Awfully Artful Arthur
Or is it
Clever Cunning Cerdic?
(an almost true story)
A Wendlewulf Productions Book
Published by Wendlewulf Productions at Shakespir 2015
Copyright GR Boxell 2015
Cover by John Clark ( [email protected] )
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To all those who have already written an “Arthur” story.
Sorry but Grimm Wendlewulf, the old man, who is also a young man; he of the one eye; friend of wolves and ravens; the old uninvited guest at your mead bench – he says you have it all wrong – and he says he was there so he should know!
This is also in memory of Kim Sidorn founder & Ealdorman of the Regia Anglolrum re-enactment group.
There are few primary sources for Arthur and even then not all mention him by name. Most of the sources were written years after his possibly being around. “De Excidio Britanniae, c.540 by a monk called Gildas: Arthur is not named in this document. “The Battle of Llongborth”, c.480 it being an English translation of a sixth century Welsh poem, called “Elegy for Geraint” which mentions Arthur. “Historia Brittonum”, c.830 by a monk called Nennius, which gives special emphasis to Arthur. Then there is the “Annales Cambria”e, c. 970 which contains two interesting references to King Arthur. Lastly there is the “Legend of St. Goeznovius”, c. 1019 from Brittany and in which Arthur is called “King of the Britons”. Many have questioned if this last document was in fact written as early as it is claimed to have been.
Grimm’s tale is inspired by “Arthur, Cerdic & the formation of Wessex” (http://levigilant.com/Bulfinch_Mythology/bulfinch.englishatheist.org/arthur/Caradoc-Vreichvras.htm) by John C. Rudmin, 864 Chicago Av, Harrisonburg, Joseph W. Rudmin, Physics Dept., James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg
Old English letters that may be used are:
Æ æ: Asc – flat “a” as in Alfred.
Ð ð: Eth – “th” with tongue behind the teeth as in teeth.
Þ þ: Thorn – “th” with tongue between teeth as in “thorn”.
Chapter 1: Happy Hastings Holiday
The youth looked at the speaker.
‘Don’t you step on my blue sued baldric! You can do anything, but keep off of my blue suede baldric.’ The large bearded man encased in a chain-maille byrnie gave a grin to the gangly youth entering the coolness of the geteld tent where warriors were armouring up ready for the day’s re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings.
Leofwine, or Jamie as the Wimbledon youth was normally known outside of the re-enactment group, gave a shy smile as he stepped over the leather sword harness at his feet. ‘You could make a song of that,’ he re-joined.
‘Bit old fashioned that song,’ contributed a muscular young man as his red haired head emerged from the neck of the maille byrnie that he was wriggling into.
‘So is wearing this gear and going out to fight the Norman invader,’ the bearded man reminded the red head.
Another armoured man came over and stood in front of Jamie so that the youngster could adjust his leg bindings which had started to come loose. ‘Well our ancestors should have finished off that bastard William and his garlic smelling friends in 1066, then we wouldn’t have to try and do again each year.’ He looked down and saw that his leg bindings had now been secured and that the small hooks on the top bind were now firmly in place. ‘Thanks’ young Leofwine,’ he said before leaving the shade of the geteld and entering the weak October sunshine outside.
‘Good lad Leofwine,’ the bearded man added. ‘Next year, if you keep up the weapons practice, you may be able to join us in in battle instead of just being our knave.’
‘I hope so.’ Jamie moved further down the geteld to help another warrior find a missing arming cap. ‘I mean,’ he called over his shoulder, ‘it is fun camping with you all and watching the re-enactment, but what I really want is to hold a spear and shield and stand shoulder to shoulder with you all in the shield wall.’
‘Yes, well,’ yet another warrior pushed past, adjusting his conical spangenhelm as he went. ‘Wait till you get bruised and battered, then you may not be so keen.’
‘Don’t put him off Eadmund; Regia Anglorum needs as many warriors as it can get to beat Vikings and Normans.’
‘Yes, but today is the public show and we have to stick to the script and therefore we will have to lose to the Norman yet again.’
The bearded man slipped his blue baldric over his shoulder, adjusted it so that it fell into place, and then held his arms out at 90 degrees to his body so that Jamie could bring a matching belt around the man’s considerable girth. ‘Thank you Leofwine.’ The man took hold of the belt, secured the buckle, and then tucked the surplus leather under and through the belt. He gave a shrugged wiggle to make everything settle. ‘Today we lose, because the script says so but tomorrow ….’
‘Tomorrow, as happens each year, with no public to watch, we beat the crap out of the Normans.’ The spangenhelmed man exited the geteld and looked across the camp of period tents towards the battle field in front of Battle Abbey. ‘A shame King Harold couldn’t have done that.’
‘A shame indeed; bastard Normans.’ A short armoured man with an axe that had a haft that brought the weapon’s head to the same level as his face came and stood by the helmeted man’s side but was suddenly pushed out of the way by an untidy scruffy apparition that forced his way inside the geteld.
‘Bastard Norman’s indeed. All I get from them is disrespect!’ exclaimed the apparition in a burst of beery breath. ‘But what else can I expect from those who have spent too long interbreeding with those not of my folk.’ The apparition transformed itself into old man with long lank locks and straggling grey beard. He staggered towards the men still inside the geteld, a leathern jack slopping flat beer dangling from his left hand whilst his right hand hung onto a long ragged staff that he was using to prevent himself from falling over as his unsteady gait tumbled him over the uneven ground. ‘Under stable hand, grubbing out the horse shit from a stable in Normandy one day and village squire in England’s once fair and pleasant land the next; give or take a battle and marauding raid or two in between. Illegal, unwanted immigrants: that’s what they were: economic refugees. Couldn’t speak the King’s English when they arrived and they can do little better now. It wouldn’t be so bad if they had tried to fit in rather than make the locals change their ways to theirs.’
‘Hello Grimm,’ greeted the bearded man as he made to exit into the sunlight from the cover of the geteld.
‘Kim? Kimbold?’ The old man stopped his crashing progress inside the geteld, turned and steadied himself by clinging to his staff with both hands; the leather jack emptied what remained of its content over the old man’s threadbare and faded blue track pants.
‘That’s me you old soak.’
‘I thought,’ Grimm slurred. ‘I thought you said you were giving the fighting up?’
‘Too many holes in the ranks Grimm; not enough youngsters taking the hobby up.’
Grimm nodded his head in a semblance of agreement. ‘A seat, shade, something to drink.’ The old man staggered further into the geteld, bumping into three other English warriors as he went. ‘Service? Service!’ he yelled before flopping down on the ground and pulling himself into the foetal position.
Jamie came forward and looked at the dishevelled collection of tatty humanity and smelly clothes at his feet. ‘Grimm? Is that really you?’
‘Smee,’ Grimm assured him as he fixed his single eye on the youth in front of him. ‘I know you don’t I?’
‘Who?’ Grimm wiped his eye with the back of his grime encrusted hand. ‘Jamie? Jamie? – Ah – Leofwine!’ He gave a slack jawed smile, a dribble of saliva edging down the crease on the left side of his mouth. ‘You have grown.’
‘It has been two years Grimm, in fact getting on for three. I had thought to see you before this.’
‘Been away, visiting my folk. I’ve been here, there, top of the world, bottom of the world.’
‘Collecting tribute and gifts as you went?’
‘Of course, though this gift,’ Grimm tipped his leather jack upside down and two or three drips plopped onto the trampled grass by his side. ‘This gift was not very nice. Strong? Yes. Potent? Yes. Nice? No.’
Kim, the bearded man clicked his tongue. Jamie looked at him and Kim indicated a blanket at the end of the geteld with a movement of his eyes and a small nod of his now helmeted head.
Jamie looked at the blanket and then at Grimm, ‘There are some cans of beer at the back; would you like one?’ he asked.
‘Does a bear …..’
‘I will get you one.’ Jamie went to the back of the geteld and pulled back the blanket that had been thrown over the beer supply to cover it from the sight of the “authenty police”. ‘Old Speckled Hen? Good enough for your pallet Grimm?’
