Chapter 1: Two Kings and a Knight
Camelot, the Kingdom of Logres, August 11th, 772 AD
Arthur, Son of Uther Pendragon, King of the Britons, King of Logres, Lord of Camelot, Lord of the Round Table, Protector of the Land, Saxonbane, Dragonslayer, Giantkiller, Hammer of the Cinbin, etc. sat on his throne, hearing petitions from the people of his lands: nobles and knights, priests and peasants, all could request an audience with the king.
So far, he had two dragons and a band of giants that needed to be slain, a land dispute between King Lot and King Angusel to settle, and Irish raiders to track down. All in all, it’d been a rather slow day.
Sir Kay spoke up. “The next petitioner is a lady knight who has refused to identify herself. She was found wandering the town by Sir Bors and Sir Galahad. According to them, she was armed and armoured, and seemed extremely confused. They approached her to offer their assistance, and noted that she seemed shocked and somewhat frightened when they introduced themselves. She apparently was unaware that she was in Camelot, or even in Logres, and asked them who the current king was. When they told her that you were king, she requested an audience, saying that something was ‘dreadfully wrong’ and that only you would be able to solve it”
'Sounds like someone wandered into the Otherworld, got lost, and came out in the wrong year,' thought Arthur. Her shock at his name, and the names of Bors and Galahad, implied that she was familiar with them, but never expected to meet them, most likely indicating she had come from the future instead of the past.
He’d dealt with it before. A young knight by the name of Edward of Woodstock had apparently gotten lost on a hunt, been lured into the other world, and escaped after what he thought was an hour, only to find himself several centuries in the past.
The lad was apparently familiar with the tales of Arthur, though many of the facts had been distorted over time.
He took pity on the young man, and invited him to join the Round Table, which he had happily accepted.
“Send her in!” said Arthur.
A young woman stepped through the door. She was blonde with sea green eyes, and had her hair done up in a bun. She wore a blue and white dress, and a small amount of armour. Her face was a stoic mask, though Arthur could see great worry in her eyes. Oddly enough, she reminded him of Morgause, though with his father’s hair and eye colour.
“You stand before Arthur, King of the Britons,” said Arthur. “State your name, and what issue you bring before me.”
There was a pause, then the woman spoke: “My name is Arturia Pendragon, daughter of Uther Pendragon, King of the Britons.”
There was complete silence as the court absorbed what she said.
‘Dammit, father, was it really so hard to keep it in your pants?’ thought Arthur.
Gawain was the first to speak. “You dare claim to be our king’s kin? And to claim his father’s title, no less?!”
‘I mean, it was my uncle’s title originally, father just took it after he died and claimed to have seen the comet as well…’ thought Arthur.
“You should be locked up for such lies!”
“Disgraceful! Absolutely disgraceful!”
“QUIET!” Arthur yelled, instantly silencing the court.
“Now, then. You claim to be my sister, which is by no means impossible,” Arthur said, briefly glaring at his courtiers. “Pray tell, who was your mother?”
Arturia was silent for a moment, then spoke.
“My mother was your mother, Igraine.”
“Impossible. My mother died giving birth to me, and I know that I have no twin.”
“I know. I do not believe I am in the correct world, for in my world, I was the King of the Britons, and your Galahad and Bors look nothing like the ones I knew.”
“Fascinating. I assume you are here to request my aid in returning to your world?”
“Yes, I am.”
“While I am inclined to believe you, I require proof,” said Arthur.
He picked up Excalibur by its sheath, and pointed the hilt towards her. “Only the true King of the Britons is able to draw Excalibur from its sheath. If you truly are the King of the Britons in your world, then you should be able to draw it. Approach the throne, and prove whether your claims are true.” Despite the worry in her eyes, Arturia didn’t hesitate. She strode forwards, confident that her words would be proven true.
She grasped the hilt with one hand, and pulled.
The sword slid from the sheath easily.
The court burst into arguments.
‘Well,’ thought Arthur. ‘This should be interesting.’
Near the city of Mosynopolis, Theme of Thrace, Eastern Roman Empire, August 11th, 772 AD
A young soldier sat upon his horse, surveying the destruction before him.
He wore the typical equipment of a Cataphract: a shirt of scale armour that extended down to his upper legs, greaves to protect his lower legs, gauntlets to protect his hands, a conical helmet with a veil of ring mail to protect his face. Over his armour, he wore a white surcoat with a red cross upon it, and carried a white round shield with the same red cross upon it. In his right hand, he held a lance, and on his hip was a sword and dagger. Attached to his saddle was a bow, a quiver of arrows, and a handaxe. On his back, he wore a red cloak.
His horse, a white destrier, was also well-armoured, wearing ring mail and a white surcoat.
His name was Geṓrgios, faithful Christian and loyal soldier of the Eastern Roman Empire.
And before him was a hellish sight.
The hills were completely burnt. No tree remained standing, no blade of grass remained unburnt.
The work of a dragon.
He could see the charred remains of several deer, indicating that the dragon hadn’t been hunting for food.
That meant one of two things: the creature was rabid, or something had angered it.
Regardless of what its motivation was, the creature was too dangerous to let live, especially so close to a city.
The soldier spurred his horse onwards, and they rode into the ashen wastes.
