Excerpt from Arthur, The Bear of Britain

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Excerpt from Arthur, The Bear of Britain

A man awakened Cissa where he lay with his head pillowed on a saddle. All round him in the chilly air he heard the words running through the camp like a ripple on a still pond: "Cerdic has come."
"The best news we have had for many a day!" said Cissa, getting stiffly to his feet. Everywhere folk were scrambling up and making way for a long, narrow column of men coming with a steady swinging step and the haughty bearing of warriors who had not yet met their match. Out from the ranks came a rider on a big bay stallion, cantering recklessly up the slope and waving a naked sword.
"Here am I, Cerdic!" he cried. "Follow me, Cissa, Sigbert and Erkenwine! Wake all of you and gather on the hills. Eastward we must go and choose a battle place, for the Welshmen are upon us. Wake, I say, and take your weapons! To-day shall decide the fate of Britain."
He rode on over the skyline, shearing away from the untaken fortress, his voice growing fainter amid the roar of voices and the clatter of arms that went surging after him.
On the slopes where Badon dipped eastward into thorny scrub Cerdic pulled in. A mass of men flowed after him like a torrent and among them came Cissa and Erkenwine, urging on their drowsy horses. Stirrup to stirrup they closed up beside Cerdic.
"What is there to fear?" they said in a breath. "We have lessened the Welsh to a handful. Let us turn now and make an end of them."
"It is not those men that I fear, Conan's champions licking their wounds on the top of Badon," answered Cerdic in a somber voice. "It is what lies down there in the mist; the whole strength of the West marching from Caer Ceri. My spies have been among them already before they crossed the Severn; I know their plans and I have come like the wind leaving all I have won, leaving Gereint wriggling like a snake with a broken back among his shaggy hills."
"Conan's strength is broken too. A heavy blow we dealt him yesterday," said Erkenwine.
"He has more men than you have set eyes on, and with him come the hosts of Maelgun, Cuneglas, and Vortipore, and at the head of all is Arthur. A luckless day it was for us when the Bear of Britain slipped from our hands, west of London."
The sun threw a pale gleam over the jeweled turf and the snowy hawthorn brakes. Below them rolled the fog, tossing up wisps like swansdown in the morning breeze.
"Where lies Sigbert?" asked Cerdic suddenly.
"In the plain north of the hill," said Cissa. "He moves now. I hear his men driving the beasts together."
"He moves too late," said Cerdic. Out of a rumbling uproar down in the depths of the vaporous sea sounded the shrill notes of a trumpet. . . . Screaming cries, a thunderous yell, an answering shout of triumph from the fortress.
"Sigbert is being ground between two millstones. Shall we go to his aid?" said Erkenwine doubtfully.
"We shall fight, but not on ground of Arthur's choosing. Let us get away from this accursed hill," said Cerdic, grinding his teeth.
"Our plan was to draw Arthur across the Severn and then fall upon him," muttered Cissa.
"You have sown the wind and now you will reap the whirlwind." Cerdic gave a wild laugh. "Let us see whether we can stand against it on that great hill circled with ramparts like a torque on a chieftain's head."
He pointed to a further stretch of down, grey-green bosoms of turf shadowed in every fold and fading into dim featureless horizons. On the nearest swell was the crater-like silhouette of an abandoned fortress.
Additional Information:
See The Battle of Mount Badon page.