The Retreat to Avalon
The Arthurian Age Book 1
by Sean Poage
Genre: Arthurian Historical Fiction Adventure
Fifteen hundred years have turned history into legend…
After three generations of struggle against ruthless invaders, Britain has finally clawed its way back within reach of peace and prosperity. Across the sea, Rome is crumbling under an onslaught of barbarian attacks, internal corruption and civil war. Desperate for allies, Rome’s last great emperor looks to Britain and the rising fame of her High King, Arthur.
Arthur believes the coming war is inevitable, but many are opposed. Dissent, intrigue and betrayal threaten to tear the fragile British alliance apart from within, while the enemies of Britain wait for the first sign of weakness.
Meanwhile, Gawain, a young warrior craving fame, is swept up in Arthur’s wake as the king raises an army. While Gawain’s wife and kin face their own struggles at home, the young warrior finds himself taking on more than he bargained for, and heading into the greatest battle his people have faced in generations.
The Retreat to Avalon is the exciting beginning of the historical fiction trilogy The Arthurian Age, introducing readers to the origins of King Arthur and the world he lived and fought for.
The next morning dawned bright and crisp. Gawain let Rhian sleep while he went outside to check on the boys who stayed the night watch. He was surprised to find Modred and his companion beside the open gate, saddling their horses and preparing their gear for travel.
“Our humble hall can’t hope to compare with Din Pendyr, but must you return home already?”
“I don’t plan to return home, at least not for a long time,” Modred turned and smiled. “If the itch to seek adventure weren’t so strong, I’d be quite content to remain here.”
“Stay a bit longer, at least until my father returns,” Gawain appealed. “He will have a great feast to honour you for winning the game for us, and his generosity in gifts is well known.”
“I don’t know how long it’ll be before he returns, and I have stayed longer than I intended,” Modred looked conflicted, then smiled. “And besides, you won that game, not I. I only scooped up your glory right before your gates.”
“If you hadn’t, no one would be celebrating how I almost won the criapan.”
“Be that as it may, it’s time for me to continue my travels before I become soft with the comforts here.” He paused in his work and looked at Gawain with sudden earnest. “Come with me! We’ll strike out to find fame and riches, and become ring-givers in our own right.”
“I…” Gawain felt oddly conflicted. “I cannot. I have my wife to think of, and my father has entrusted me with the care of his holdings until his return.”
“More like imprisoned you with them,” Modred grumbled, returning to his preparations. He glanced at Gawain and, seeing the stunned look on his face, shook his head. “Forgive me. The scorn was of my own reflection, not of you.”
Modred nodded to his companion, and both swung up into their saddles. He leant down to grasp Gawain’s hand, smiling. “You have the makings of a formidable warrior. I hope you have a chance to see more of this world, and I hope we may yet have an opportunity to run through a Pict or two together.” He wheeled around and trotted out of the gates, leaving Gawain feeling much as he did the morning his father left for Alt Clut.
After a few minutes of staring out at the fog-covered lowlands, Gawain trudged back to the mead-hall. He found Piran sitting on a split log bench near the door, with some chewy day-old bread, cheese and a large leather mug of water. He had brought out enough for two and motioned for Gawain to join him.
“You look like the glow of your victory has faded already,” he said around a mouthful of bread, gazing across the yard.
“It wasn’t my victory,” Gawain mumbled, sitting down and picking up the mug.
“Ah, silly of me to offer up an easy way to change the subject.” He pulled off a piece of bread and handed the rest to Gawain. “So tell me what is bothering you.”
“I don’t rightly know,” Gawain replied after a long minute. “I feel like I’m missing something. That I’m not doing what I was meant to do.”
“You mean like riding off with Modred?”
“Well, no. I mean… I don’t know. I wish he had stayed longer and met my father.”
Piran chewed on his bread for a bit, thinking. “Keep in mind, Gawain, that he is a prince of a land that lost its sovereignty to this kingdom. Relations may be friendly now, but there may yet be tension and unspoken bitterness. I would imagine there is a reason your father doesn’t speak of his years before his fostering with Ceretic.”
“Is there something you know of this?” Gawain probed.
“No,” Piran chuckled. “Your father is as miserly with his words as he is free with his treasure. He’s only told me enough to enable me to recite his lineage at feasts, so that is how I realised that Modred is your cousin.”
Gawain ate silently for the next several minutes, while Piran finished and sat placidly staring out at nothing in particular. Finally, Gawain finished off the tankard, stood and stretched.
“So,” he said. “I suppose it’s time to carry on with my duties and find contentment in the blessings I’ve been given.”
“Very wise,” Piran nodded. “But don’t despair. As the psalm says, ‘Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.'”
“The pastures are quite safe,” Gawain chuckled. “And I should get on with doing good, so that I may earn those desires.”
“Quite right,” Piran nodded. “Just be wary of what those desires may be.”
Two hours of the sun had passed, and Gawain was supervising a work crew inspecting the well when he heard the slow metal clang of the copper bell beside the gate. He jogged over to the gate, where a small group of people were gathering. Conn pointed out a single rider coming from the north, riding fast towards the fort. Gawain looked around and found Peredur near at hand.
“Peredur, go rouse the men at the hall and tell them to stand ready. We have a messenger arriving.”
Peredur dashed for the mead-hall while Gawain sent one of the young stablehands to prepare a horse, in case the rider needed a replacement to continue on with.
In a short time, the tired horse and rider clattered up to the gate. One of the young warriors from the hall took the reins of the sweating and frothing horse as the rider dismounted and saluted Gawain.
“My lord,” he panted, “Your father sent me in haste to tell you that he will be returning this afternoon. Moreover, he bids you send riders to all corners of his lands and call the nobles to a feast and council tonight.”
Gawain turned to the handful of young warriors who had gathered and assigned each to the different farms and hamlets that dotted the territory of Pollag. As they rushed to the stables to retrieve their horses, Gawain gave orders to others to begin preparations for his father’s arrival. He invited the young rider to the hall for a meal and rest.
“Is that all?” Gawain asked him as they walked. He felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. “Do you know anything more?”
“He told me nothing more,” the rider replied. “There has been little news, but the rumours all speak of war.”
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Historical fiction author, Sean Poage, has had an exciting and varied life, as a laborer, soldier, police officer, investigator, computer geek and author. Travelling the world to see history up close is his passion.
These days he works in the tech world, writes when he can, and spends the rest of the time with his family, which usually means chores and home improvement projects, with occasional time for a motorcycle ride, scuba dive, or a hike in the beautiful Maine outdoors.
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