‘Cluck cluck,’ came the fume laden reply.
Jamie pulled a can out, threw the blanket back in place and brought the can of beer back to Grimm, who had by now dragged himself over to one of the two upright poles that held the ridge pole in place and managed to get himself into an upright sitting position. Jamie pulled the tab on the beer can and passed it to Grimm. The old man put a hurt look on his face. Jamie sighed, picked up the fallen jack and carefully poured the beer into it before passing the foaming brew to the old man. ‘I had hoped I would have seen you before. Your stories got me so interested in the past, especially the Anglo-Saxon past, I got involved in re-enactment.’ Jamie looked out of the geteld entrance and watched as streams of armoured men carrying shield and spear, and sometimes a long axe passed by. ‘And, you never did tell me about Arthur, who was really Cerdic; you did promise.’
‘Did I?’ Grimm pulled the edges of his beard into his mouth and sucked off the beer foam that was hanging there. ‘I am the old man now, and I forget things.’
Jamie turned back and looked into Grimm’s one green eye: ‘Yes you did so promise. But, the battle will start soon, so maybe another time.’
‘You will watch the battle?’
‘Because young æþeling, the English lose; I lost; all went wrong; it was the end of things; nothing was ever the same.’ Grimm wobbled a very unsteady head. ‘It is why I drink.’
Jamie snorted and went back to watching the fighters pass on the way to the battle field. ‘You don’t need a reason to drink old man.’
‘True,’ Grimm confirmed. ‘But not so early in the day.’ He hiccupped, belched and took another swig of beer. ‘Tomorrow will be a better fight than today.’
‘Tomorrow there will be no script.’
‘Exactly.’ Grimm gave another belch. ‘So stay with me in my melancholy and I will tell you of awfully artful Arthur or should that be, clever cunning Cerdic?’
‘Is it the true story?’ Jamie turned to face the old man, half torn by wanting to watch the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings and half wanting to hear Grimm’s tale.
‘Of course it is, well, almost true: as true as my fading memory allows me for, although I was once the young man, I am now the old man. The main thing is, of course, I was there.’
‘I know, Grimm, as with Beowulf and Hengest, you were there.’
Grimm looked into his leather jack to judge how much beer was still in there. Satisfied in the contents’ sufficiency he took a sip before refocusing his one eye on Jamie and giving him a weary smile. ‘Not only was I there, I had just been enlightening those bastard No-man with the truth of this tale before striding confidently to the English camp.’
‘Staggering more like,’ Jamie muttered under his breath.
‘Yes, I put them garlic smelling rabble right. I had been listening to them going about Arthur. King Arthur this….King Arthur that…. Arthur my arse.’ Grimm stopped talking to scratch his own. ‘They thought those tales were local; they were not – they came from the dregs of Brittany their ancestors had brought with them to England as cheap arrow fodder. The best thing my descendants ever did was kick them out of this land that is now England, and the idiot Normans, who are only part mine, seeing as they too readily interbred with the local French, brought them back. Well, they did regret it in time for the Bretons got alongside their relations the Wealas. Oh yes, the Wealas are still there; dark, smelly and damp, hiding in their rain soaked hills looking for the opportunity to move into the dryer parts of the island.’
‘Grimm,’ Jamie reminded him, ‘Get back to the story about Arthur and his knights of the Round table.’
The old man went to put his drink down but didn’t seem to be able to get his hand out of the handle of his leather jack, so gave up on the attempt. ‘King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table: do they really know who he was? Really? “Oh, a chivalrous King of this land who fought to keep out the invaders” they said. No that was King Harold and the invaders were your grand-sires. I reminded them. “A noble Briton brought up in the Roman ways who fought the Saxon dogs and put them in their place.” Well that was nearer to the truth. The truth? The truth, as I have told you before is that he was a Ge-man, a Spearman, one of my folk: Arthur is Cerdic, King of the West Saxons as I have told you before.’ Grimm risked letting go of the tent pole with the hand not entangled with the handle of his leather jack and scrummaged around his back trying, without success, to locate the battered bag that hung over his shoulder.
Jamie came forward and pulled the bag forward so the old man could fumble inside its’ cavernous interior. ‘The Round Table?’ Jamie prompted.
Grimm smiled as he pulled out of the bag a wilted carrot that he commenced to wave about. ‘The Round Table, well yes, he and his chief men did sit around a round table. It was one of several in the back garden of an alehouse in the South Hampton. The tables had a sort of attached bench around the outside of them and a hole in the middle of the tables in which they had stuck broken spear shafts with old bits of sail cloth tensed out on a wicker frame to make shades. It was the fashion at the time for people to sit around tables like those in the summer to quaff their ales and eat the food that was cooked on a griddle in the garden. And that food! Terrible stuff it was. The landlord of the ale house in the South Hampton had an old blind Gaul chained to the wall in front of his griddle and the Gaul was the one who cooked the meat. The trouble was, being blind, the only way he knew the meat was done was when he smelt it burning and the smoke made his nose twitch. I said to Cerdic one day: “I don’t know how you can eat those burnt beef cubes.” He just laughed and ever after referred to them as BBCubes. A poor joke and that style of outdoor cooking will never catch on.’ Grimm suddenly recalled the wilted carrot in his hand. ‘Don’t know why it is that colour: purple or white – that’s what colour it should be.’ He poked the carrot at Jamie. ‘Is it rotten do you think? Is that why it is a strange orange colour?’
‘It is not rotten but it is well past its’ best.’ Jamie cocked an ear as the sound of a cheer went up from the distant battle field indicating the arrival of the English army on the ridge of Senlac.
Grimm tried to take a bite of the carrot but its wilted form kept it flopping out of reach of his mouth. He gave up and tossed the carrot back into the gapping maw of his bag. ‘You want to know about “The Knights”, who sat at the round table? The “Knights” were in fact Cerdic’s main sub-contractors and franchise holders. His main line of business was a successful shipping and transport operation. But he also ran a security and protection franchise.’ Grimm buried his head, as best he could into his bag, sniffing for any food it contained.
A chorus of booing came from afar and Jamie recognised, from being at the re-enactment the previous year, that that was what always greeted to appearance of the Normans, their allies and mercenaries. He sighed, knowing it was now too late to go and watch the battle, so he settled himself down to listen to the slowly sobering Grimm. ‘So: Cerdic is Arthur. What I don’t get is how all this confusion came about. I mean – was he a Briton or a German?’
Grimm, having abandoned his search for food in his bag, and realising that he was sobering up, indicated with his head that Jamie should get a refill for his leathern jack. The youth got up and found another can of Old Speckled Hen which he then used to replenish Grimm’s drinking vessel.
The old man sniffed the aroma emanating from the beer, sighed and smiled before sipping the brew. Easing his back against the supporting tent pole he nestled his jack against his chest before starting to talk: ‘Cerdic was the great-grandson of Weldig who, when dealing with the Wealas, also used the name Gewise. To the other Ge-men it meant “the wise”, but to the Wealas it had an alternative meaning: “The Known”. You see, young Leofwine, Weldig was one of the Myringas, part of the Saxon Federation and thus of my folk. They lived to the south of the Angles and to the north of anther Saxon folk, the Swæfe, down on the River Eider. Old Weldig had joined the Roman army as an auxiliary, as many did in those days. He and the group he joined up with served on the Channel Coast. They manned ships that were supposed to stop their relatives sailing along and raiding the coast of Britain! To be honest there was that much; “nudge, nudge, wink, wink and how much do we have to slip you for a trouble free passage” going on it wasn’t funny. If the Romans thought employing Saxons to stop Saxons would work they would be foolish enough to think that I could carry on talking without taking another drink.’ With that Grimm took a mouthful of beer. ‘Very nice, a bit gassy though – I shouldn’t qualify things like that should I: it sounds very “Welsh”. Anyway where was I? Oh, yes. When he retired from Roman service, old Weldig the Gewise set up a security and protection outfit on the south coast using some of his nephews and younger cousins. The Brits were his prime customers and he cemented the relationship by marrying a daughter of the local Wealas landowner. I told him at the time that it would cause him grief, for the children of such unions never know where their loyalty lies. It was his second marriage. His first wife had been a sturdy Myringa wench and she bore him many sons. Unfortunately she died when an axe head flew off and struck her on her head when she was splitting logs for the winter fire. It was a tragedy: she had only managed to get halfway through the pile of logs before she died and poor Weldig had to fork out money to hire someone’s serf to finish the job off.’