Chapter 2: Magicians, Board Meetings, and Borders
Arthur’s Study, Camelot, the Kingdom of Logres, August 11th, 772 AD
‘I never thought I’d miss that skirt-chasing old fool’ thought Arthur.
After Arturia proved her claim, they had retired to his study with Sir Kay and the bard Taliesin, where they had been trying to figure out what had brought Arturia to their world for the last three hours.
So far, they had ruled out her wandering into the Otherworld, annoying a druid or sorceress, angering God, and all of this being an extended hallucination one of them was having while they lay dying.
It would have been much easier if Merlin had been there, but he’d been missing for months and they didn’t have the slightest clue about what happened to him other than that his student, Vivian, was probably involved in his disappearance, if not outright responsible for it.
“Honestly, brother, we should just send her to Avalon,” said Sir Kay, rubbing his temples in frustration. “The sorceresses there are far better equipped to solve mysteries such as this, and may be the only ones who could send her back.”
“I agree with Sir Kay. Even if we do figure out what happened, nobody in Camelot is skilled with the mystic arts,” said Taliesin.
“Meaning nobody here could send her back. Both of you are correct,” said Arthur. “Do you have any objections to visiting them, Arturia?”
“No. If they can return me to my home, I will visit them,” said Arturia.
“Very well. I will send two of my knights and some of my men-at-arms to escort you,” said Arthur. “Normally, I would go with you myself, but I am needed by as a mediator by the Picts, and there is a band of giants on the road to Lothian that I’d like to deal with personally.”
“I understand, I would not wish for you to neglect your duties for my sake. In fact, I do not require such a large escort, as I am quite capable of protecting myself,” said Arturia.
“I do not doubt that you are a capable warrior, but there have been reports of Irish raiders in the lands near Avalon, and even the greatest of warriors can be overwhelmed, especially if taken by surprise,” said Arthur. “I am already planning on sending a force to both escort a merchant caravan to the port you will be travelling to, and to investigate the reports. They will leave tomorrow, so you may as well travel with them.” Arthur put his hands on Arturia’s shoulders, and stared her in the eyes.
“Listen. Though you may be from another world, you are still the daughter of Uther Pendragon and Lady Igraine,” said Arthur. “While others may disagree, I say that makes you my sister, and a brother should look after his sister, should he not?”
Arturia thought for a moment.
“What about Morgan le Fay?” said Arturia.
“She’s a special case,” said Kay. “Anyways, any sibling of Arthur’s is a sibling of mine, so I volunteer to be one of her escorts.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot allow that,” said Arthur. “I need you here, brother, keeping Camelot and Logres in order while I’m in Lothian. I shall choose two other knights to escort our sister at the meeting tomorrow.”
“Very well, Art. If that’s all, I’m going to head off to bed.”
“I believe we should all turn in for the night,” said Arthur. “Arturia, follow me. I’ll show you to your quarters for the night.”
The Room of the Round Table, Camelot, August 12th, 772 AD
The Round Table of King Arthur was a grand thing to behold. Made of the strongest and finest wood from across the world, with plates and mugs made of the finest bronze placed before each knight, and fine chairs with soft cushions for all of them to sit. The table itself was enchanted by the wizard Merlin so that it would always have room no matter how many sat at it.
Currently, over 50 knights sat at the table, some eating breakfast, others talking amongst themselves, a few bragging about recent adventures they’d been on, and one of them appeared to be sleeping.
“I mean, I prefer aiming for the wings so the beast cannot run, but I’ve heard...”
“Do you think we’re going to fight the Irish? This must be the eighth raid this summer…”
“So I said to the man ‘Lumber? I hardly kne-”
“ALRIGHT, YOU HORRIBLE LOT!” said Sir Kay, walking into the room. “Listen up, your king is here!”
All the knights quickly stood to attention as Arthur entered the room, flanked by Sir Lucan the Butler, his marshal Sir Bedivere, and Arturia, who no longer wore her armour but did have her Excalibur in a sheath hanging from her hip.
“Thank you, Sir Kay,” said Arthur as he took his seat, Arturia and Kay taking seats to his right, while Bedivere and Lucan sat to his left. “You may all be seated.”
The knights sat, some returning to their breakfasts.
Kay noticed that one of the knights was slumped over the table, snoring softly. He picked up a small bun from a nearby plate, and chucked it at the knight.
"OI, TOR! Wake up, you lazy bastard!" said Kay.
Tor awoke with a start, his face red with embarrassment.
"Sorry, my king!" said Tor.
“It's alright, Sir Tor, you're not the first to sleep during a meeting," said Arthur, glancing at Kay. "Now, do any of you have news that needs to be shared? No? Then we shall begin.”
“First, the rumours of Irish raiders. Sir Fergus and Sir Neroveus, I would like you two to escort a merchant caravan to the port of Bangor. Once there, look into the rumours, and search the countryside for evidence. Additionally, you will be escorting Arturia to the port, where she will be boarding a ship bound for Avalon. Any objections? No? Very well, you two are dismissed. Get your armour and weapons, ready your horses, and meet with Sir Deiniol. He has chosen a group of men-at-arms to help you escort the caravan.”
With that, Fergus and Neroveus stood and left.
