us” he whispered as he saw horsemen five hundred paces away charging at them from behind the Saeson shieldwall. Peredur saw the small hole in the shield wall where their spears sowed chaos amongst the shieldwall. Men were broken by blade and hoof. If they could just wheel and make it back through the gap Madoc should be behind them. Clear of the Saesons reach he turned and saw the shieldwall already closing. His brother and the eleven others turned with him.
“We’re dead” Rhys huffed.
Owain looked to his brother. Though they were twins Peredur always thought of him as a younger brother. The rear Saeson line turned and began to throw javelins.
“Urien’s welp will be upon us soon.” Peredur spoke plainly. “If we’re already dead then lets take him with us.” Peredur urged his mount forward as Nudd whooped, followed by the others doing the same. The thirteen formed their own wedge Peredur the point of the lance of horsemen. Only seven had still held their spears. Owain had lost his and held an Axe aloft while howling like a madman. The mass of horsemen was almost upon them. Peredur steeled himself and hoped that Madoc could break the shieldwall behind them. If they could charge through the mass of horsemen and keep moving there might be a chance to make it. Peredur could see now that it was Urien’s son Rhiwallon was at the head of the wedge, behind him Guallauc’s son Ceredic. Peredur was determined to them down at the very least. The thunder of enemy horses was interrupted by the crack of horseman charging a shieldwall, there was no time to look behind, as Rhiwallon was only moments away from skewering him on his spear. Peredur saw the spear tip and almost on instinct angled his shield to redirect the spear. Peredur swung for Rhiwallon’s neck, but felt the blade strike a cheekpiece. He twisted swinging at each man that passed him, keeping his horse moving, shield battered to splinters. The king pushed clear of the storm of spears. He turned to see his brother behind him, bloody but breathing. Nudd appeared from the mass with a broken spear shaft in hand. Three riderless horses pushed through the mass. They heard Madoc’s horsemen crash into the enemy. He had pushed his men through the Saeson shieldwall, and driven into the heart of Rhiwallon’s men who turned to try and retreat. The three kinsman wheeled their horses to try to make it around the retreating horsemen, but it was too late. A flurry of thrown spears from Urien’s men flew through the air towards the three men. Peredur urged his horse forward trying to avoid the spears, his shield was struck, another glanced off his scale armour and tore away the brooch that was his father’s so many years ago. The cloak flew away as another spear plunged into his horse’s neck. The horse kept moving and Peredur, followed closely by Nudd slid through the warriors retreating from Madoc’s furious charge.
Peredur took a man’s head, another’s arm, swinging furiously hoping to kill these men, his only chance to make it out alive. A spear took him in the forehead, snapped his head back and tore off his helmet as another burst the scales on his left side. The impact drove Peredur from his horse, and the breath was driven from him as he hit the ground. Pain shot through his arm as a horse trampled him, trying to spring to his feet he was thrown back down by another. The king curled up and protected his head as he heard Madoc’s men shout “EBRAUC”, no doubt they thought the twin kings dead. The crowd of horsemen passed and the King lay still, catching his breath. Shouts and screams of battle sounded from the Saeson shieldwall Madoc had torn through, no doubt now engaged by Clydno’s spearmen. He sat up and looked around looking for any of his men who were left. Stumbling to his feet as the dust settled he unwrapped the leather cord looped around his sword and wrist and gripped the hilt with his left hand, which was at least still usable. He started walking towards the chaos left in Madoc’s wake.
“OWAIN” Peredur croaked his dry throat painful. He saw slight movement in a mass and walked toward it. Crippled horses shrieked in pain as men groaned, dying or trying to recover their senses. Owain stood up slowly, bracing himself on a spearshaft
“I had to kill three of the dogs from the ground” Owain spit at the corpses, exhausted and bruised, but otherwise unharmed.