‘That, Grimm, was not very nice.’
‘No it wasn’t because in those days old Weldig didn’t have that much spare cash.’
Jamie ground his teeth: ‘I meant,’ he half spat, ‘the axe head coming off.’
‘Oh that wasn’t so bad, it was easily put back on; it merely needed a new wedge in the end to make it more secure. Right, back to the explanation: Old Weldig seemed happy enough with his new wife. Well, he was 60 and she was 16. It is little wonder it only lasted 2 years before he died whilst still on the job.’
Jamie smirked and sniggered.
‘What are you laughing at? He had his two hands on his steering board when he….you are still laughing. You are as bad as the No-men. For them it is excusable because they only have a dash of my blood in them. Did I say No-men? Sorry, Normans, a slip of the tongue.’
Jamie brought himself under control. ‘No, Grimm, I am quite happy for you to call then No-men.’
‘Right, well, that’s alright then. So much mixed blood these days one never knows when one is insulting or upsetting some one.’
Jamie started playing with some of the crushed grass. ‘I didn’t think you worried about upsetting people Grimm?’
‘Oh I don’t, but I do like to know when my insult or offence will have its maximum offence.’ The old man used an unsteady hand to move greasy locks of hair from his face and then plunged the hand back into his bag, this time pulling out a half empty packet of pork scratchings the contents of which he proceeded to feed into his mouth. ‘Now,’ he continued in a spray of pork bits. ‘Gewise’s son, Elsa, from his first marriage, carried on the business, and even expanded it, and so did his boy, Elesa, who also lapsed into marring a Wealas. I had a word with Elesa and he took my advice and concentrated on the coastal shipping whilst turning the security branch into a franchise. That way he could expand his asset base even more with only a minimal capital outlay. By the time it came into his son Cerdic’s hand it was quite an operation.’
‘And,’ Jamie asked, as he edged himself out of range of the flying pork scratching fragments, ‘At that time he was known as Cerdic not Arthur?’
‘Alright, how come Cerdic was also called Arthur? Well it’s a sad tale; don’t be too embarrassed to mop your eyes and nose with your curchief, or your sleeve, whichever is handiest. You see, when he was just a lad, Cerdic had been struck by this illness. Many say he was cursed, but I had foreseen greatness of him and ensured that no one cursed him; and they knew what would happen to them if they crossed me. Myself, I suspect he was Elfshot when I was otherwise engaged. The Elves are proud creatures and enjoy spiting me when they can. Cerdic had a fever, and many feared for his life. As soon as I heard, I rushed back to see what I could do. I made potions; I muttered charms; I wrote strong binding Runes on slivers of wood and burnt them. In the end, he did recover.’
Jamie looked steadily at Grimm.
‘You didn’t weep or take a deep sigh? Have you no empathy?’
‘Empathy? You, Grimm, who take pleasure in provoking men to fight and kill? You have no empathy, so why should I?
‘Oh, well, normally I tell this tale to a mixed audience and the ladies all seem to weep and moan when I get to that bit.’
‘I’ said Jamie, standing up and towering over the old man, ‘am not a woman!’
‘Indeed no, you are a man, and one so grown that I had problems recognising you. Sit, sit,’ Grimm insisted. ‘Looking up makes my head hurt for some reason.’
Jamie sat back down reluctantly.
Grimm bent his head and went back to rummaging in his bag, not for food but as an excuse to smile to himself without the youth seeing his face; his pleasure being at finding a way he could in future provoke Jamie, should the need arise. ‘Now, Cedric,’ the old man pulled his head back out of the bag’s darkness, his face now serious. ‘He recovered, but for a long time he had trouble with his breathing. Eventually that came right but his left leg was never the same after the illness and he ever after walked with a slight limp. But the reason he got his nickname of Arthur was because the illness caused his left arm to shrivel. I worked on it, but it was never the same. The result was his left arm remained weak, but his right, by needs, became twice as strong as other men’s. As a result of this, the Wealas called him Caradoc Vreichvaras. Now that is a name that is so hard to say you will not be surprised to hear that those who spoke Latin pronounced it as Coroticus Artus, which you would say as Cerdic Arthur, that is Cerdic Strong Arm in today’s English.
A loud cheer from the battlefield caused Jamie to move to the entrance flap of the geteld and poke his head out. The sound of shields being beaten with spear butt or sword told him that the clash of the opposing armies was due to start.
‘Look Leofwine; do you want to hear this story or not?’
Jamie pulled himself back in, looked at Grimm and raised an eyebrow. Grimm tipped his now empty jack upside down. Jamie went for a refill. Grimm started speaking straight away, as if in a hurry to get the turgid tale told.
‘Cerdic Arthur’s body may have been less than perfect, but his mind was sharp, oh yes, very sharp. Whilst his father carried on with the shipping trade, young Arthur; for so I shall call him that to stop confusing you.’
Jamie gave a resigned sigh as he passed over the jack with its foaming head of beer.
‘Young Arthur collected some of his relations who still lived in the fatherland. They, together with a few odd Danes (and many of them are very odd, trust me on that one) and some Jutes, formed the basis of a war fleet for hire. Old men like to talk peace and follow trade: young men prefer something a little more exciting. They did a bit of enforcement here and a bit of protecting there. You know the sort of thing: “Oh what a nice village you have and such lovely looking women, I bet a lot of them are virgins too. I am sure that you would want all to remain that way!” They also sub-contracted to Art’s dad and shipped what was left of the Roman army around as they first tried to block the Franks, then the Burgundians – both my folk, though both were soon to interbreed with the locals and forget me. They also had problems with the Huns and finally the Goths (my folk again). Business was good in those days for anyone who had ships and warriors for hire.’
‘Happy days then: all that fighting and you not even doing much to provoke the battles and mistrust?’
‘How dare you!’ Grimm was so perturbed he tried to stand, but sat down again when it became obvious that the action would cause him to spill his beer. ‘I was very busy, as indeed I am today. It is just that I don’t have the time to give you all the details of what mischief I was up to.’ Grimm snorted and then consoled himself with more beer: ‘The youth of today!’
‘Sorry Grimm,’ Jamie said in a wheedling voice.
‘Yes, well, I should think so. Now; where was I? Ah yes. It was whilst he was back at South Hampton visiting his dad and his Wealas mother that Art got to act as translator for old Ambrosia. I have spoken of him before when I told you of Hengest. Ambrosia was the poor soul who turned up late for a meeting of the British Security Council held by the every squabbling British princes and chieftains, only to find that they had elected him to hold the job of organising the defence of the whole island of Britain! I can assure you he never arrived late for meetings again. It wasn’t all negative though; he was given the title of Vortigern, which means “Big Chief”. He had a grand title, no money, no authority and very soon an ulcer. The reason for needing Art as translator was that Vortigern was having a slight misunderstanding with one of Elesa’s franchisees in the security branch of the business. The man in question was Hengest the Angle.”
‘I remember you telling me of him when I was on holiday at Ramsgate.’
‘Indeed I did. What a hero, though it took a lot of effort on my part to make him one. Not like poor old Vortigern who had run out of money, as usual, and had started to welsh out on his obligations. You will remember Vortigern marrying Hengest’s daughter; the indescribably beautiful Rowena?’
‘I do,’ Jamie agreed as huge wave of booing and jeering wafted across form the battlefield.
‘And how the wedding party afterwards got a bit out of hand and somehow the Wealas guests, except the new bridegroom of course, ended up dead?’