“Now, onto the next issue; Abertawe is under attack from a dragon, reported to be the size of ten houses. Sir Severause, Sir Ironside, Sir Cardock, and Sir Arroc, I task you with hunting down and defeating this foul beast,” said Arthur. “There is also a dragon, said to be five houses in length, terrorising the people of St Albans. Sir Lancelot, Sir Galehaut, and Sir Robin; I charge you three with the slaying of this beast. I wish all of you good luck in your respective hunts. All seven of you are dismissed.”
The seven rose, bowed, and left.
“Finally, there is the matter of a band of giants terrorising people near our border with Lothian. I shall deal with this personally, as King Lot has already requested that I mediate a dispute between him and King Angusel. Sir Caradoc, Sir Galahad, Sir Gornemant, and Sir Percival will accompany me,” said Arthur. “I appoint Sir Kay as my regent until I return. Rule well, brother.”
“I will, my liege,” said Kay.
“Are there any questions or issues? No? Very well,” said Arthur. “I bring this meeting to an end.”
Arthur stood, as did Arturia, Bedivere, Caradoc, Galahad, Gornemant, Kay, Lucan, and Percival, who followed him out the door, leaving the room silent.
Sir Dagonet was the first to speak.
“Anyways, where was I?” he said.
“Something about lumber, I believe,” said Sir Constantine.
“Ah, right. So I said to the man, ‘Lumber? I hardly knew ‘er!”
The room was silent once again.
“I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what the first part of the joke was, Sir Dagonet,” said Sir Sagramore. “Perhaps you should start from the beginning?”
“Very well,” said Dagonet, rolling his eyes. “So, about a week ago, I was riding through Tig Guocobauc…”
The border between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Bulgarian Khanate, August 12th, 772 AD
Nothing remained of the outpost, other than the scorched stones of a well and puddles of metal that were once weapons and armour.
The scorch patterns around the outpost indicated that the dragon had incinerated it from the air.
However, several yards from the outpost, Geṓrgios found the shattered body of one of the soldiers, the lack of a blood trail indicating that he had been struck by the dragon and sent flying.
That meant that the dragon had landed in the outpost, been engaged by the soldiers, then took off and destroyed it before moving on.
This wasn’t the behaviour of a rabid beast, meaning the dragon was looking for something or someone.
Most likely, somebody had stolen from the dragon’s lair while it was out hunting.
They had to be rich enough to own a fast horse, and willing to travel great distances.
Someone foolhardy enough to knowingly steal from a dragon, or foolish enough to come across a cave full of treasures and not think about how the treasure got there.
Whoever it was, they were just as responsible for the deaths of these soldiers as the dragon was, for everybody knew not to steal from a dragon’s hoard, unless you wish for it to kill you and everything around you.
In the distance, Geṓrgios could see another plume of smoke.
It was across the border, in the land of the Bulgars.
His duty was to the people of the Roman Empire, to his emperor, and to God.
Many of his fellow Cataphracts would have turned back. After all, the dragon had left the lands of the Empire, and the Bulgars were pagans whose warriors routinely slaughtered any of their people who converted to Christianity.
They’d say that God wanted the dragon to enter the lands of the Bulgars, to punish them for persecuting his people and for worshipping false gods.
They’d say the soldiers in the outpost were just unlucky, having been stationed in the path of the dragon.
They’d say that the Bulgars had their own warriors, let them fight the dragon. They're foreigners and pagans, who cares if they die?
Geṓrgios looked at his cloak.
It had been three years since that day.
Three years of wearing the red cross.
Three years of slaying monsters, escorting missionaries and pilgrims, helping the sick and wounded, and taking on tasks the other Cataphracts viewed as beneath them.
Without a second thought, he spurred his horse onwards, towards the plume of smoke, and into the land of the Bulgars.
Chapter 3: Ambushes
This chapter contains violence.
You have been warned.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The road to Bangor, Kingdom of Deheubarth, August 14th, 772 AD
The raider charged Arturia, sword above his head, clearly telegraphing his strike. She side-stepped him and slashed his stomach with Excalibur as he ran past, causing him to collapse.
He was the twentieth raider to fall by her hand. Sir Fergus had slain at least ten, while Sir Neroveus had slain eight before he was struck down, a thrown spear managing to pierce his unarmoured neck. At least thirty had been slain by the men-at-arms, but the raiders had overrun them, and only Sir Fergus fought alongside her now.
A raider attempted to stab her in the back, only for her to dodge, twirl around, and stab him through the heart.
She stabbed a spearman through the head, took his spear, and threw it at an axeman trying to charge her.
Arturia could tell this wasn’t a normal raid. A normal raiding party would have cut their losses and retreated when they realised they were facing knights and men-at-arms. Even the most fool-hardy of raiders would have fled by the time twenty of their comrades had been struck down.
There was only one explanation: They knew.
Before she had left, Arthur had taken her, Fergus, and Neroveus aside, and told them the truth about the caravan. While it was indeed carrying goods for sale and supplies ordered by businesses in Bangor, those were but a small fraction of what it carried.
Its true cargo was gold. Arthur’s gold.