Peredur’s sword arm was limp at his side. Owain pointed to it without a word. “It’s broken, and we still have to get away from that” Peredur pointed at king Ælle’s formation. The Kings made their way for the treeline covering Ælle’s right flank hoping to slip past the carnage and back into camp. Peredur thought now for this first time of what had just happened. The men of Ebrauc’s charge would have devastated the Saesons. Why had they left? Why abandon their Lord? Did they favor Urien? Why not kill us then and there? three hundred men and three hundred questions. Peredur’s eyes looked to the foriegner’s formation to his left and glanced a group coming towards them fast.
“I can’t run” Owain looked at his brother and turned to the approaching men. Peredur turned and stood with him. The group of ten men stood in front of them. A big fair haired man stepped forward, with a bearskin cloak covering his unblemished maille and helmet. Owain stepped forward and pointed the spear at the man. His shield was long since gone, ruined to splinters, and his sword lost.
“You are the kings of Eoferwic, no?” The giant questioned. “We have not met, though you look as if twins. I am Ælle.” Peredur watched him draw his sword, it’s garnet and gold covered hilt glinting in the sun.
“Which of you is this Man-Dog I hear of? I have heard of your prowess.” Owain stepped forward and in the Season’s own tongue spoke back to him
“I am Owain, though foes have called me Gurci, or Man-Dog as you say. I will end this and my kinsman’s horse will destroy your warband.” Owain boasted. Ælle threw his own sword to Owain and waved one of his men forward. Owain dropped the spear he was holding and caught the sword, then turned the blade inspecting it. It was well made. Owain breathed on the blade near the hilt, and saw a pattern of twisted steel bars appear and smiled.
“I have a wolf to fight this dog. Cynewulf shall slay you” A broad and short man stepped forward, with a coat of scales covering a maille shirt, and a fine plumed helmet. He dropped his spear and shield, and drew his sword, then uttered "Fair is fair, Wealh” mockingly as he darted forward trying to catch Owain off guard. Owain parried a quick strike and countered with his own, immediately landing a blow on the Saeson’s chest, but his armour held firm. The two men exchanged blows while Peredur watched. Owain was a brutal and powerful warrior, but he had been battered and trampled just minutes before. Owain sliced across Cynewulf’s arm from a bind against his opponent’s blade. Cynewulf growled as he threw a flurry of blows against Owain probing for a weakness. Backing up Owain thrust hard into the man’s chest. The air was driven from Cynewulf’s lungs, but the armour did it’s job as he landed a blow across Owain’s thigh, to the bone. Peredur took three short steps to the spear Owain had dropped, grabbed it in his left hand and with as perfect a throw as he had ever made took Cynewulf’s throat. Owain limped backwards as Ælle’s men rushed forward…
Cynon rode across the field alone. Only a few spearmen were left, Madoc’s horse gone, all dead. Cynon had told them to flee if they would. The decisions of the day weighed heavy on his mind. If they hadn’t pursued they would all be alive. Urien very well may have been captured or dead, but now who knows. As he trotted through the field of dead men and horses he saw a few isolated bodies close to the tree line and turned his horse towards them. Tears welled as he saw Peredur and Owain’s twin bronze and silver scale coats. They were surrounded by the bodies of six Saeson warriors, one with Peredur’s sword still embedded in his chest. Owain had a spear through his thigh and his scale coat was burst on it’s left side, probably an axe Cynon thought. The Saeson long-knife that killed Peredur was still embedded under his arm, where the scales didn’t protect him. Another horseman rode towards him from where their ruined camp was.
“Anierin? You made it out!” Cynon gasped through the welling tears in his eyes.
“To my shame I live. I watched your father fall. He died as a warrior should.” Anierin a man known for his way with words was unusually plain in his speech.
“As he should, as I should have as well.” Cynon pulled Peredur’s sword from the dead man’s chest and placed it in it’s owners hands which he folded across his chest.
“We need to leave” Anierin’s eyes widened as he saw dust kick up towards Catraeth…