Grimm nodded in a satisfied manner as he drew the picture back into his mind. ‘These things happen don’t they, especially when I’m around.’ He gave a chuckle that converted into a coughing session. When he had steadied he continued. ‘After that Arthur went back to his teenage amusements. Unfortunately for him, Euric the Goth caught him and his boys during one of their escapades in the west of Gaul, for which I must take some blame.’
‘You surprise me.’
‘Do I dear Leofwine? I am so pleased,’ said Grim, the irony in the youth’s voice going completely un-noticed. ‘Euric, of course, was another one of my descendants and I happened to be visiting him at his new kingdom in Western Gaul. I was advising him to sell off the local population to the Moors across the Middle Sea. He was keen on keeping them in order that they could work the land and he could sit on his increasingly fatter backside and do nothing. I tried to explain to him that either they would interbreed with his folk until they no longer existed or throw them over at the first opportunity, but he wouldn’t listen. So I dropped word to young Cerdic the Artful, suggesting that he might do the catching and exporting of the locals instead.’ The old man gave a regretful sigh and looked at the battered grass floor. ‘If only I had stayed around to make sure all went to plan rather than taking time off to wind up another of my descendants, Clovis the Frank, who operated to Euric’s north. You see, I had thought that it might be entertaining to set him upon the Gauls in Amorcica. Euric made no move against the locals – just stayed put with his thegns and gesith armed for an action they never did take and as a result they were on hand to catch poor artful Cerdic and his crews. Still, Euric shewed some common sense for once and, rather than kill Art and his crews, he bound them with an oath and then gave them gainful employment keeping his enemies off guard. He based them at Vannes, and to this day there is an island named for Cerdic in the bay there. It wasn’t all work of course and every summer Art and his lads, plus any of Euric’s tribe who needed a break, went for some R&R in Spain. Their favourite resorts were two fly ridden places called Benidorm and Ibiza. They wouldn’t have been such grotty places to stay at if the boys had managed to get out of the habit of trashing the houses each time they arrived. Still I suppose the holidays were cheap seeing as they financed themselves by selling the locals off to the Moors at the Gibraltar flea market.’
‘Nothing changes,’ Jamie informed him. ‘Cheap Spanish holidays full of violence, drunkenness and destruction.’
‘Is that so? Oh well, let the good times roll. Back to Arthur: he got so settled at Vannes Art sent back to Britain and arranged himself a marriage with a flighty girl called Gugnir. Her mother was of my folk but her father was Cornish, so say no more. Art had spent time with them as a boy whilst recovering from his fever. I advised him not to marry her, but he wouldn’t listen. I suppose she was pretty in a way with long wavy yellow hair and big flashing blue grey eyes. The trouble was her eyes tended to flash at other men as well as at Art, as he later found out!’
‘Was she Guinevere?’
‘A later French invention, nothing like the very real Gugnir, except in her liking for beds that belonged to men other than her husband’s.’
Boos, jeers and catcalls from the battlefield seemed to indicate that the victorious Normans were parading off the field having won the scripted battle.
Grimm did not seem to notice that Jamie’s attention was wandering. ‘Well,’ he rambled on, ‘eventually old Euric died and Clovis persuaded the old man’s son, Alarac, to move on and take his Goths with him. Alarac was a sentimental young fool and crossed over the mountains and headed for where he had always been happy, that’s right Benidorm and Ibiza! There is no accounting for some people’s taste is there.’
‘Hmm?’ Jamie pulled Grimm’s last half heard words back into his mind. ‘Benidorm and Ibiza? No, bad taste is universal and found throughout all time.’
‘You are becoming wise young man; wise!’ Grimm drained the last of the beer from his leather jack. ‘So, Art’s oath died with Euric and, after coming to an arrangement with Clovis for a long term lease on Vannes in exchange for a discount on shipping prices, he went back home to South Hampton, taking his young son Cynric with him. The problem was Art’s dad had died, and the local Wealas chief, Natanleod, had made a successful hostile take-over of the whole operation, including the land the Gewise had owned for generations. Natanleod claimed that it was sacred land, a treasure of the original people of the land and that he had a treaty that said that on these grounds he retained the rights forever to all land, rivers and sea bed.’
‘Not a nice thing to do, however it is becoming popular again in these post-colonial times with those who claim to be the native people.’
‘Yes, well: Art was not amused. He asked me what to do; how should he negotiate? Should he ask for a commission to be set up to look into the claims? I told him the only way to negotiate was at the point of a spear. So Art, his son Cynric and their three ship loads of hard men took South Hampton and the business back into their possession and then some. I can’t remember where Natanleod’s head ended up, but I do remember spending a rather pleasant afternoon watching my ravens strip it of flesh whilst I quaffed an ale or two.’
Loud cheering told Jamie that the English and their Danish allies were leaving the field so he got up to watch them enter camp and be ready to help the sweat soaked members of Regia Angolorum’s Fyrd disarm. ‘An ale or two? You have had more than that off of us today Grimm.’ The was no reply so the youth turned and looked back into the geteld only to see it empty of all but scattered gear and covered over beer supplies. ‘Grimm?’ Jamie went out and stood in the pathway between getelds and other period tents, casting his eyes around. There, flying about the heads of a group of camp followers making their way towards the trudging and weary warriors, were two starlings. Jamie smiled, knowing that Grimm had gone and he would have to wait to hear the rest of the tale of awfully artful Arthur.
Chapter 2 It’s the Real Thing
‘Here you are son; just don’t tell your mum.’ Mr White passed Jamie a disposable plastic pint “glass” of farm house cider. ‘She has never approved of under aged drinking, even when we were courting and it was her that was under aged.’
‘Thanks Dad.’ Jamie took a sip of the drink and screwed up an eye when the sharp taste hit his tongue.
‘Not as sweet as that made by the big companies eh.’ Jamie’s dad licked his lips then downed half his pint in one go. ‘Owww; that is good.’
Jamie took another discreet sip. ‘Not your first of the day then Dad?’
‘I had a couple whilst waiting for you to come down from the “living history” camp son. I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the first battle, but I am here now – I had to drop Mum off in Hastings’ town centre.’
Jamie took another sip and looked around the roped off spectator area of the battle field. Rubbish blew around the feet of the food and drink vendors as they started to either pack-up their site or at least reduce its size to match the fact that the spectator area now only sported a small crowd made up of camp followers and family and not the general public who had packed the area the day before. ‘Mum didn’t want to come then?’
Mr White shook his head whilst still sipping his cider.
‘Too violent for her?’
‘Not really, though she still can’t understand your fascination for re-enacting and fighting. It is more the chance for her to go shopping.’
‘But most of the shops in Hastings are the same as at home.’
Mr White gave a loud snort, which woke the black whippet that had been asleep with its head resting on Jamie’s dad’s feet. ‘Since when has that stopped her?’ Mr White reached down and reassured Dhoo the whippet by patting its head; the hound settled down again and returned to his doggy dreams. ‘I just hope she is not buying more clothes as she already has more stock that a Marks & Sparkes branch.’
‘Your lodgings any good Dad?’
‘Mustn’t grumble. Like of lot of the B&B in St Leonard’s, it’s a bit run down and the shared bathroom smells very musty, but they do serve a good full English breakfast. You eating well son?’
Jamie looked to the battlefield, but there was still no sign of the fighters appearing for the second session of the day. ‘Well enough, though it is all period stuff, which isn’t too bad really, but the cooking is all over open wood fires and the smoke gets you.’ Jamie gave his father a serious look; ‘And, no – don’t start singing “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to me.’
Mr White gave a chuckle. ‘I will let you off this time then. But you saying that; you do reek of wood smoke.’
‘Unavoidable. We cook over a wood fire; we sit around a wood fire at night to keep warm. The smell gets woven into your clothes and skin. Then, again, everyone smells of wood smoke so you don’t notice it.’
‘You do enjoy the camping don’t you? You could have stayed with us in the boarding house.’
‘Camping can be fun.’
‘As well as wet and cold?’