Even before the reports of more raiders, Arthur had been planning to send a large escort with the caravan, including both Fergus and Neroveus. Their job wasn’t simply to escort the caravan and search for evidence of the raiders, it was to deliver both an order for more warships, and payment for said warships, to the shipbuilders in Bangor. Arthur had plans for a professional navy, one that would patrol all of Britain’s coasts, fighting Saxon invaders and Irish raiders before they ever landed.
The Irish must have found out. They may not have known why the gold was heading to Bangor, but they had to know the gold was there. Otherwise, the raiding party would have been far smaller, and wouldn’t have engaged trained soldiers.
She heard the sound of metal on metal and the sickening snap of breaking bones behind her, and turned to see Sir Fergus, the battleaxe of an Irish raider embedded deep in his shoulder, and his sword run through said raider’s throat.
Both men collapsed.
She fought alone now.
Two raiders charged her, one armed with a spear, the other a sword.
She deflected the spearman’s thrust with her gauntlet. Side-stepping him, she grabbed his spear then parried a swing by the swordsman. As the spearman overshot her, she tripped him, punched the swordsman in the stomach, then slashed his throat when he doubled-over. Finally, she finished off the prone spearman with his own spear.
The other raiders were forming a circle around her, but none of them attacked, wary of approaching her.
She could see at least forty more. She couldn’t defeat them all, but if she held out long enough, they might take the gold and run.
Three men charged at her. One armed with a spear, two with swords.
The spearman reached her first. Arturia grabbed the spear, stabbed its owner in the stomach with Excalibur, threw the spear at one of the swordsmen, pulled Excalibur from the spearman’s stomach, and beheaded the second swordsman, who was distracted by his comrade’s death.
Two more charged, one armed with a great axe, the other armed with a small club and a round shield. She deflected the axeman’s attack, and cut off his arm, then moved to block the other raider’s club, only for a sudden pain to shoot through her right arm.
One of the raiders had thrown a spear, and managed to clip her arm, forcing her to switch to her left-hand.
Before she could, the raider was upon her. He swung his club for her left bicep, and it hit hard, breaking the bone. Momentarily stunned by the pain, Arturia failed to dodge when the raider hit her head with his shield, knocking her out.
As the woman fell, Bélchú, the club wielding raider, turned to the man who threw the spear that saved his life, who was walking towards him to retrieve said spear.
“That was an excellent throw, Lugaid!” said Bélchú, clapping him on the shoulder.
“It wasn’t. I was aiming for her spine,” Lugaid replied. “Éamonn got in the way, however, so I could only hit her arm. Had I been just a bit off, you may have been killed.”
“Do not worry about what might have happened, my friend. I still live, we have captured the gold, and taken a valuable prisoner!”
Lugaid smiled at that, then knelt to bandage the woman’s arm. It would not do for her to bleed out before they reached Éire.
“Alright, lads!” said Bélchú. “Get those wagons hitched to our horses! I want to be out of here before the hour is out!”
Giant camp, the road to Lothian, Kingdom of Rheged, August 16th, 772 AD
Arthur and his knights rode through the camp like a tidal wave, striking down any giant within reach.
Arthur drove his lance Rhongomyniad through the skull of one ten-foot-tall giant, drew forth Excalibur, and cut off the arm of another giant before it could strike Sir Percival with its fists, who finished it off with his lance.
Galahad ducked as a giant swung a great axe at him, then thrust his lance towards the monster’s heart, striking true and slaying it in a single blow.
Gornemant beheaded two in quick succession, and cut the belt off a third, throwing it to Caradoc, who caught it and removed a key ring from it.
Caradoc rode towards a metal cage the giants were keeping captured peasants in, leaping off his horse and stabbing the giant jailer through the heart before landing. He quickly opened the cage, freeing the captives. He and Gornemant escorted them from the camp.
From a massive tent in the middle of the camp, they heard an earthshaking roar, and from the tent burst the largest of the giants, a beast twenty-feet in height, their leader.
He carried an iron club the size of a mighty oak tree, wore a helmet the size of a small house that had a plume of roc feathers atop it, and carried a shield the size of a castle gate. His massive eyes glowed red, and his teeth were sharp and sickly yellow.
He saw Arthur’s crowned helmet, and roared.
“I am Gog, warchief, son of the greatest warchief of the giants, Gogmagog! Face me, man-chief!”
“I am Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, King of the Britons! I accept your challenge!”
Arthur dismounted and approached Gog, wielding Excalibur with two hands.
Gog swung his club, only for Arthur to swiftly leap over it. He tried to slam his boulder-sized fist down on Arthur, only for Arthur to sidestep and slash the fist, Excalibur cutting through the flesh and bone as if it were water, causing the giant to roar in pain and anger. So loud was the roar that Arthur could feel it in his bones, and even the peasants on the other side of the camp could feel their teeth rattle at the sound.
Arthur cut through Gog’s thigh with Excalibur, forcing the warchief to kneel, the earth shaking as he fell. Desperately, Gog tried to smash Arthur with his great club, only for Arthur to dodge the wild strike with ease, jump onto the club, and run up the giant’s arm, finishing the son of Gogmagog by stabbing him between the eyes.
As the giant fell, the earth shook, and the rescued peasants began to cheer: “Hooray for King Arthur!”
