As I noted on the Richmond WriMos Facebook group page, I had three story ideas rattling around in my head. I posted the first one last night, and now here’s the second one, “The Bear of Albion.”
I’ve told these tales many a time, but I’ve never taken the time to write them down until now. I’m not as young as I used to be, and eventually, even my time on this Earth must run out. These days, I run a small pub, The Eagle & Dragon, just outside of the town of Glastonbury in the south of England. I’ve been in the area for a very long time, and while I feature in some of these tales, it’s always my nephew they want to hear about.
I’ll get to him later, but since this is my side of the story, indulge me, and let me introduce myself. I’ve had many names over the years. These days I go by Ambrose if anybody asks, but mostly I’m just known as the landlord or the bartender. In my older life, I went by the name Ambrosius Aurelianus, though I was born in what is now Wales as Emrys Wledig. I’ve always preferred the name Aurelianus, but I’m probably better known by the title that meddling chronicler from Monmouth gave me: Merlin. Though Geoffrey was more given to flights of fancy than recording history, I have to say the old writer meant well and had noble intentions. I still don’t know how he came up with the story of me knowing about fighting red and white dragons.
The only dragon I ever knew was my older brother, and he wasn’t a scaly lizard, just a man with a title almost as intimidating as his bulk. Vortigern was his name and a millennium and a half ago, he was the high king or “Pen Dragon” in these parts. You might know him as Uther. Though we were brothers, we could scarce have looked less alike. Vortigern was built like a bear, all muscle and red hair. I, on the other hand, was a small, wiry man. Still am, really. As the elder of the two of us, Vortigern was destined to rule. I, as the younger child took my vows and joined the priesthood of Rome. I was nineteen, and Vortigern was twenty-three when I returned to this fair isle. He had been the high king for five years by then, though there were some who didn’t consider him a legitimate ruler. The savage Picts of the north never respected his rule, and rumors of his adherence to the heresy of Pelagius had even reached my ears in Rome. This latter was why Pope Celestine had sent me and Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre to these shores to investigate.
The Holy father had been right to suspect that the Pelagian heresy had begun to take root in Vortigern’s forces, but I am happy to say that my brother had never been deceived by its fell influence, though many of his generals had. As a consequence many of Vortigern’s military minds were first excommunicated and then executed. Sadly, my brother was not as diligent in this duty as he should have been, and one of his generals, a man named Gorlois, fled and allied himself with the Celtic barbarians in Cornwall. That alliance was sealed when Gorlois was joined to Igraine, the daughter of a tribal chieftain in a ceremony that was a mocking blasphemy of the Church’s marriage sacrament.
Gorlois’ treachery and heresy infuriated Vortigern. I had never seen a man as consumed with anger as my brother became whenever the traitor’s name was mentioned. His skin reddened until it was the same color as his beard and his voice grew loud enough to terrify the horses and his faithful hounds. Vortigern was not a man to suffer slights gladly, and it became evident to both Germanus and me that battle was coming.