‘As well as wet and cold, though at least it had not been wet this time. October in England is not always the best time to be living outside in a camp. Did you ever go camping Dad?’
‘Only when I was in the Boys Brigade as a lad. It was on the Isle of Wight. We had proper catering mind, done by professional cooks. All we had to do was prepare the food if we were on fatigues. The only one of our family that really liked living the outdoor life was my Uncle Albert.’
‘Him that got put away?’
‘The same. He was a funny old man, thought he lived in the past and enjoyed living rough in bivouacs he made in the hedgerows, even though he had a tied farm cottage to live in. I never understood why they couldn’t just leave him alone instead of putting him into mental asylums.’
‘They don’t do that these days.’
‘True son; which is what worries your mother – the thought that Uncle Albert is on the loose somewhere and may one day turn up at our house looking for a bed.’
‘Wouldn’t be a problem would it? I mean, going on what you have told me, he would be happy living at the bottom of the garden under the privet hedge.’
Mr White drank the last of his cider and played with the empty plastic glass, not sure what to do with it. ‘It is not him sleeping in the garden that would be the problem; it would be feeding him. That and his habit of helping himself to other people’s property.’
‘Sounds like old Grimm; he does that.’ Jamie took his father’s empty drinking vessel and slid his own inside it and proffered the whole to Mr White. ‘Take it Dad – it is a bit sharp for me.’
Mr White, who had been surreptitiously tapping the half empty packet of cigarettes concealed in the inside pocket of his coat whilst he wondered if he dared smoking in front of his son, seeing as he was supposed to have abandoned the “filthy habit” some years back, gladly took the offered drink as it would keep his mind off the cigarettes. ‘Thanks son: I appreciate that. Anyway,’ he took a sip of the two thirds full glass, ‘talking of Grimm; have you seen him lately?’
‘Funnily enough Dad, only yesterday. He turned up at our geteld, tent to you, quite drunk.’
‘I seem to recall you saying he is often that way.’
‘Sometimes, but he seemed changed, drunker, older somehow, less amusing, more wordy. I don’t know; maybe I am older myself and it is me that has changed.’
‘You are just growing up son – it happens to us all.’
The clinking sound of chain maille and the tramping of feet came from the ridge. ‘Here come the lads!’ called a man in Saxon garb with his arm in a sling.
‘More bruises and broken bits,’ muttered the lady next to him wearing a St John’s Ambulance Brigade uniform.
‘Just good fun missus.’
‘That wasn’t what you said when we dressed your arm after this morning’s set to. I seemed to remember a lot of swearing and words about getting your own back on “the Norman bastards” mixed in with it.’
‘Just good fun missus,’ the man assured her. ‘We will be drinking with ‘em tonight and laughing about it all around the camp fires.’
‘Then you will need us to apply burn cream after you fall into the fires?’
‘Not us missus; we may drink, but not to the “falley down drunk” stage; unlike some.’ The man then had the nerve to look at Mr White who had just finished emptying the cider Jamie had given him.
Mr White suddenly became aware that he was being watched; he edged to whisper in his son’s ear. ‘I think they may be Greenies worried that I will just dump these empty glasses instead of carefully disposing of them,’ he hissed.
‘Better hurry and stick them in the wheelie bin by the cider seller’s stall as they are staring to collect the bins.’ Jamie bent down and lifted Dhoo the whippet’s lead that was being held by his dad’s foot. Mr White lifted his foot and started off to dispose of the empty drink containers; Dhoo’s head dropped to the ground before he raised it with a hurt look in his eyes. Jamie patted his hound then saw a glint of polished metal towards the bottom of the battle field. ‘Hurry dad, the Normans are at last coming on the field. The battle will start soon.’
Mr White quickly dumped his rubbish on the top of all the other discarded items in the over full bin and came back to his son’s side. Dhoo shuffled on his chest and replaced his head on Mr White’s foot.
As the Norman’s and their allies marshalled at the bottom of the field the English army on the ridge formed into a three ranked shield wall. The man playing King Harold rode a white horse in front of the shield wall with mounted standard bearers riding behind him; the left standard was the golden wyvern of Wessex whilst the right hand banner was Harold’s personal banner of a fighting man. Much of what he was saying was carried away by the slight breeze but indistinct responding calls from his men in English, Danish and, surprisingly, Russian, occasionally drifted to the few spectators behind their rope barrier. King Harold stood in his stirrups: ‘Hrīeman god fore Harold, Ingaland ac sanct Eadmund!’
‘UT, UT, UT,’ the ranks shouted back and started beating their shields, both round and kite shaped, with the butts of their spears and the pommels of their swords. King Harold held up his hand to acknowledge his men and the chant changed to a shouted: ‘A GODWINSON, A GODWINSON, A GODWINSON.’
Down the hill the Normans started their own reply: ‘NORMANDY, NORMANDY, NORMANDY!’
A wag in the English ranks shout a reply ‘NORMANDY MERDE!’ others in the English line took it up and called to their Norman foes with a shield bang between each call: ‘NORMANDY MERDE,’ bang, ‘NORMANDY MERDE,’ bang, ‘NORMANDY MERDE!’
In answer to the insulting chants Norman infantry, proceeded by a line of archers, moved up the hill. At the cry ‘Arrêt’ the Normans stopped their advance and the archers nocked arrows.
At the call: ‘Incoming!’ the front row of the English shield wall knelt, the second row lent forward and overlapped the bottom of their shields over the top of the shield belonging to the front rank and those in the third rank put theirs over the top of the second rank as a form of roof.
‘This could be dangerous,’ Mr White advised his son.
‘The arrows have blunt heads and fly like bricks and the bows are only 30lb draw weight,’ Jamie commented.
‘Even so; I mean didn’t King Harold get an arrow in his eye?’
‘Well actually there is some doubt about that and …’ Jamie cut his comments short as the Norman Captain of Archers called out: ‘Tirer!’ and the arrows flew towards the English ranks where the arrows bounced off the shields. Again the call ‘Tirer!’, again arrows flew to bounce off the shields. ‘Tirer!’ Following the last volley the called changed to ‘Rangs ouverts!’ The archers opened ranks and the Norman infantry passed through them and trudged up the hill.
‘UT, UT, UT!’
The two walls of men smashed together and shields were shoved and spears were prodded, long hafted axes from the back ranks come over the heads of the English front rank and hooked onto Norman shields, pulling them away and exposing the Norman holding the shield to the English spearman facing him. Those who had taken hits fell to the ground. The English ranks closed and men from the rearmost ranks filled any gaps in the front rank. The clashing and banging continued with shouts and yells from the combatants until eventually the Normans, having lost many men and having made no break in the English shield wall, fell back in some disarray.
‘UT, UT, UT, NORMANDY MERDE, NORMANDY MERDE, NORMANDY MERDE, UT, UT, UT!’
Norman cavalry formed into conroi and rode through gaps in the withdrawing infantry.
‘Rædehere!!!!’ The English over locked shields and spears were held at an angle towards the oncoming horsemen, forcing them to keep their distance.
It was then that a tall slim young man ran from the left flank of the English line. He wore no maille, rather a flying bright and shiny white cloak with its gold and silver embroidered edge glinting in the autumn sun. He wore bright blue trousers and had a red silk shirt that was shot through with gold. No helmet graced his head and his bobbed hair and long moustache was as bright a gold as the sun. In his hand was neither spear, nor sword, nor long axe but just a plain wooden staff two hands taller than the young man. In front of him Norman horsemen were leaning out of their saddles as they rode along the English shield wall, hitting English spears with their own, trying to force a break in the spear hedge. The young man ran up behind the rear most horse and gave it a smack on its rump with his staff. The horse sidled and threw its rider. The young man gave a spin and what may have been a short dance before he chased along and repeated his actions on other horses. The Norman cavalry started to break up in confusion. The Captain of Cavalry rode up and came towards the young man who spun to face him. The young man held up a hand and the horse stopped, lowered its head, then knelt. The Captain tipped forward out of his saddle and landed on his head. The young man ran forward, stepping over the fallen Norman horseman and kissed the kneeling horse on its nose. The horse stood, galloped towards the cavalry, which was starting to reform, gave a high pitched neigh, and then plunged down the hill at full speed. The other horses followed it, ignoring the attempts of their riders to control them. The broken cavalry crashed through the ranks of archers and infantry that had started to again climb the hill, throwing all into confusion.
