This is an extract from The Trystan Trilogy part 1, The Wolf in Winter. It’s a scene from Chapter 4, narrated by Blaize. I’ve deleted Blaize’s point of view in The Wolf in Winter, so this scene has largely been re-written from Corwynal’s point of view. Pity. I like Blaize’s voice, but it had to be done . . .
The background to this scene is that Blaize is the uncle of my protagonist, Corwynal, being half-brother to Corwynal’s father, Rifallyn, King of Lothian. Blaize is currently advisor to Lot, King of Gododdin and Overlord of Lothian. He should have arrived with Lot a couple of days before when Lot had come to tell Rifallyn and Corwynal about the war he’s planning to wage, but Blaize had disappeared. In this scene we find out what he’s been up to.
Read more about Blaize in my blog post How to use the Mentor Archetype.
Blaize reined in his exhausted mare at the top of a rise and peered west through a smirr of rain. There, ahead of him, was the bulk of Dunpeldyr, crouched like a wolf over the lower-lying lands, and he sagged with relief to see the pennants were still streaming from the ramparts. There was still time to warn them.
‘Come on, girl. One last push . . .’ He gathered the reins, clapped the weary animal on the neck and kicked her into a trot, then a canter and finally, into a ragged gallop.
The gates stood open, and no-one noticed him ride in. The guards, who should have challenged even a single rider, were chatting among themselves. Normally they regarded Blaize with a mixture of terror and awe, superstitious cretins that there were. Today, however, when it might have been useful to have been recognised, he seemed to be invisible. But one person at least would know him and listen. Lot’s boar banner was streaming from the highest of Dunpeldyr’s ramparts, snapping in the wind beside Lothian’s standard of a grey wolf on blue. So Lot himself must have arrived, which was a relief in more ways than one for Blaize knew how much his half-brother disliked Lot, and was glad to have missed his actual arrival. He wondered too how Corwynal’s first meeting with Lot in eighteen years had gone. Badly, he imagined.
Lot had wanted Blaize to travel with him to Dunpeldyr, no doubt to support him through both these meetings, but Blaize had refused. He’d something to attend to, he’d explained, in Dun Guayrdi.
‘That hornet’s nest of Angle pirates? Why, in God’s name, do you want to go there?’
‘To ascertain the truth – or otherwise – of a certain rumour . . .’
A rumour that had been brought to Lot’s stronghold of Dun Gefryn by a furtive little man, a fuller by the rank smell of him, who’d whispered that someone had come to Dun Guayrdi and that something was being planned. And Blaize, being of an inquisitive nature, had wanted to find out what that was.
So now, days later, stinking of horse and human sweat, and still wearing the Angle war-gear that had served as a disguise in Dun Guayrdi, Blaize clattered into Dunpeldyr’s courtyard, the sea-wolves’ wind at his back, to warn them that an Angle raiding party was on its way. Only to find there was no-one to warn.
‘Where’s Gereint?!’ He dropped from his horse and grabbed a passing servant.
The man, finding himself confronted by a filthy Angle warrior, albeit one who spoke Briton, turned pale.
‘Gone . . . gone hunting.’
‘Lot then. Where’s Lot?’
‘Gone hunting too.’
‘Don’t tell me every sodding warrior’s buggering about in the woods! Where’s the Lord Steward, then? And if you tell me he’s gone hunting as well I’ll personally tear your guts out through your nose and strangle you with them!’
‘Up . . . up on the ramparts.’
Blaize sprinted up the first set of stairs, ran along the lower rampart, then shinned up the final ladder that led to the upper ramparts. His nephew stood at the far end, leaning on the rampart, staring south, so caught up in his thoughts – unpleasant ones by the look of him – that he didn’t even notice Blaize striding towards him.
‘Where’s that pack of useless bastards?’ Blaize caught him by the elbow and jerked him around to face him. ‘Where’s the war-band, you idiot?!’
