The young bard rode hard and fast on his shaggy mount through the mists that seemed to perpetually lie around Caerlon-on-Usk, the City of the Legion. The city was known to have once housed a mighty Roman Legion. Now a new legion was encamped at Caerlon, the legion of Arthur Pendragon.
Taliesin felt a surge of hope at the thought of Arthur, this young mighty warrior who had captured the hearts and minds of the populace and the nobles alike. Taliesin knew little of Arthur save that he was a mighty warrior and that he was young, of an age with Taliesin and they said he was the son of the former High King, Uther Pendragon. Of course there were many that disputed Arthurís claim, but none other than Merlin himself had brought forth Arthur and the young warriorís success on the battlefield certainly seemed to indict him as a Pendragon.
Taliesin was yanked from his thoughts of Arthurís parentage by the sound of swords being drawn. Suddenly, from the woods that bordered the road, a challenging voice rang out, "Halt!"
Sentries appeared from the woods, hard looking men, dressed in mail and wearing the livery of a white lion.
"Whatís this?" said one of the men, "A spy?"
He stepped closer to the bardís mount. This was no mere sentry. The man wore a long wine colored surcoat and cape of the same color. His black hair was long and held in warriorís braids. He was broad of shoulder and he was armed with a sword that was taller than a normal man. The purple robed figure looked almost large enough to be a Saxon.
The bard reined in his horse.
"I need to see Arthur." He said.
He then took a breath, tried to steady his pounding heart and began again, "Iím Taliesin. I must speak with Arthur."
"You wish to speak to our Dux Bellorum?" the man said. "Do you think we are in the habit of letting spies and assassins ride the Kingís Roads and then demand an audience?"
"Iím no spy, Lamorak." Taliesin said. "Arthur knows me."
"How do you know my name?" Lamorak asked, his eyes narrowing.
"All know the greatest of Arthurís Knights," Taliesin said. "Even if your heraldry did not proclaim you, then that sword would. It is long, like the weapon of a Saxon."
"The weapon of my enemy," Lamorak said with a grim smile as he looked almost longingly at his massive weapon. Lamorak turned suddenly, "I will take you to Bedivere. If you can convince him, then perhaps you can see Arthur."
"And if I canít convince Bedivere?" Taliesin asked.
"Then we cook you with our supper," Lamorak said with a laugh.
Taliesin did not get the feeling that the Knight was joking.
Lamorak and his soldiers half guided and half prodded Taliesin towards a field of tents that sat in the plains above Caerlon. The sun was just beginning to crawl into the sky and the camp was coming to life. The tents were laid out in neat rows and the army was already beginning to ready itself for the day. Everywhere soldiers went about their daily tasks with efficiency and purpose. Taliesin could smell the meat being prepared by the cooks. His mouth watered.
It was easy to see Bedivereís tent. Bedivere was a famous warrior, much like Arthur. Bedivere was also well known as Arthurís field marshal, his second in command. His tent was a large affair, with his own symbol, a red pennant, flapping above it just a few inches lower than that of Arthurís Red Dragon. The tent was ringed by Bedivereís own cavalrymen. Their horses grazed in a corral made of rope that stood nearby.
Lamorak took Taliesin to the tent himself. When he was almost there he was met by a man who the bard took to be an officer.
"Lamorak," The man said. "What brings you this early? You know he is still in bed."
Lamorak jerked his head towards Taliesin. "This one says he has to talk to Arthur, Lucan. He says his name is Taliesin."
"The bard," Lucan said.
Lamorak nodded, "But I figured we should let your brother talk to him before I took him to Arthur."
"Bedivere doesnít know Taliesin." Lucan said.
"No?" Lamorak asked, "Doesnít matter. He can decide if this piece of cow shit can see Arthur. I was for stringing him from a roadside tree just to warn spies away."
Lucan said nothing. He was younger than Lamorak and he just shrugged at the older knightís callous mention of cruelty.
"Iíll see if I can wake him."
With that, Lucan turned and strode to the tent, cleared his throat loudly from outside, and then raised the flap just enough to slip in.
Taliesin stood outside uncomfortably aware of Lamorakís presence and the large sword the Knight carried. He wondered if Lamorak had been serious about killing him. Taliesin had almost decided to ask Lamorak if his threats had been in jest or not when the tent flap opened and Lucan appeared again.
"Heíll see the Bard," Lucan said. "Címon Lamorak, letís find some spiced wine."
Lamorak nodded, "Iíve been watching with my men all night. I could use a drink before I find a bed." Lucan and Lamorak disappeared in the general direction of the cook fires. Taliesin turned and raised the tent flap.
As he entered the tent, Taliesin was hit by a wave of warmth. It was not a cold season, but the mornings still came with a chill. There was no chill in Bedivereís tent, however. The chill was kept at bay by a brazier in the center of the tent that provided a soft light as well as warmth. Taliesin also judged by the heady odors in the air that the brazier was used to provide the aroma of burnt incense as well. The tent itself was bedecked as one that would suit a Roman general, though no Roman Legion had been in Logres for many years. The floor was covered in rich carpet and there were chairs and tables as might suit the hall of some nobleís villa. Near the wall of the tent was a bed surrounded by curtains. From the curtains, Taliesin heard a manís voice, and a womanís soft giggle. Then, the curtains moved and Bedivere appeared.
