The company of riders burst into the spring morning with sunlight flashing off armor and sword. The sound was steady like the staccato beat of a hundred drums from hooves pounding the path in the well-disciplined cadence of great destriers. The King looked magnificent in his highly polished armor and crimson cloak as he led the way with Merlyn riding beside him. Next was Lancelot who rode beside Mordred where he could keep him near his watchful eyes, followed by the knight who carried The Pendragon standard. It flew behind the bearer like a blaze of red flame on the wind carrying the symbol of the dragon.
Spirits were high that morning of imminent combat. King Arthur’s mounted soldiery, from the archer to the fully armored knights approached the site chosen by their King where the battle would be met that day. They were eager in their desire to roust the Saxon horde from their homeland.
The lessons King Arthur had learned long ago when he was a small child and when he first met his friend and namesake would be remembered this day. The man, who came from another age to guide him in the ways of being the best king he could be, taught him well. The young Arthur said that he would let his knights fight for him until he was big enough to fight himself. Now, he led those knights and was a man grown and ready to meet the challenge to command his destiny.
In the distance, they could see King Arthur’s five hundred pike men and foot soldiers that already arrived and now awaited them at the bottom of the hill that was their destination. The ranks parted to either side of the road to permit their king and his knights to pass. The mounted party rode to the top of the hill and stopped to get the view of the vast sweep of the shoreline below. Arthur raised his hand and every knight obeyed the signal to reign to a halt. There was absolute silence. Even the horses sensed the need to stand at attention.
The King’s banner was like a live symbol that echoed the fear that gripped every man there from what was seen below. It slowly floated down to drape across the rump of the horse of its bearer. Then, a strong breeze swelled off the sea and lifted it high again just as Arthur turned and flashed a smile to his knights. Their hearts answered to a man and they raised their swords and spears into the air in salute to their King.
The Saxon tents in the camps below stretched as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of men in the armies of the Saxon Kings went about their business of readying themselves for the day. There was no question Arthur’s men were outnumbered.
To make matters more of a challenge, the armies of Arthur’s allies from the West Country had not yet arrived but he wanted to wait as long as possible to give them more time. There was hope they would still arrive before the Saxons discovered their presence so they would not have to give up the advantage the element of surprise would give them. But any Saxon scout in the area might quickly report the threat that looked down on them that day.
With Arthur’s five hundred foot soldiers at the rear and back of the hill, they were protected from an attack in that direction. The Saxons would need to divide their forces to attempt to surround the hill where Arthur and his mounted knights held the high ground and thus command of the supreme advantage over any attack from below. Even if the Saxons formed a shield wall, Arthur’s mounted knights with armor, long swords and spears would penetrate such an attempt with a swift force and the enemy would be decimated in a short time.
Merlyn smiled at Arthur and reached over to place a hand on his shoulder. ”When you see that the worst has come, that is when you use Excalibur. Draw it out and do your best, Lad.”
Then Arthur made the decision to engage the battle before too much more of the day was lost to them. If the allies arrived once this was underway, then of course, that too would give them another advantage.
King Arthur raised his hand, motioning to the mounted archers to prepare their arrows and await the signal. Archers nocked their arrows to begin their death ride. Arthur's hand dropped, and a sudden scream of whistling arrows sprung forth and filled the sky plummeting toward the Saxons below. The archers then retreated back up the hill and made their stand knowing they were covered to the rear. The enemy was unprepared and unarmored and this resulted in many of them being slain in the beginning by the rain of arrows and stopped them dead where they stood.
Nevertheless, they quickly rallied and almost immediately, the two Saxon kings divided their forces just as was expected and set upon Arthur fiercely from behind. With that, King Arthur turned with his knights, and fought behind and before, and ever Arthur was in the center of it all until his horse was slain underneath him.
Lancelot was engaged in combat when he saw it happen. Two Saxons came at him from different directions. He weilded a sword in each hand and seemed to be effortlessly holding off the two men who were ill prepared for one with such skill. It was then that he saw Mordred slash at Arthur’s horse from behind with such fierce hatred in his eyes that even Lancelot recoiled from that look. He quickly rid himself of the two who were keeping him from his sworn duty. Then he directed four of Arthur’s knights to assist The King to mount another horse. He must protect the King at all costs. His eyes gleaming with the fire of his anger, Lancelot rode his huge battle horse over the bodies of slain Saxons determined to stop the fleeing Mordred who knew he made a grave mistake and turned to escape.
Merlyn just shoved his staff into the face of a Saxon who was attempting to climb up his cloak as he sat astride his horse. He looked up just in time to see Mordred’s treachery and gave a nod of assent to Lancelot, knowing what would happen if Mordred were caught by the Champion Knight.
