The Northern Way


8. OCTHA - page1

When the Britons had invested his city, Octha was unsure whether he should try to fight such a vast army. After discussing the matter with his thanes, he led them out, carrying a chain in his hand and dust upon his head, and went to Ambrosius.

'My followers are defeated,' he said, 'and I do not doubt your power, since you have forced so many to come before you as suppliants. Accept us as such, and accept this chain. If you do not deem us fit for your mercy, enthral us where we stand.'

Ambrosius pitied them as they stood there, and spoke with his council.

'What should we do with them?' he asked.

Various proposals were made, before Eldad the bishop rose.

'The Gibeonites came willingly to the Israelites seeking mercy, and they found it. Shall we Christians be worse than Jews, refusing mercy to our foes? Let them return to their lands in the north on the understanding that they shall remain there, and be our vassals.'

'Very well,' replied Ambrosius. And so Octha and his thanes went to the north, and he ruled over it as king. Soon Eosa and his followers joined them.
Not long after, Pascent, son of Vortigern, who had fled the land on the coming of Ambrosius, returned with a large fleet, and attacked in the north. Ambrosius rode to meet him, and put him to flight. Pascent sailed over to Ireland where the king of that land received him, and promised him aid. Not long after his victory over Pascent, however, Ambrosius fell sick. When Octha and his followers heard of this, they rejoiced that their enemy was weakened. Octha despatched one of his men, Eoppa son of Esa, to Pascent, who had crossed over from Ireland and was now fighting Ambrosius's brother Uthir.

Eoppa came to Pascent's tent, and asked him;

'How will you reward the man who kills Ambrosius?'

Pascent replied;

'If I could find a man of such resolve I would give him a thousand pounds in silver, and friendship for life. Were I to gain the crown, I would make that man a noble.'

'I have learnt the British language, and I know the customs of the folk. Also, I am a skilled healer. My plan is to pose as a Welsh monk who knows physic, and gain admission to Ambrosius' presence, where I will poison him.'

'Very well,' replied Pascent, and sealed this with an oath.

So Eoppa shaved his bard and head and put on a monk's habit, and hastened to Winchester, where Ambrosius was. Here he offered his service to Ambrosius' attendants, who received him well, and brought him to tend to their leader.

'I will restore your health,' said Eoppa, 'if you will but take my potions.'

'Very well,' said Ambrosius weakly; 'prepare them.'

Eoppa did so, but secretly included in it poison, then gave it to Ambrosius, who drank it.

'Now you must cover yourself up,' Eoppa told him, 'and sleep a while.'

The king did so, but as he slept, the poison worked its way through his body, and he never woke again. Meanwhile, Eoppa had vanished from the court.

That night a great comet blazed in the sky.

Soon after, however, Ambrosius' brother Uthir rode against Pascent and his allies, and defeated them near Saint David's. He was elected his brother's successor.
Meanwhile, Octha and his fellows, seeing that their treaty with Ambrosius was annulled by his death, began sending over to Germany for reinforcements. Then they rode out and sacked cities and forts until Uthir came against him.

The Angles acted with great gallantry, and beat back their attackers, pursuing them with slaughter to Mount Damen as the light failed. The mountain was great, and thickly wooded with hazel at the top, with much broken and rocky ground below. The Britons took refuge among the rocks and bushes, while the Angles camped near the foot of the mountain.

Before daybreak, however, the Britons attempted to surprise the camp of the Angles, but the guards saw their approach, and woke their fellows with the blare of horns. Realising that they had been seen, the Britons charged straight at the camp, running towards the Angles with their swords drawn. Surprised, the Angles soon met with defeat. Octha and Eosa were imprisoned, and the survivors fled.

Uthir had his two prisoners placed under guard in London, where they remained until war broke out between Uthir and his men.
It came about that Uthir fell deeply in love with Gorlois' young wife Igerna. Insulted by the attentions Uthir showed his wife, Gorlois retired from the court without asking Uthir's leave, and retired at once to his own lands. Uthir sent word that he should return at once, but Gorlois refused, and Uthir attacked Cornwall, setting alight cities and towns. Gorlois retreated to Dimilioc with many of his men, but placed his wife Igerna in Tintagel, on the coast.

Uthir besieged Dimilioc, but soon he fell sick with love for Igerna. He spoke with one of his men, Ulpinus.

'My love for Igerna is so great that I can have no peace of mind or bodily health until I have her,' was his complaint. 'If you can find no way for me to accomplish my desire, I may soon die.'

'How can any man advise you?' asked Ulpinus. 'All know that Tintagel is nigh impregnable, being set on the coast, with the sea surrounding it. Only one entrance exists, across a narrow rock that three men could defend against a host. Only one man is likely to know how you could achieve this, and that is Merlin.' 'Bring Merlin to me,' Uthir ordered. Duly, Merlin was brought into his presence.

'Advise me,' said Uthir, 'how I may gain entrance to Tintagel, and to fair Igerna.'

'To do this,' said Merlin, 'we must use arts unknown in your time. I have the drugs that will give you the exact appearance of Gorlois, so you resemble none other than he. I advise you to accept this, and allow me to give you the appearance of Gorlois, and transform Ulpinus into Jordanes, Gorlois' friend, and I myself, in the form of his other friend Britaelis, will accompany you. In this guise you may gain entrance to Tintagel, and into Igerna's presence.'