‘LIEGAĐ!’ King Harold yelled and the English legged it down the hill at full tilt and swept all before them.
‘Well, well,’ said Jamie’s dad, who had taken the opportunity to have a sly smoke whilst his son was occupied watching the battle. ‘Why didn’t they do that in 1066?’
‘If only,’ Jamie sighed. ‘But this is only playing and then it was for real with lots more Norman cavalry and no health and safety regulations. In reality infantry threatened by cavalry should never, ever, expose itself as they would get cut to pieces. Also, they had no young man willing to run out and start slapping horses.’
‘That was a rather splendid trick was it not, especially the power to persuade the Captain’s horse to shew its true loyalty to the one who commands all horses.’ The old man, with a threadbare white blanket hung on his shoulders like a cloak, patched blue tracksuit bottoms and beer and food stained red T shirt commented as he passed the pair on his way down the hill to join the victorious English army and their defeated Norman foes.
Jamie turned to watch him: ‘Hi Grimm,’ he called out.
‘Hi Uncle Albert,’ Mr White called out.
‘Uncle Albert?’ Jamie asked his dad.
‘Grimm?’ Mr White asked his son.
The old man carried on without acknowledging the greetings and at his heels ran two lean grey dogs that may have been Alsatians, or may have been big huskies.
Chapter 3 Where Eagles Dare
The four riders came up to the starting tapes at Eastbourne’s Arlington Speedway. The riders then commenced “gardening”, packing loose surface into the deep ruts that had been cut into the track from previous starts, with one rider actually getting off his bike to do so, leaning the bike over onto its left hand footrest so that the back wheel was clear of the track with the rider continually blipping his motorcycle’s engine as he did so. The Starting Marshal indicated that they should stop “gardening” and come to the tapes. One of the riders, with a red helmet cover and wearing the Eastbourne Eagles livery, pulled his bike back and started a return ride down the loose surfaced track, adjusting his goggles as he went to get air into them to clear away the condensation that had built up on the inside.
‘He is playing mind games,’ Mr White informed his son. ‘He wants the Rye House riders to get unsettled.’
Jamie just nodded his agreement as he had been a speedway fan since he was a young child and knew about the tactics riders used both on and off the track.
The rider in red came back to the tapes, but now the Eastbourne rider with the blue helmet cover pulled out of his starting grid and rode down the track clearing his googles before quickly returning to the tapes and leaning over the handlebars of his bike, a machine that did not look unlike a low slung mountain push bike except that it had a laid-down 500cc ethanol burning engine hanging from its frame.
All four riders hunched over the bars of their bikes and increased the blipping of their throttles. The Starting Marshal, happy that they were all ready and not moving, held his arms out at 90 degrees along the line of riders to indicate to the Referee in his box above the start line that he was handing over control. He then brought his arms down and walked behind the bikes. A green light came on, the riders wound their engines to full throttle, the light went out, the tapes flew up, and in a shower of shale the bikes took off with a roar with two of them having their front wheel paw the air as they thundered towards the tight first turn. The riders threw their bike left, sliding on the loose shale surface, elbows clashing with the other riders as they jostled for position. As they came out of the second turn of the bend the two Rye House riders were marginally ahead. Going into the second bend the Eastbourne rider in blue tried to come up the inside of them, but the Rye House boys team rode, side by side, leaving him no room. Second lap and back into the first turn and again the rider in blue was denied a way through, but on the third lap coming up to the first bend he managed to split the pair, riding between them and then clamping down the inside rider who had a yellow helmet cover. The rider in red took advantage of the move and rode around the rider in yellow. The rider in blue went wide into the second bend and rode past the Rye House rider but, as the Flag Marshal by the start/finish line waved his yellow flag with the black St Andrew’s cross, indicating the start of the final lap, the home rider in blue lost first place when he was forced wide by the Rye House man with the white helmet. The last bend of the last lap and blue went wide again, white moved out to cover the move and the rider in blue cut back, drove under his opponent and, with the chequered flag waving, won the race by half a wheel. The home crowd erupted and the visiting supporters clapped to see such exciting racing but shook their heads at losing the race and in fact the match by just one point.
‘No brakes, no gears no fears eh Dad?’ Jamie asked his father.
The riders all rode round the track shaking hands with each other, patting each other on the back and waving to the crowd. ‘I like to see that Jamie – it is good sportsmanship.’
‘It is indeed Dad. I miss speedway since they stopped racing at Wimbledon.’
‘Well I did think to give you a treat on the way home from the holiday in Hastings.’
Jamie smiled to himself, knowing his father missed Wimbledon Speedway more than he did. ‘Thanks Dad; I appreciate it.’
‘Well I did enjoy the meeting, the last race especially. That young Kiwi rider, he shewed them didn’t he – his first season racing here too I think.’ Mr White carefully put the programme into his inside pocket next to the cigarette he intended to smoke shortly. ‘I think I will go down to the pits and see if I can have a word with him, seeing as I knew his father and uncle when they raced in the UK during the 80s. You can stay here if you like,’ he added, hopefully.
‘That will be fine Dad. I will wait here.’ Jamie watched his father amble off, rummaging in his inside pocket as he went. ‘You deserve your smoke,’ the youth whispered to himself with a gentle smile.
‘Smoke? Pits?’ asked a questioning voice. ‘When he goes to the pit he smokes? Sounds like he has a real problem with his digestive system to me.’
‘Smoke a cigarette whilst he goes and sees the riders in the pits, which is the area where they fettle their speedway bikes Grimm.’
‘I knew that!’
Jamie turned round to look at his old and tatty friend. ‘Did you Grimm?’
‘Sort of, I think.’ The old man with his staff tucked into the fold of his left arm was holding a half empty beer bottle in one hand and a hamburger that bore a foot print on its top in the other. ‘But, then again, maybe not. I am an old man now, not the young man I once was – I forget things.’
‘You are always saying that. You used to keep telling me that we, the English, are your folk. So, Grimm, seeing as you used to tell me how you have the interest of your folk as your main motive, how come, if you were in fact actually there, Hastings that is, how come you let the Normans beat us English?’
‘We won last weekend didn’t we? I felt quite the young man watching the No-men and their French hangers on flee down Senlac Ridge.’
‘But we did not win in 1066 when it really counted.’
‘No and, I regret to tell you, it was my entire fault. I set up the defeat of King Harald Hardrada at Stamford Bridge well enough, even though he was one of my descendants. The problem was mead.’
‘Mead?’ Jamie asked.
‘Mead: too much of it. I was still getting over the celebrations after putting that Norwegian king into the 6 foot of English soil King Harold had promised him. I knew Willie the Bastard and his No-men were on their way, but I thought Harold would wait a few days for his men to recover before hying off to take on Willie no Claim. By the time I had sobered up he was gone and he and England were lost.’
‘You like a good fight with lots of dead.’
‘True, but not to the extent of letting the No-men win and destroy England. It took a long, long time before I managed to get those foreigners to become English and learn to fight like real men, on foot. That is why I look so old these days – I burnt myself out during what you call The Hundred Years War. So much energy, so much energy – I have never been the same since.’
‘I won’t pester you to tell me how you managed to get Edward III, Edward the Black Prince …’
‘Not that he was known by that name at the time.’
‘Agreed; I knew that. No I won’t pester you to tell me how you managed to get Edward III, Edward the Black Prince and Henry V to win their battles. Just finish off the story of Arthur: I have waited over almost three years for that story.’
‘Two years wasn’t it?’ Grimm wiped a piece of stray lettuce, edged with salad cream, from his straggly moustache into his equally straggly beard. ‘I have no concept of time these days, one day seems to merge into the next and I lose track.’