The Knight Marshall of Arthurís forces was younger than Taliesin had expected, though he was still a year or two older than the Bard. Taliesin judged Bedivere to have seen twenty summers. The knight was handsome, as his reputation proclaimed, but even more notable was his physique. Bedivere resembled the carved body of some God or Titan such as might have adorned a street in Rome. Taliesin had heard Bedivere termed as the Knight of perfect sinews, but nothing had prepared the truth of Bedivereís appearance. The Knight was clearly proud of his physical appearance. He had taken time to adorn himself in only a leather skirt, also an old Roman fashion. Bedivere did nothing to cover the rest of his body. Taliesin felt somewhat embarrassed by his own bedraggled appearance and slight frame buried beneath a thick tunic and a hooded cloak.
"Taliesin," Bedivere said. "You seek me out at an odd hour, Bard."
Behind Bedivere, Taliesin was shocked to see not one, but two women peering out of the curtained bed. Both were disheveled and their eyes were red-rimmed from sleeplessness.
I apologize, Sir Bedivere, for the interruption," Taliesin said.
Bedivere laughed, "None of that title bullshit, bard. I am not high born like Arthur and Bors. Iím a warrior... and a man of base appetites."
Bedivere cast a glance back at the two ladies in his bed and they flushed crimson. Taliesin smiled, feeling himself blush.
"How can I help you, Taliesin?" Bedivere asked, moving across the tent to pour himself a glass of wine from a pitcher there.
"I am surprised you agreed to see me," Taliesin remarked. "Unless I am mistaken, we have never met."
"We have not," Bedivere said. "But Merlin said you would come to me and that I should receive you and listen to what you had to say."
"Merlin?" Taliesin asked. "He knew I was coming?"
"Either that or he guessed," Bedivere responded. "I donít know which. I am not all that comfortable with the magic that Merlin is said to possess, and having seen no proof of it myself, I will choose to believe that he guessed. Or, as if far more likely, he has spies of his own who told him of your coming."
"Yet he knew to tell you, of all of Arthurís commanders, that I would come to you?" Taliesin said, "Remarkably lucky."
Bedivere shrugged, "So why have you come to me, bard?"
"I bring a warning to Arthur." Taliesin said.
"More portents and dire visions?" Bedivere asked. "Arthur has been hearing that for five years now. On the eve of every battle soothsayers proclaim his death. He is as yet undefeated."
"I am no magician like our lord Merlin, Bedivere," Taliesin said. "I bring news of a more confirmed kind."
Bedivereís eyes hardened as he took a drink of wine. He was trying to appear disinterested, but Taliesin saw the concern in the Knights eyes. He took nothing lightly. Taliesin could see why Arthur placed a common born man in charge of so many nobleís sons.
"What news then?" Bedivere asked - his voice calm and steady.
"King Lot of Lothian and King Uriens of Gorre have allied against him," Taliesin said.
Bedivere relaxed visibly, "The King knows this. Lot has gathered eleven rebel kings against Arthur. Why do you think Arthur has gathered this Legion? We have horses, artillery, archers and infantry. This is the Legion of the Pendragon, Taliesin. We know of the Rebel forces gathering in the North."
Taliesin shook his head, "Not in the North, Bedivere. They are here... In Dumnonia."
Bedivereís face paled. "I caution you not to say such a thing if it is not true."
"It is true," Taliesin said. "Not two days ride from this very spot. They march fast."
Bedivere swallowed his wine in a single swallow, "You are certain of this?"
"I saw them with my own eyes." Taliesin said. "Cradelmant brings a Legion of 5,000 men. Nentres another 4,000. Galehaut brings 5,000. Clarion brings 3,000. Then there is the cavalry of Lot, Uriens, Pellinore and Belinant. Anguish and Brangorre bring troops as well. The enemy numbers over 30,000 troops, a full 5 Legions. You yourself have 10,000 men gathered, unless I am mistaken."
"How do you know our strength?" Bedivere asked.
Taliesin smiled, "Bardís know what the people know, Bedivere. I said I have no magic and that is true unless you count the magic of gathering information. I know what the people know and the people always know more than you think."
"Do not make the mistake of describing the rebels as Legions. They may have enough men to make up a Legion, but they are no Legion," Bedivere warned. "They do not have Arthurís organization. He has matched our forces to be like a Legion of old, in the Roman way. Arthur calls himself Dux Bellorum, but in the Roman ways he would be a Senior Legate. I am his Field Marshall, but my title would have once been Legate. We have ten cohorts, each commanded by a Knight Commander. Each Cohort is comprised of five to ten Companies, what the Roman would have called Maniples. Each Company is led by a Knight. These Knights would have been Centurions in the old days. Lamorak, as you know, is the First Knight. He is what would have been called a Primus Pillus, or First Spear, in the old days."
"You are right," Taliesin said. "The rebel Kings are not this organized, but they vastly outnumber your Legion."
"Our superior organization, training and experience will make it an even battle," Bedivere said, "but even still, Arthur must be warned."
"That is why I am here," Taliesin said.