“Galahad! Find out where the nearest village is!” said Arthur. “We will escort these people there, then continue on our way to Lothian”
“Yes, my liege,” said Galahad.
“Gornemant, Percival! Search the chief’s tent for any treasure, then divide it up amongst the former captives!”
“Yes, my liege,” said Gornemant and Percival, as the peasants began cheering again.
“Caradoc! Go inform the rest of our party that it’s safe to join us now!”
“Aye, Arthur,” said Caradoc, who spurred his horse in the direction of their non-knightly companions hiding place.
Arthur removed Excalibur’s sheath from his belt, and turned to address the rescued peasants.
“If any of you are injured or ill, come to me, and I shall heal you with the sheath of Excalibur”
Several of the peasants limped towards him, and a few carried those to injured or ill to walk. The rest cheered for him.
‘It’s good to be king,’ thought Arthur.
Remember, Arturia isn't a heroic spirit in this. She's still a badass with a magic sword, just like Arthur, but even badasses can be overwhelmed if outnumbered
Chapter 4: Irish Interlude
There’s a lot of Gaelic terms in this chapter. Rather than translate them all in the text, I’ve put them all in the author’s note at the end. Only things you really need to know in advance are that Túath means something along the lines of petty-kingdom, Rí means king, and a fiann is a band of warriors.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sioda’s House, the Túath of Tír Nathracha, Cóiced Connacht, Éire, August 14th, 772 AD
Two men stand before the gathered warriors, one blonde, the other brown-haired.
The blonde man is Sioda ua Cionnaith, son of the late Sioda mac Cionnaith, grandson of Rí Cionnaith of Tír Nathracha. He is the leader of his grandfather’s fiann, commanding fifty-three men, the best warriors Tír Nathracha has to offer. Standing five-foot six-inches, he has blue eyes, a mustache, and has curled hair slightly below his shoulders held in place by a silver band around his forehead. He wears a green léine, a loose-fitting tunic, which was hitched up to his knees by means of a red woven belt, and over the tunic a red cloak, fastened at the shoulder with a golden brooch shaped like a snake.
The brown-haired man is Gréagóir mac Duibh, son of the half-giant freeholder Duibh mac Dubhaltach and his half-giant wife Dáiríne. He is seven-feet tall, with broad-shoulders, hazel eyes, and a perpetually dour face covered in a thick beard. His straight hair is shoulder-length, and it hangs freely and unadorned. He wears a blue léine with a green woven belt, and unlike most of the men he wears a pair of dark green trews underneath his léine, covering his legs. Over his tunic he wears a dark green cloak, fastened at the shoulder with a plain iron brooch.
“Alright, lads, listen up! Now, before you all get drunk,” said Sioda. “Gréagóir and I have decided who the best hunter is, and who gets the finest cut of meat. Gréagóir, I leave the honour to you.”
“For killing a great boar of over six-hundred pounds, the finest hunter is Lochan ua Tuachair!” said Gréagóir.
Several men started cheering, only for Gréagóir to hold up his hand to silence them.
“However! For saving the lives of three of his fellow warriors and leading the great boar into Lochan’s trap, we have decided that the finest cut of meat goes Diarmaid mac Bolguidhir!”
Lochan stood up, ready to argue, but was silenced by a glare from Gréagóir.
“Now that that’s out of the way, I’d just like you all to know something!” said Sioda. “You’ve all fought hard to protect our people. I couldn’t ask for a finer band of warriors, and I know my grandfather is just as proud of you all. Sláinte mhaith!”
The warriors raised their mugs and responded: “Sláinte agatsa!”
“Now let’s dig in, lads!”
Cóiced Ulaidh, Éire, August 14th, 772 AD
Three men stood in a field, each armed with a spear.
Each man was suspicious of the other two, and kept his spear up and constantly shifted his gaze between the others.
The first was the most normal looking. He was short, with smooth, thick black hair, sharp grey eyes, and a clean-shaven, youthful face. He wore a red léine with a brown cloak, and his spear had strange barbs on the head.
The second looked stranger, with long blue hair pulled back into a ponytail that reached down to the middle of his back, and red irises, but was otherwise a handsome young man, standing around six feet in height. He wore a strange blue outfit, almost skintight over his chest, with metal covering his shoulders, and his spear was strangely shaped and red.
The third man, if he was indeed a man, was the strangest by far: His hair was three colours, brown at the base, gold at the crown, and red in the middle, with three coils of golden hair at the back of his head, each long enough to reach his shoulders. His cheeks had four dimples each, one yellow, one green, one crimson and one blue. He had fourteen glowing pupils, seven per eye, fourteen toes, seven per foot, and fourteen fingers, seven per hand. The nails on his fingers and toes were long and hooked, like the claws of a predator. If one were to look past his inhuman features, they would say he had a handsome, youthful face, one that resembled the first man’s a fair bit. He was tall, around six and a half feet, and his skin was pale, almost the colour of fresh snow. Oddly enough, he wore the same outfit as the first man, just with dark brown trews, and his spear looked exactly the same.
“Alright,” said the first man. “I don’t know who you two are, but I’m Cú Chulainn, and you two-.”
“You can’t be!” said the second. “I’m Cú Chulainn!”