‘Over two years, nearly three.’
Grimm took another bite into his spoilt hamburger and slowly chewed on the cold meat and salad. ‘What is two years, or even three I ask myself?’
‘A long time when you are young. Now, finish the story before Dad gets back Grimm, or is that Uncle Albert?’
‘Uncle Albert is it now?’
‘Is that your name?’
‘I have many names: Grimm, All Father, Land Waster, One Eye, Eagle Head – which is why I am here supporting the Eastbourne Eagles – Spear Shaker, Bale Worker, Gallows Friend, Wise One, oh and many more.’
‘Woðin. Oðin, Votan, Wotan, Photan, Uncle Albert – what’s in a name? The only one I despise is Horse Hair Moustache.’
‘Horse Hair Moustache?’
‘An insult as my moustache is rather resplendent.’
Jamie raised a single eyebrow, a trick he had been practicing in the bathroom mirror for some time.
‘Well, it was when I was a young man.’
Jamie let his right eyebrow down and raised his left one instead.
‘Alright, it is rather the worse for wear now, but then, I am an old man.’
‘Right “Old Man”; the story of Arthur’.
‘Where was I?’ Grimm took the chance to empty his beer bottle down his throat and drop the empty to the ground where he kicked it behind him. A couple passed by and Grimm helped himself to a six pack of canned beer that had sat on the top of the woman’s carry bag. ‘Oh yes: Arthur’s retaking of the Gewise lands and the family business. Originally Art spent his time getting the shipping business back on its feet. Once that was done he used his hard men to remind the franchisees in the security branch about the percentage they owed him from their turn over.’
Grimm removed a can from the plastic binding that held all the cans together, pulled the tag back and took a swig of the beer. ‘Oh dear, not only is it larger, it is “Wife Beater”. The French never could make a decent brew.’
Jamie took a look at the can in the old man’s dirt begrimed hand. ‘That is Stella Artois and it is Belgian.’
‘Waloonish: which is French by any other name. So: Arthur.’ Grimm, despite his comments took another deep draught of larger before belching. ‘It was a good time to be in security and protection and Art and his franchisees made a lot of money supplying fighting men to help the Wealas keep the Picts and Irish out. Normally Art worked through the franchisees, but sometimes he went and put himself about a bit, just for the amusement. It was on one of those trips that the seeds for a later problem were sewn. He had contracted to Hengest’s two boys, Esc and Octha to sail round the north of the island, burning, raping and pillaging as they went. Oh, yes, and gathering souvenirs to take back to their wives of course, though Esc had problems explaining why the pretty handmaiden he gave his wife as a present was pregnant and after the boy was born the girl insisted on calling her brat Eskie, but I digress.’ Another deep throated drink caused Grim to splutter and cough. Clearing his throat he continued. ‘It being a good summer, Art went with them, taking some Goths along on a sightseeing holiday. Quite the businessman our Cerdic the Artful, for he had actually managed to get the Goths to pay him for the pleasure of going on the trip. Not only that, he collected wages for them from the Wealas, saying that the Goths were essential back-up crew!’
A quick munch in the wilting hamburger was followed by a final swig of beer that emptied the can. ‘After picking over the Picts Art, Octha, Esc, with his handmaiden, based themselves on Mons, a big island facing Ireland. From there they raided the East Coast of Ireland burning the villages from whence the raiders came. Having done that they then expelled all the Irish immigrants who had settled along the north coast of what is now Wales. I know what you are thinking: “They argued over the plunder”, or “They argued over the percentage Art wanted for the franchise.” Wrong, that came later. What upset Art was that, once he left to return to South Hampton to sort out some shipbuilding, Esc and Octha renamed the island Anglesey, after their folk. For although many of their men were Jutes and Friesians, they themselves were Angles.’
‘So?’ Jamie had a quick look towards the pits, only to see his father engaged in conversation with a couple of the riders.
‘Leofwine? You are listening aren’t you?’ Grimm started on another can of larger whilst awaiting an answer.
‘Well, pay attention then and try to think back to what I said at the beginning.’
‘That was a week ago old man.’
‘Was it? Time flies. So I will remind you: Arthur is Cerdic and Cerdic is the great grandson of Weldig and he was one of the Myringas, a group of my folk who lived to the south of the Angles and north of the Swæfe, by the River Eider. The great Angle king, Offa, when still a young man, had fought a holmgang fight against two of the sons of the Myringa King. He killed them both and then set a new border between the two folk that disadvantaged the Myringas. What made it worse was that, young as he was, Offa had been a sword sworn friend of the dead Myringa Prince’s grandfather. Unfortunately he had accidentally been involved in the old man’s death and now the death of the grandsons: such is the Web of Wyrd.’
‘I suppose you, Grimm, had a hand in this discord?’
The old man smiled: ‘Wyrd sometimes needs a helping hand.’
‘I guess so.’ Jamie pulled a Mars Bar from his pocket.
Grimm snatched it in the same hand as had the crushed remains of the hamburger oozing through his fingers. ‘You are so kind remembering to bring me a tribute. Now,’ Grimm sucked the pulped hamburger remains from his fingers and licked his lips. ‘Like good wine hamburgers improve with age. Right, now, History lesson: the affair had caused a lot of bad blood between the two folk. Which, of course, is what I had intended, for the Anglecyn (English to you) would never have thought of moving to Britain if I had let things rest easy between them and their neighbours. I have always had plans for the English, even with a dash of mongrel blood in their veins. But naming the island Anglesey rather than Saxonsey was only the start. The boys kept forgetting to pay their percentage of the turn over to Art. Then, when Art started to expand his shipping business inland, rather than keeping it as just coastal shipping, things started to get nasty.’
‘Very what? All these foreign words people use these days.’ Grimm drank, another empty can hit the ground and a replacement prised from the plastic web that held it. ‘He was very good at new ideas was our Arthur, especially when it mean it increased his wealth. Now you need to know that the River Thames was the main key to Art’s new business plan. He could use that route to get the goods, with their security guards of course, up into the midlands and the west where they could be easily ported across to other rivers and thus all over the place. The trouble was the Angle led Jutes based in Kent: they controlled the easiest route into the river, via the Wensum channel that cut the Isle of Thanet off from the mainland. They also held the south bank of the Thames all the way to the rapids at Teddington where the tide finally stops running.’
‘Thanet, the island that is no longer an island.’
‘Yes: we met there only a short while ago.’
‘Over two years ago, getting on for three.’
‘Was it? I thought it was only last week. Oh well.’ Grimm gave a blackened tooth smile that was supposed to be friendly, but in fact looked intimidating. ‘If you say so young æþeling.’ Grimm gave another reassuring smile that didn’t quite work. ‘Now Art had thought that, as Esc and Octha were business partners in the security branch, they would be happy with his ships sailing up the Thames. But they considered it a separate business and demanded a fat levy on Art’s ships using their waterways. If I had been around I am sure I could have sorted something out, but I was busy on the other bank of the Thames. I was trying to get the Swæfe, who the Brits called the East Saxons, to concentrate their war bands on the Wealas, rather than raiding the Angles to their north. By the time my pet birds Huggin and Munnin had brought me the news of the dispute between the Kentingas and Arthur with his West Saxon and Gothic sub-contractors it was all on with Jutes raiding Saxons and Saxons raiding Jutes and Angles.’
Jamie turned to look at the pits and used the opportunity to sneak a second Mars bar out of his pocket. He peeled back the wrapper and took a bite before turn to face Grimm again. ‘Not a nice situation Grimm.’
‘No it was not.’ Grimm consoled himself with more larger, making a choice to not comment on the brown chocolate stain on Jamie’s teeh. ‘The Brits were laughing up their sleeves seeing the Ge-men wiping each other out. I told young Art to forget the fat contracts with the Wealas, make peace with the other Ge-men, then strike together against the Brits. That way the whole country could belong to the Ge-man folk. Once that had happened, who cared if the various kin folk fought over who got what. I had just started to make him see sense, when the birds told me about what had happened with the Swæfe. All my talk about the Ge-men not fighting each other had sunk in with the Swæfe. The problem was they saw Cerdic as a collaborator. You see the Brits only ever called him Arthur, and claimed him for one of their own. So the Swæfe joined with the Angles of the North Folk and the South Folk and the Keningas to close the whole River Thames to Art.’