Corwynal stared at him blankly, for Blaize was so liberally spattered with mud that he was probably unrecognisable. But only two men had ever risked calling Corwynal an idiot to his face.
‘Blaize?! What – ?’
‘Just answer the bloody question! Where’s the war-band?!’
‘Gone hunting with Lot’s men.’
‘All of them?!’ Blaize pushed past him, jumped up to the look-out post and peered into the north. ‘In the name of all the Gods! Can’t Gereint even be bothered to post a look-out! Look! Smoke down at the coast!’
Corwynal leapt up to join him and they both stared at the smudge of thick smoke that was purpling the horizon like a bruise. In spite of Lot’s glib assurances of a season of peace, the Angles had come after all.
‘I was in Dun Guayrdi,’ Blaize explained, sagging against the rampart as the exhaustion he’d been fighting swept over him. ‘A ship came in from the south. I don’t know where from but whoever sailed it persuaded some of those Dun Guayrdi bastards to make up a raiding party, and they’re heading for Dunpeldyr. Three keels, Corwynal – that’s fifty, maybe sixty men. Some of them must have turned aside to raid the villages on the coast.’ He rubbed a hand down his face. ‘I came as quickly as I could, killed one horse under me, but the winds have favoured them. Curse it to the Five Hells, we need the war-band!’
He stared at the distant smoke and wondered how long the settlements on the coast had been burning. He thought of distances and timings, of fifty Angles heading for Dunpeldyr. They’d have to cross the river north of the fort and the waters were still running high from the night’s rain, but if they could be held at the ford for long enough . . .
‘Come with me!’ Corwynal, who would have made the same calculations, dragged Blaize with him down the rampart steps, across the muddy courtyard and into the hall in search of Rifallyn, but Blaize’s half-brother just listened with maddening calm as he summarised the situation.
‘Really, Blaize, do you never wash? Very well, Corwynal, get a rider sent after the war band and order the gates shut until they’re in sight.’
‘But if we take what men we have we can hold them at the ford and –’ Corwynal began.
‘No!’ Rifallyn snapped. ‘I forbid it! We’ll shut the gates and wait.’
‘If the gates are shut they’ll know we expect them. They’ll slip away, go back to their boats and harry the coast until they’re bored or loaded down with plunder. And we won’t be able to do anything!’
‘It’s not your place to advise me on such matters!’ the King thundered. ‘It’s your place to stay here!’
‘Corwynal’s plan’s a good one,’ Blaize pointed out. ‘Get me a fresh horse and I’ll go after the war-band.’
‘No. Let the Angles come here if they wish. They’re in no position to mount a siege.’
‘But that isn’t the point!’ Corwynal exclaimed. Blaize eyed Rifallyn narrowly, wondering why his brother was being so obtuse. Surely he could see the Angles were taking a gamble? If it paid off they’d raid Dunpeldyr. If not they’d just raid the farms instead. Corwynal was right. They had to be stopped, not on the open ground before the fort where they could form a shield-wall, but down by the ford, where they’d be vulnerable to horsemen. But it seemed Rifallyn wasn’t thinking about the Angles at all.
‘I know what the point is!’ he snapped at Corwynal. ‘Your point! You don’t want to wait for the war-band because you want the glory for yourself. You can’t bear for Trystan to beat you in this, can you? That’s why you tried to persuade me to keep him here – so he couldn’t compete with you!’
Blaize was aware of how things stood between his brother and his nephew, but clearly they’d got worse. Even so, the unfairness of this took his breath away. ‘That’s unworthy, Rifallyn, even of you,’ he said coldly, turned and walked down the hall, deciding to go after the war-band with or without the King’s permission.
‘At the ford, Blaize!’ Corwynal called after him. Blaize lifted a hand in assent as he reached the door. Behind him Rifallyn’s voice rose in astonishment.
‘Are you defying me?’ he demanded, but Corwynal just laughed bitterly.
‘Yes, I’m defying you!’
© Barbara Lennox 2014