Uthir agreed to this, and leaving the siege in the hands of his men, went with Merlin and Ulpinus, in their assumed forms to Tintagel. They gained admittance with ease, and Uthir went to the lady, who suspected nothing, and lay with her that night.

Meanwhile, Uthir's army attacked Dimilioc, and Gorlois sallied forth with his men, but he was slain in the first few moments of the fight, and his men routed. Dimilioc was taken and looted, while Gorlois' men rode to Tintagel with news of her husband's death. But when they entered the great hall, they found a man identical in all respects to their lord sitting with Igerna.

Uthir - for it was he - made light of the news, but said he must ride forth to fight his foes. As soon as he had left Tintagel, he joined his men, putting off the semblance of Gorlois. Here he learnt of all that had occurred. He was sorry for Gorlois' death, but glad now that Igerna could marry again. He then returned to Tintagel, took it, and with it Igerna. They lived together long, and had a son named Arthur, and a daughter, Anna.

But soon word came of Octha and Eosa's escape from the prison in London, and Uthir fell sick.
Octha and Eosa, in the confusion that arose when Uthir and Gorlois went to war, had fled their dungeon, and returned to Angeln, where they raised great numbers of men. Again they attacked the north, destroying cities and their inhabitants. Against them rode Lot of Lothian, a valiant warrior to whom Uthir had given command of the army as he lay sick. But his prowess against Octha was doubtful, and the Angles often repulsed him. Soon Britain was almost laid waste.

Uthir was angered by this, and he summoned his nobles, rebuking them for their cowardice. He swore that he would lead them against the Angles, and go into battle in a horse-litter. Octha and Eosa, who were in the lands around St Albans', heard that the Britons were coming against them again, but that Uthir led them in a horse-litter.

'What honour will we gain by fighting a half-dead king?' asked Octha scornfully. They retired into the city, leaving the gates open in contempt for their foes.

But Uthir ordered a siege, and forced the Angles to defend themselves. Battle continued until night. At dawn, the Angles sallied out, and the Britons attacked them. The battle lasted for much of the day, until the Angles fled the field.

They returned to the north without pursuit from Uthir, who remained at St Albans, in his malady. Octha sent spies to his court, who discovered that Uthir had been dissuaded from following them by his men, because he was too sick. The Angles hit upon the scheme of poisoning the spring from which the king would drink, and when next he drank of it, he died within the hour.
After Uthir's death, the nobles of Briton assembled at Silchester, and chose Arthur, Uthir's son, to lead them against the Angles. Arthur was then only fifteen years old, but of such courage and generosity, sweet temper and innate goodness, as to gain him the love and respect of all. He rewarded all who had supported him bountifully, and many men flocked to his banner. Now he resolved to attack the Angles, to enrich his men with booty.

Hearing that Octha was heading south, intending to take his father's old possession of Kent, Arthur assembled his men and marched north to meet him. Octha encountered him at the mouth of the Glein, where they battled, with greater losses on both sides. Then the Angles went to besiege Lincoln, which lies in Linnuis, between the rivers Dubglas and Bassas. Arthur rode against them, and they fought five battles, four on the Dubglas and one on the Bassas. In the struggle many Angles were slain, and many more drowned in the rivers.

The survivors lifted the siege and fled north again, but Arthur pursued them closely, until they came to the edges of the Caledonian Forest, where they made a stand. They fought the Britons, making a brave defence, while the trees secured them against the arrows of the attackers. Arthur ordered his men to cut down the trees and place the trunks around to hinder the Angles' escape, besieging Octha and his forces for three days.

But then the Angles sallied forth, and escaped, fleeing to the vicinity of Castle Guinnion. Arthur pursued them, and they fought again, and Arthur went into battle bearing the image of the Holy Virgin upon his shield, and put Octha and his forces to flight once more, pursuing them the entire day with great slaughter.

They retreated to Caerleon, and Arthur besieged them again. When he heard of this, Eosa was upon the coast, awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from Germany, led by his brother Heathogeat. He decided to march to the city at night, and surprise the Britons from the rear. But Arthur learnt of this, and sent six hundred horse and three thousand foot, under the command of Cador of Cornwall.

Eosa, then, was ambushed while heading for Caerleon, and his men were put to flight. Eosa was grieved by this, but decided to find some way of joining his brother nevertheless. He took on the guise of a harper, and entered Arthur's camp outside Caerleon. In this way he succeeded in coming close to the city walls, where the defenders recognised him, drew him up with cords, and took him to his brother. The two Angles embraced joyfully, and then began discussing ways to escape from this situation. But as they were beginning to think themselves doomed, news came that Heathogeat had landed with his fleet of six hundred ships. At this, Arthur raised the siege, and Octha and Eosa led their men to join Heathogeat.

But when Arthur had gathered more men including his companions Cai and Bedwyr, and they rode against Octha and his host on the banks of the river Tribruit. The battle went on for many hours, but finally Octha and his companions decided to retreat once more. They came to the mountain of Breguoin, otherwise known as Mount Agned, and again Arthur besieged them. The Angles had nothing to eat at all, and to escape death from famine, they asked permission to come out, leaving behind all their booty, and sail at once to their homeland.

'Also,' said Octha, 'we will send you tribute from our lands, and exchange hostages.'

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