“Both of you must be lying, because I’m Cú Chulainn!” said the third man.
“No, I’m Cú Chulainn!” said the first Cú Chulainn.
“Here, let me prove it!” said the second Cú Chulainn.
He pressed down on part of his spear, and sharp spines sprung out of the spearhead.
“See,” he said. “I have the Gae Bulg, meaning I’m Cú Chulainn.”
The other two Cú Chulainns also pressed down on parts of their spears, resulting in sharp spines springing out of their spearheads.
There was silence for a moment, then the third Cú Chulainn spoke.
“Well, we can’t all be Cú Chulainn.”
Throne Room, Teamhair, Cóiced Laighin, Éire, August 14th, 772 AD
Ard-Rí Cormac mac Airt really wasn’t prepared for this.
Before him, two men were arguing. The first man was Fionn mac Cumhaill, the leader of the Fianna. The second man claimed to also be Fionn mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna.
Outside of Éire and Britain, the second man would have been thrown out, imprisoned, or executed for making such a claim. After all, why would someone claim to be leader of the king’s finest warriors, a claim that could be easily disproved, if they weren’t up to something?
In Éire, however, it was entirely possible that the Fae could have kidnapped the true leader in his sleep, left behind an imposter, changed what the true leader looked like, and then set him free, all for reasons nearly incomprehensible to mortals.
They had already tried the obvious methods of determining who the real Fionn was: Cold iron (neither had a bad reaction, though the Fae could have kidnapped a human and messed with their memories), trial by combat (took three hours and ended in a draw after they destroyed the practice hall), quizzing them on their past (both got every question right), and divination (it said both were the real Fionn).
Well, if they were both Fionn, that meant that they were both sworn to serve him. And if they’re both sworn to serve him, why not take advantage of that?
Of course, the problem there was that the Fianna could only have one leader.
Or could it?
“Alright you two, I have a solution!” he said, then pointed at his Fionn. “You’ll be known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, and you,” he pointed at the new Fionn. “You’ll be Fionn ua Trénmór. Fionn mac Cumhaill will lead the Fianna for the rest of this year, Fionn ua Trénmór will lead them for all of next year, then mac Cumhaill will lead them the year after. If one of you proves to be the better leader, they will be made the permanent leader of the Fianna. If you prove to be equals, we will keep alternating between the two of you every year. Is that clear?”
Both Fionn’s nodded.
“Good, now that that’s settled, you two can get on with repairing the practice hall. I want it done by the end of next week, you hear me?”
Both Fionn’s nodded, and left the throne room.
‘Huh. Didn’t expect them to agree,’ thought Cormac. 'Hopefully, there won't be any more duplicates showing up.'
The moment he thought that, Cormac realised that he had all but guaranteed that more would show up.
The first and third Cú Chulainn are based off of different descriptions given of him in the various stories about him. The first draws from “The Phantom Chariot of Cú Chulainn” and “The Intoxication of the Ulstermen” (yes, that’s really what it’s called). The third is based on how he is described in the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). Believe it or not, I actually toned down some of the weirdness, partially because I couldn’t fully understand some of the stuff dealing with his hair and refused to just copy and paste the translated description.
Now for the various definitions. Please note that I am not an expert, and some of these may not be entirely accurate.
-Rí: King, though there were several levels of kings, each answering to a higher king.
-Túath: Petty-Kingdom, basically the equivalent of a county or a barony in size, they usually had a population of 9000 people or higher, no fewer than 3000. They had their own ruler (a rí túaithe), assembly, legal courts, and military. Several túatha formed a mór túath, or over-kingdom, ruled by a rí mór túath.
-Cóiced: A province, formed by several mór túatha, ruled by a rí cóicid, or provincial king. For most of Irish history, and for this story, there were five: Ulaid (better known as Ulster), Connacht (better known as Connaught), Laighin (better known as Leinster), Mumhan (better known as Munster) and Mide (Part of modern day Leinster, it stretched from where Dublin is to where County Offaly is).
-A rí túaithe would answer to a rí mór túath, who would answer to a rí cóicid, who would, theoretically, answer to the Ard-Rí na hÉireann, the High King of Ireland. The High Kings never really ruled Ireland as a single unified state, being closer to a suzerain who had control over foreign policy, would sometimes be called upon to settle disputes, and received tribute from the various ríthe cóicid, who would otherwise do whatever they wanted. Again, that was generally only the case with the more powerful High Kings, and to a degree with the legendary High Kings.
-Bóaire: This term didn't appear, but it is the title Gréagóir's father holds. It literally means Cow Lord, and it is a type of free-holder, someone who isn't a noble but still owns land and isn't a peasant or slave. They usually had a clientship with a lord, who would give them cattle in exchange for loyalty.
-Fiann: A band of warriors, generally young men of noble or free origins who haven't received their inheritance yet, who were semi-independent, serving a specific ruler who would supply them with food and shelter during the winter, and give them special hunting rights to supply themselves during the summer. A member of a fiann was a fénnid, and their leader was a rígfénnid.
-Fianna: Fianna is both the plural of fiann, and the name of a legendary group of warriors that fought for several legendary High Kings. The most famous member of them is Fionn mac Cumhaill, better known as Fionn MacCool, who is currently their leader in this story.