‘Having many names must be confusing.’
‘Oh it is, it is. Some days I can’t recall if I am Arthur or Martha.’
‘Or Albert or Grimm?’
The old man gave the youth a hard long stare with his one eye. Having seen Jamie become suitably embarrassed, Grimm continued: ‘Have you finished? I can continue can I? Hmm?’
Jamie nodded his agreement.
Grimm coughed and stared into the distance before he deigned to continue. ‘Yes, well, Art wasn’t having that sort of behaviour by his subbies, so he formally cancelled his franchise concessions and sub-contracts with the East Saxons, the North and South Folk and the Kentingas. He then called those subbies he thought still loyal to the round table in South Hampton. Whilst they were gathering he conned the Wealas into financing the whole deal on the basis that he could stop English expansion. With men and money in place he started planning his next move.’
‘I bet you didn’t like that.’
‘No I didn’t like the way things were shaping up as it looked as if all my plans to change Britain into England were going to be destroyed. To sort things out I called a gathering on a hill at Badon where there was an old hill fort. The North and South Folk came, the Swaefe came and so did the Kentingas, but there was no sign of Cerdic. Eventually Cerdic came, but he came as Arthur and he had an army at his back, which he then used to besiege us. I hadn’t got to hear about his plans as he had taken the cunning move of feeding Huggin and Munnin raw meat soaked in mead. By the time the stupid birds got to me, with their heads feeling as if they had been crushed between two mills stones, they couldn’t remember a thing about what Art had been saying to his factors.’
‘That was when you had ravens not starlings.’
‘Oh starlings would have been worse, especially if they were Cockney ones like the pair that plague me these days. Now: Badon Hill. It was a nasty affair. Two weeks with a few thousand boisterous warriors, lots of food, plenty of booze, and no sanitation. It got so bad the decision was made to fight our way out of there before we passed out from the stench. Many got killed, but that is the way of things, and there were many for my Wælcyrie to bring as new recruits for Walhalla. Having made sure that the other Ge-men were shattered and disorganised, Cerdic was able to demand that he got his right of way for his ships and some new trading posts thrown in too.’
‘He was very clever.’
‘Clever, cunning, crafty, canny, careful Cerdic. The Brits felt they had got good value for their money as they got 40 years of peace. They also had a new hero – Arthur.’ Grimm let the latest empty can drop to his feet and started another.
‘And after Badon Hill?’ Jamie prompted, surprised that his father had not yet returned, but knowing that time spent with Grimm was time that never seemed to end.
After a can emptying guzzle followed by a few good fume laden belches the old man dumped yet another emptied can. ‘Oh I had to bide my time after Badon Hill and lay careful plans so that, when the next opportunity came along, my Ge-men would ensure that the only parts of the island the Wealas had left to them were the hard wet nasty places on the edge. I am sure it was Cerdic having Wealas blood that stopped me seeing just what he was up to. Fortunately I retained some influence with him and I was able to make sure that his sons married only my descendants: that way I was able to better guess what they were up to and to influence their decisions. Mixed blood: it’s a problem. Just look at the English today. First my constantly drunk and excessively violent Franks marry Gauls and turn into the effeminate French. Then my beloved, mead sodden Norse marry Frenchies and become boorish Normans and then they intermarry with my lovely English: so sad, so very sad.’ Grimm wiped what may have been a tear from the puckered empty socket where his left eye should have been.
Jamie looked and watched his father who seemed to have finished his chat with the riders and was merely looking at some of the bikes with their sponsor be-badged covers. ‘So why is it that what actually happened is so different from the tales told about Arthur in later days?’ he asked the old man, aware time was in fact actually running out.
‘Where were the chivalrous knights in armour on their stomping steamy steeds? If you mean the Ge-man mercenaries in their boiled leather and rusty mail riding nasty knobbly nags then yes they were there, for I have told you so. And the steeds? Charging into the ranks of the enemy? Oh do grow up. Horses are for riding to and from a fight. No one in their right mind uses them in a battle. Fine if you want to run down a broken enemy or pick off stragglers from a raiding party, but against a shield wall? Ask the Normans in 1066 about that. It is even worse if the shield wall has plenty of archers behind it. Only a fool would send massed horsemen against well dug in and disciplined warriors on foot. Excalibur? Do you mean Caliburn? The sword Cerdic owned? Hmm? A rather nice blade that. Cynric saw it being thrown into a pond by a Wealas after he and the boys had killed the Brit prince Natanleod, I think it may have been Natanleod’s as it had lots of gold and jewels on the hilt. They did that you know, the Wealas; threw swords into ponds and rivers. I keep telling you that they are a strange people. Did Arthur have it thrown back into the lake as he lay dying? Don’t be stupid. Cerdic was one of mine and my kin would never waste a good blade. Cynric had it on his father’s death and his son after him and his son after him. Last time I saw it, it was being given to Edgar after the death of his father, Ælfred, England’s darling. I lost track of it after that, no doubt it is lying buried in some field after being buried in some Viking’s guts.’
‘What about some of the characters you have not mentioned, like Mordred? Morgan? Merlin?’
‘Never heard of them: they never existed. No, don’t argue with me, for I was there and you weren’t.’
Jamie went to say something.
Grimm held out his left hand, which still had some of the hamburger bits attached to it as well as a now squeezed Mars Bar; ‘Stop it: Mordred, Morgan, Merlin must be the figments of some second rate tale tellers who stuck them in as padding to stretch out a tale that didn’t fit the pattern their audience of fat flatulent French and nasty noisome Normans expected. They may have been willing to tell lies, but I’m not. I have told you what is true, or as true as an old man’s memory allows, for although I was then a young man, I am now an old man.’
A starling flew in and sat on Grimm’s left shoulder; ‘Kwik Gov vers a Rozzer on ‘is way,’ it squawked.
Another flew in and sat on Grimm’s right shoulder; ‘Tis true yer worship ver Law iz on it way ‘ere.’
Jamie shook his head and pointed. ‘That was what I intended to tell you Grimm, not question you about your tale.’
Grimm turned and looked where Jamie was pointing. There, through a thinning crowd, came a policeman with a sharp faced woman and worried looking man at his side.
The woman in turn pointed. ‘That’s him Constable; him what stole our quality beer.’
‘Quality beer my …’
‘Just go Grimm.’
‘Right young Leofwine, must be off, other young boys to offer information and advice to.’ Grimm turned and, for an old man, made good speed away from his pursuers, the remaining larger cans clanking together as he went. The two starlings, Huggin and Munnin left his shoulders and took to dive bombing the policeman. From somewhere unknown, for dogs are banned from speedway tracks, two sleek grey wolf like hounds appeared and grabbed onto the policeman’s hi vis jacket impeding his progress.
Jamie’s dad pushed through the group of people laughing at the law’s difficult pursuit. ‘Who was that? Not Uncle Albert?’
‘Or was it Grimm? It is funny, for when he used to tell me tales when I was younger, he always gave the tale a moral.’
‘A shame he didn’t.’ Mr White ran nicotine stained fingers through his thinning hair.
‘I think,’ said Jamie, ‘I think that I can come up with a moral of my own dad.’
‘And that is son?’
‘Names do not matter; it is your deeds that count.’
After almost three years 21stC schoolboy Jamie meets up with Grimm again and this time Grimm finally tells Jamie the true story of King Arthur - well almost true, as true as his memory recalls, for he is no longer the young man, but the old man. The story he tells is far from that told in the legends. The unexpected reunion is at the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings where Jamie is with the Anglo-Saxon group he has joined and Grimm has had too much to drink. This is the final installment of Grimm Tales, that is unless the old man decides otherwise.