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Excerpt from Excalibur
When suddenly a horn sounded from Mynydd Baddon.
At first few of us heard the horn, so loud were the shouts and the tramp of feet and the moans of the dying, but then the horn called again, then a third time, and at the third call men turned and stared up at Mynydd Baddon's abandoned rampart. Even the Franks and Saxons stopped. They were only fifty paces from us when the horn checked them and when they, like us, turned to gaze up the long green hillside.
To see a single horseman and a banner.
There was only one banner, but it was a huge one; a wind-spread expanse of white linen on which was embroidered the red dragon of Dumnonia. The beast, all claws, tail and fire, reared on the flag that caught the wind and almost toppled the horseman who carried it. Even at this distance we could see that the horseman rode stiffly and awkwardly as though he could neither handle his black horse nor hold the great banner steady, but then two spearmen appeared behind him and they pricked his horse with their weapons and the beast sprang away down the hill and its rider was jerked hard backwards by the sudden motion. He swayed forward again as the horse raced down the slope, his black cloak flew up behind and I saw that his armour beneath the cloak was shining white, as white as the linen of his fluttering flag. Behind him, spilling off Mynydd Baddon as we had spilled just after dawn, came a shrieking mass of men with black shields and other men with tusked boars on their shields. Oengus mac Airem and Culhwch had come, though instead of striking down the Corinium road they had first worked their way onto Mynydd Baddon so that their men would link up with ours.
But it was the horseman I watched. He rode so awkwardly and I could see now that he was tied onto the horse. His ankles were linked under the stallion's black belly with rope, and his body was fixed to the saddle by what had to be strips of timber clamped to the saddle's tree. He had no helmet so that his long hair flew free in the wind, and beneath the hair the rider's face was nothing but a grinning skull covered by desiccated yellow skin. It was Gawain, dead Gawain, his lips and gums shrunken back from his teeth, his nostrils two black slits and his eyeballs empty holes. His head lolled from side to side while his body, to which the dragon banner of Britain was strapped, swayed from side to side. It was death on a black horse called Anbarr, and at the sight of that ghoul coming at their flank, the Saxon confidence shuddered. The Blackshields were shrieking behind Gawain, driving the horse and its dead rider over the hedges and straight at the Saxon flank. The Blackshields did not attack in a line, but came in a howling mass. This was the Irish way of war, a terrifying assault of maddened men who came to the slaughter like lovers.
For a moment the battle trembled. The Saxons had been on the point of victory, but Arthur saw their hesitation and unexpectedly shouted us forward. 'On!' he shouted, and 'Forward!' Mordred added his command to Arthur's, 'Forward!'
Thus began the slaughter of Mynydd Baddon. The bards tell it all, and for once they do not exaggerate. We crossed our tide line of dead and carried our spears to the Saxon army just as the Blackshields and Culhwch's men hit their flank. For a few heartbeats there was the clangour of sword on sword, the thump of axe on shield, the grunting, heaving, sweating battle of locked shield walls, but then the Saxon army broke and we fought among their shredding ranks in fields made slick with Prankish and Saxon blood. The Saxons fled, broken by a wild charge led by a dead man on a black horse, and we killed them until we thought nothing of killing. We crammed the bridge of swords with Sais dead. We speared them, we disembowelled them, and some we just drowned in the river. We took no prisoners at first, but vented years of hatred on our hated enemies. Cerdic's army had shattered under the twin assault, and we roared into their breaking ranks and vied each other in killing. It was an orgy of death, a welter of slaughter. There were some Saxons so terrified that they could not move, who literally stood with wide eyes waiting to be killed, while there were others who fought like demons and others who died running and others who tried to escape to the river. We had lost all semblance of a shield wall, we were nothing but a pack of maddened war-dogs tearing an enemy to pieces. I saw Mordred limping on his clubbed foot as he cut down Saxons, I saw Arthur riding down fugitives saw the men of Powys avenging their King a thousandfold. I saw Galahad cut left and right from horseback, his face as calm as ever. I saw Tewdric in a priest's robes, skeletally thin and with his hair tonsured, savagely slashing with a great sword. Old Bishop Emrys was there, a huge cross hanging about his neck and an old breastplate tied over his gown with horsehair rope. 'Get to hell!' he roared as he jabbed at helpless Saxons with a spear. 'Burn in the cleansing fire for ever!' I saw Oengus mac Airem, his beard soaked with Saxon blood, spearing yet more Sais. I saw Guinevere riding Mordred's horse and chopping with the sword we had given her. I saw Gawain, his head fallen clean off, slumping dead on his bleeding horse that peacefully cropped the grass among the Saxon corpses. I saw Merlin at last, for he had come with Gawain's corpse, and though he was an old man, he was striking at Saxons with his staff and cursing them for miserable worms. He had an escort of Blackshields. He saw me, smiled, and waved me on to the slaughter.
We overran Cerdic's village where women and children cowered in the huts. Culhwch and a score of men were working a stolid butcher's path through the few Saxon spearmen who tried to protect their families and Cerdic's abandoned baggage. The Saxon guards died and the plundered gold spilled like chaff. I remember dust rising like a mist, screams of women and men, children and dogs running in terror, burning huts spewing smoke and always Arthur's big horses thundering through the panic with spears dipping to take enemy spearmen in the back. There is no joy like the destruction of a broken army. The shield wall breaks and death rules, and so we killed till our arms were too tired to lift a sword and when the killing was done we found ourselves in a swamp of blood, and that was when our men discovered the ale and mead in the Saxon baggage and the drinking began. Some Saxon women found protection amongst our few sober men who carried water from the river to our wounded. We looked for friends alive and embraced them, saw friends dead and wept for them. We knew the delirium of utter victory, we shared our tears and laughter, and some men, tired as they were, danced for pure joy.
Cerdic escaped. He and his bodyguard cut through the chaos and climbed the eastern hills. Some Saxons swam south across the river, while others followed Cerdic and a few pretended death and then slipped away in the night, but most stayed in the valley beneath Mynydd Baddon and remain there to this day. For we had won. We had turned the fields beside the river into a slaughterhouse. We had saved Britain and fulfilled Arthur's dream. We were the kings of slaughter and the lords of the dead, and we howled our bloody triumph at the sky.