-Teamhair: The Hill of Tara, seat of the High Kings of Ireland. It is a real place, though it would actually be in Mide, not Laighin. I have a reason for moving it, though that would be spoiling things.
-Mac and Ua: Mac means “son of”, while Ua means “grandson of”. Over time, they would transform from actual patronyms (meaning they actually say who your father or grandfather was) to being parts of last names. While Mac would stay the same, Ua would become Ó, which would be anglicised to O’ (like O’Brian, O’Connor, etc.).
-Sláinte: Means "health". It is a common Irish and Scottish drinking toast, with a number of variations. Sláinte mhaith is a variation that means "Good health". Sláinte agatsa is the proper response, and means "to your health as well". I may have misused it, as I cannot find if you only respond sláinte agatsa if they say sláinte, or if you can also use it if they say sláinte mhaith.
The road to Lothian, Kingdom of Rheged, August 17th, 772 AD
Five people stood at the side of the road.
The eldest was a man with a long grey beard, who wore a blue robe and a blue pointed hat, and a pair of reading glasses. A brown owl sat on the man’s shoulder, and in his hand he held a long wooden stick.
The second oldest was a rotund, red-haired man, with a thick mustache and bushy eyebrows. He wore a yellow shirt, brown pants, a red jacket and a cape, and had a sword in his hand.
Next came a tall, athletic man, who also had red-hair. He wore a chain hauberk under a red surcoat, a chainmail coif on his head, and also carried a sword. The two swordsmen where on guard, wary of their surroundings.
Finally, the two youngest: A boy with blonde hair and a girl with red hair. Both wore similar outfits: A large red jacket that covered them down to their shins, brown pants, and a yellow scarf. On his back, the boy had a large sword, clearly too big for him.
“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Merlin,” said the owl.
“Now see here, Archimedes, none of this is my fault,” said the old man, Merlin.
“Marvin, er, Merlin, do you know where we are?” said the rotund man.
“As far as I can tell, Sir Ector, we are in England,” said Merlin. “However, we are not in our England. In fact, I believe we may not even be on our Earth.”
“Can you get us back to our Earth?” said Sir Ector.
“Trust me, Sir Ector, if I knew how I would have done so already,” said Merlin. “I do have some good news. A man who may be able to help us will ride over that hill in about… two minutes.”
The group turned to look at the hill Merlin indicated, and sure enough, a group of horsemen rode over the hill two minutes later.
“Excuse me, good sirs. My companions and I have gotten quite lost, and were wondering if you could help us.” said Merlin.
The lead horseman, a blonde-haired man with a beard and piercing grey eyes, rode towards him. As he did, the group realised that he wore a helmet that had a crown around it.
“I’d be happy to help,” said the man. “I am Arthur, King of the Britons and of Logres. May I know your names?”
“I am Merlin, and this young man,” Merlin said as he placed a hand on the blonde boy’s shoulder. “Is Arthur Pendragon, King of England.”
“I am Sir Ector, and this lad is my eldest son, Sir Kay.”
“And she’s Hazel,” said Arthur Pendragon. “Are...are you really me?”
“To a degree, I am. However, I appear to be a significantly different version of you, young Arthur,” said the elder Arthur. “For example, our titles are different, and I have never heard of this England. My Ector, Kay, and Merlin look quite a bit different from yours. Now, I am inclined to believe your claims, but I need some proof.”
The elder Arthur removed his sheath from his belt, and held it out to the younger Arthur, the hilt of his sword pointing towards the boy.
“Only a true King of the Britons can wield Excalibur. Though our titles may differ, if you are truly the son of Uther Pendragon, you should be able to draw it forth.”
The younger Arthur hesitated, and looked at Merlin, who gave him an encouraging nod. He grabbed the hilt, and pulled.
He drew the sword with ease, though the weight was a bit much for him.
The elder Arthur smiled and dismounted, taking his sword back from his younger counterpart.
“Well, now that you’ve proven your claim, I suppose I should ask what manner of help you require,” said the elder Arthur. “If I were to guess, you’d like my help in returning to your home. Am I correct?”
“Er...yes, sir,” said the young Arthur.
“Do not call me sir, young man. Though you may be away from your kingdom, you and I are equals,” said the elder Arthur. “Call me Arthur.”
“Yes, Arthur,” said the young Arthur.
“Well, that’s bound to cause some confusion,” said Caradoc. “How about we call the younger Arthur ‘King Art’, for clarity?”
“Sounds good. What do you think, young Arthur,” said the elder Arthur.
“It makes sense, sir, I mean, Arthur,” said Art.
“By the way, King Art, I am King Caradoc of Gwent, vassal of Arthur, King of the Britons, and Knight of the Round Table. It is a pleasure to meet a fellow king, even if it is in unfortunate circumstances.”
“Thank you, King Caradoc,” said Art.
“Now, on to business,” said Arthur. “I would be glad to assist you, Art, though I will most likely have to send you to the sorceresses of Avalon. My Merlin has been missing for a while now, and we haven’t found a suitable candidate to do his duties until he is found.”
“That is quite unfortunate,” said Merlin. “Do you have any idea what might have happened? I’d be quite happy to help find him.”