Rage carried Lancelot after Mordred. He rode into the midst of the ground battle taking place to the rear of the main offense that roiled at the top of the hill. By some miracle, Mordred managed to drive his horse through until he was nearly free of the chaos that surrounded him. He glanced back only once to see that he was pursued. He knew that Lancelot saw what he did to Arthur’s horse. His dark hate of Arthur mixed with the fear in his eyes as he desperately tried to elude the greatest of all knights who was fast bearing down upon him. His time had come for he knew that Lancelot would not relent until he was dead. Still, he kept on trying to escape.
It was then Arthur drew his sword Excalibur, and it was so bright in his enemy’s eyes that it gave forth a light like thirty torches. From then on events turned in his favor. He moved wielding his mighty sword with an ease that gave him an aura of invincibility. Some Saxons merely stood gazing up at his brilliance, putting down their sword when their time came to die rather than retreat back to where their own Kings waited with archers ready to shoot any man who turned and ran.
Later, when the sun was still high in the sweet spring day, the allies from Britain’s West Country rode into the battle with vigor and high screams. This was not before wave after wave of Saxons had thrown their lives down at the base of the hill where Arthur’s men stood them off. There was a wall of the dead where one piled upon the other, slick with blood that made it necessary for the attacking enemy soldiers to climb upon the bodies of their fallen brothers to get near the battle. This threw them off balance enough to give Arthur’s men the edge and the Saxon advance was halted in a matter of a few hours. The invaders turned and fled to that place from where they came, many had been slain by their own leaders for leaving the battle too soon, then when it was clear that the battle was lost, they all fled.
During that time, Lancelot rode his horse hard extracting all the speed he could muster from the devoted beast. Then he was forced to slow his pace and weave in and out of the dense growth of trees in the forest where he last saw the retreating dark form of Mordred astride his black horse. By the time, he had reached the forest it was late afternoon and the fading light fell in long slanting beams filled with dancing motes that filtered down through the branches of tall trees. The forest floor was already lush and green with moss and innocent blooms of wildflowers were scattered in every direction. Lancelot was struck by how unseemly it would be to spill blood in this reverent place. He so loved the nature of spring.
The sound of battle had long faded and the only song that could be heard was the gentle call of the forest birds. Lancelot heard trills, whistles, and an occasional chatter of chipmunks busily scurrying in and out of their nests to prepare for their newborn. He wondered if he was mistaken and had taken a wrong turn into such a peaceful scene. The dense growth gave way to an open area where a stream brought icy water down from some far away high place. Lancelot paused to allow his destrier a cool drink. He turned in his saddle and looked all around but could see no sign of movement.
Lancelot knew Mordred must be somewhere close by. Perhaps even close enough to hear him if not actually see him from some cowardly hiding place. He shuddered with disgust over how brazen the fool had been to think he could turn events so Arthur would be killed in battle. All his display over the past weeks while he pretended to be eager to become a knight were false. All along, he waited for his chance at some kind of misplaced revenge. Just thinking over this situation brought the anger and outrage flooding back and Lancelot turned his horse around to better survey what lay in the distance.
“Come out Mordred. Do not make it worse by cowering and hiding like some rogue. You are shameful and need to answer for your crime.”
Then Lancelot rode a little further back into the forest, stopped and listened. All of the sounds ceased as if they disappeared just as Mordred had done. Lancelot taunted him further rather enjoying putting into words what he wished to say ever since he met Mordred.
“Show yourself you poor excuse for a man. You are nothing more than an insolent dog. Does your bravery only extend to acts of traitorous betrayal and deceit?”
Still there was no response. Ever watchful, Lancelot rode on, searching for Mordred.
Then, a sound of laughter drifted in from somewhere in the darkening trees. It was a high-pitched hysterical laughter that was chilling and sinister in its madness. Lancelot recoiled at the odious sound of it and felt a growing deep anger for the one that not only attempted to kill his dearest friend and king, but also was even now defacing his beloved forest with his wicked presence.
The sky above was suddenly much darker and Lancelot looked around in confusion at the unnatural phenomena. There was a rush of hot wind high in the trees and a dark shadow passed overhead followed almost immediately by another. So dense was the canopy of leafy branches that only a glimpse of reddening sky could be seen that was rapidly changing to herald a setting sun. The air was sinister in the stillness that felt heavy and oppressive.
Lancelot rode quickly, his horse threading its way through the trees back the way they came. The thought foremost in his mind was to get back to Arthur immediately where he could help to shield him from the danger that was revealed at last.