“To be quite honest with you, it wasn’t until recently that we’ve actually wanted him back,” said Arthur. “You see, he was something of a skirt-chaser, always flirting with the noblewomen at court. This annoyed both the noblewomen, who had little interest in him, and their families, who didn’t like their daughters, sisters, and wives being harassed by a creepy old man. They would inevitably complain to me, asking me to do something, but his powers meant I could do little more than reprimand him.”
“Oh dear…” said Merlin.
“About seven months before he disappeared, he started going after a young noblewoman by the name of Viviane. Strangely, she seemed receptive, and even asked him to teach her the mystic arts,” said Arthur. “He did so, and she proved to be a natural. Around it took her little over six months to master most of what he taught her, after which he disappeared and she joined the sorceresses of Avalon. It was quite obvious that she was at least involved in his disappearance, and that she was most likely responsible. Despite this, I didn’t bother to do anything beyond some basic searches, as he really hadn’t been all that helpful for the last few years and his disappearance made the lives of my courtiers easier.”
“You said that you didn’t need him back until recently. What happened?” said Merlin
“Art is not the first version of me to appear in this world, nor the first to request my help. The first was a young woman by the name of Arturia. She told me her tale, and proved her claim by drawing Excalibur from its sheath,” said Arthur. “At the moment, she is on her way to Avalon. I’d take you to join her, but I have important business up north.”
“What sort of business?” said Sir Ector.
“Two of my vassals, King Lot and King Angusel, are arguing over where exactly their shared border lies. Quite specifically, they want to know who owns a specific hill. From what I understand, it lies near the coast, specifically near several areas Irish raiders have been using as landing points, provides an excellent view of the lands around it, and is quite defensible. Neither can agree who owns the hill, so they have requested my presence to pass judgement over the issue,” said Arthur. “Unfortunately, it will take quite a while. I’ll need to look over various maps of their lands, old documents pertaining to various agreements between their kingdoms, survey the land they claim, and discuss who has the resources to fortify the hill. As such, I will not be able to escort you to Camelot or Avalon.”
“Hmm...would it be possible for us to accompany you? Seeing you settle this dispute would be a good learning experience for Art,” said Merlin.
“I don’t see why not. I’d be happy to help teach him the art of settling disputes between vassals, and we can take you back to Camelot once I am done,” said Arthur. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any horses to spare, so you will have to ride in one of the wagons. Is that alright, Art?”
“Yes, si-Arthur,” said Art.
“Alright. There should be room in first wagon. We have several hours until the sun sets, so make sure you’re comfortable.”
Outpost, Bulgarian Khanate, August 15th, 772 AD
The outpost was badly damaged, with the entire western wall having been burnt down by the dragon.
However, the rest of the outpost, while damaged, still stood. This made little sense, as most dragons would have burnt the entire outpost to the ground.
From what the guards told him, the rest of the damage came not directly from the dragon’s breath, but from the fire spreading to the rest of the outpost from the west wall.
According to them, after the dragon set fire to the west wall, it had landed in camp. It was about to set fire to the barracks, when it seemed to notice something. It let out a high-pitched shriek, then flew away.
Geṓrgios was searching the area the dragon had landed, trying to figure out why it had flown away, when he heard a small, squeaky voice.
“Excuse me, sir knight, but do you understand me?”
Geṓrgios turned towards the voice, but all he saw was a small, brown-furred mouse.
“Did you say something?” said Geṓrgios.
“Ah, you do understand me!” said the mouse. “The other humans here don’t understand any of the languages I speak, nor do any of the mice here. I don’t know if that dragon fellow understood me, though he left before I could find out.”
“Did you say anything to the dragon, or did it leave before you could?”
“Yes, I managed to speak to him, but he left before I could finish,” said the mouse. “It was really quite rude. I’m quite certain he heard me, because he looked right at me before screaming and flying away.”
“What exactly did you say to him?”
“Well, all I managed to say was ‘Excuse me, good sir’. I was going to ask him if he knew where we are.”
“You are in the Bulgarian Khanate, good mouse.”
“Really? Well, that is quite bothersome,” said the mouse. “I was in England, travelling to Wales. I went to sleep one night, and woke up here. Are you quite certain I’m not in England?”
“Very. I’ve never even heard of England or Wales. Where are they located?”
“You’ve never heard of them? Have you heard of Britain?”
“Yes, I have heard of Britain. Is that where you are headed?”
“It is indeed where I am headed, sir knight. You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who could take me there?”
“I’d be willing to take you to Britain, good mouse. However, first I must deal with the dragon you met. It will be quite dangerous, so you may want to stay here until I am finished.”
“I’d rather not. Nobody here can understand me, and they keep trying to sic cats on me.”
“Very well. I have room in my saddle bag for you,” said Geṓrgios. “You wouldn’t happen to have a name, good mouse? Mine is Geṓrgios.”
“That’s quite a coincidence,” said the mouse. “My name is George!”
George the mouse is from the book "George and the Dragon", by Chris Wormell, published by Red Fox Books.
I have no idea what possessed me to include a talking mouse from a children's book, but I suppose it is no stranger than the talking owl from a Disney movie.
Before I chose "A Wizard is never late, nor is he early", I was thinking of titling this chapter "Of Mouse and Men".