No fool, King “ Bear-Bear” was inclined to make the most of the opportunity. Although the foreign king was aged and too feeble to put up much of a fight with Mordred’s likes--after all, he couldn’t drink more than one glass of Saxon mead mixed with good Cornish wine and picked daintily and doubtfully with his fingers at his plate of barbecued and sauced boar ribs-- his tribe was numerous enough, and there were many good, strong lads.
Numbers! Their womenfolk great breeders of valiant men, the Saxons and Angles poured into the land, and it was always difficult to meet so many with sufficiently large forces. Now that Mordred had split the kingdom with his revolt, he was even more hard-pressed to keep up the numbers he needed to stop the next big raids he knew would be coming.
It had been two years since the last, and reports came they were massing again in large numbers under their kings and would soon be moving on Powys. Once he had dealt with Mordred and regained his ancestral home of Gwynedd, he would then turn and meet the advancing enemy on the marchlands and give them a smashing clout of his hand that would send them flying back across the water!
There was good reason for double name--not only was he a Bear, but he was a Bear’s bear! He had, when unable to reach his sword in close combat, struck and killed a Saxon cnicht with a blow of his bare hand on the man’s head.
As for Arthur II and his queen, “Duck King” and “Duck Queen,” it was sad when they returned temporarily to the mother ship, and conducted the ceremony of the decommissioning. After relating his decision to step down from all rights and privileges of the throne as the last regnant Windsor, he declared to them, “You are now free to do what you wish with your lives, and I and my wife give you our hearty blessing! Please, from this point on, let us shake hands, and no more bows and curtsies!”
Evenso, it was hard to break long custom, and one woman, breaking into tears before the former queen, curtsied as she fled backwards.
The leave-taking was short and regular, with the proper salutes, documents signed, and the event entered in the ship’s log for posterity. “We won’t need the colony database, but if you wish to be of special help to us, I ask for books, if you have any that you will lend to our shuttle. As for everything else, we will be on our own” Books were brought, last well wishes exchanged, and the ship and the shuttle parted company.
Astrid turned to her reluctant, newly abdicated, throneless Windsor, the now wildly popular “Duck King, ” as they stepped back on Earth from the shuttle. “Really, Art! It’s not so bad they all think of you and me as Duck People. We can thank Wotoo’s black box for breaking the ice with these people. Thanks to Wotoo your ‘minstrel” and his silly translating, at least we’re going to a place we can call our very own! The king is most gracious, ceding us the place he calls Avalann for our residence, and he’s even provided all these wagons to carry our belongings, and horses and oxen to pull them. Smile, Art! Show them you are a Royal Windsor--even if you are considered to be His Royal Duckness!”
Unable to hold back any longer, Astrid turned and covered her face for a moment, her body shaking with convulsive laughter.
Her words, she saw, were producing little affect on the disenchanted, former king. Not at all sure he wanted to end his reign as a ridiculous “Duck King,” he was drawing on his tobaccoless briar, looking as if the whole world had come to an end! She sighed, and turned back to the business at hand, checking that every grandchild was safely on a wagon with the respective parents, whom she knew might miss one or two but for a grandmother’s sharper eye.
Slowly, with no fanfare, the cavalcade started off for Avalann, taking the road that led out of Viroconium to the southwest. It was, for those times, a long, hard trek by wagon--with some danger. A superb host in every detail, King Arthur had provided a military escort of forty legionaries as well. It was all the more surprising, since many of Arthur Windsor’s entourage, mainly the vigorous, younger men and General Heathbridge as commander in liege to King Owain, had chosen either to remain at Viroconium to join his army and fight the Saxons. Also, some women, thinking of their comfort or their children or their own lack of pioneer skills, had preferred Viroconium’s civilized ways to the prospects of homesteading in some country place without plumbing and hot water. The ship and its fleet of shuttles? After the abdication and dissolution of the monarchy, Heathbridge saw to the details of decommission, unloading everything that could be of possible use, then firing the engines and sending them on auto-pilot to the warm embrace of the sun. Before this was done, a vote was taken, and the colony disbanded, the people deciding to join the kingdom of Powys and Gwynedd as mercenaries. As for the best approach to immigration, Arthur Windsor agreed with the general, that the advanced technology would be completely out of sync with the current pre-industrial society and was best consigned to the flames. It was amazing how little could be used. All the items they thought so indispensable on board the Excalibur II, here would be useless in short order. Either they could not stand actual weather, or there would be no replacements and repair if something broke or went wrong. It was just as well they brought so little from the 22nd Century.
Even with the alarming shrinking of the colony to only those he brought along, the Windsors alone numbered four hundred, since they had little to do in exile but multiply, so the train was a long one that generated much interest along the way. Celtic bards with vari-colored leggings and shirts with bells on their over-long sleeves came out from wayside villages to dance and entertain them as they passed, and children and dogs, and all kings of citizenry stopped whatever they were doing to watch the grand procession.
Dogs nipped at the cows’ legs.
The sharp entrepreneurs ran forward with baskets of local breads and garden produce to sell. They created a tremendous stir everywhere they went, even drawing the notice of local bands of brigands. But with armed guards and so many people, they could only be attacked by a very large raiding party of Saxons and Angles. So at least in that respect they could enjoy the trip. But the roads!
They had to ford rivers and streams, for there were no bridges except what the Romans provided, and few were provided so far from the main cities and the Roman roads. With the escort showing them how, they worked the wagons over with great difficulty, women riding with the youngest, while the others larked in the waters. The grandmother was most alarmed at the crossings, thinking there would sure to be a drowning.
Back on the “road,” it was one bump and hog wallow and stump and huge rock after another! The roads were really winding tracks forced through the woods, marshes, and around hillsides and moors by feral Roman goats and the native Red Deer. Most people preferred to either ride a horse, if one was available, or walk, rather than endure the torture of the constantly jolting, springless wagons.
“Why didn’t we use the shuttle while we had it and just fly there!” Arthur groused at one particularly long, tiresome stretch. “Now we must go without all the conveniences we're accustomed to!”
“And alarm a whole country with high technology, which they’ll think is the ultimate wizardry?” his wife said. “No, you aren’t thinking properly! ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ Isn’t that sensible? We’re not 22nd Century Royals, Art--not to these people. Remember, we’re guests of the king and “Duck People”!”
“Was it good sense for us to accept this gift of land?” he shot back at her. “I must have been out of my mind when I listened to you.”
The queen, swatting at a deerfly that had found her irresistible, shook her head as soon as she got the best of the pest. “There! Those dratted things--how can deer stand them? Well, what now? Oh yes, you think we ought to have stayed in Viroconium, I suppose, and waited for the Saxons to come and attack and burn the town down around our ears--or maybe you’d prefer Rome, which at this date is besieged, no doubt, by Goths, or Vandals, or some such barbarian tribe. No, dear, we are best off here in this free and friendly country, where at least we can make a tolerable new beginning for ourselves and our children! Think of others, not yourself so much, and you’ll see the sil--”
Just then the clouds overhead decided to pour, and so Arthur, looking up, missed the silver lining.
When they finally arrived at Avalann a fortnight later, a site which would later become a renowned abbey called Glastonbury, it only appeared to be an uninhabited hill stuck in the midst of a large, shallow lake. With an “I told you so!” expression, Arthur turned to his wife.
“Just as I suspected, he’s marked us for what ducks are supposed to like and put us down in one of this country’s thousand swamps and marshes! I suppose you’ll say now that it will be marvelous to defend, with water all around, and the children can play in it without our fearing they’ll drown, and there will be plenty water for the horses and cows, and--”
Astrid, tapping her toe, waited until he ran out of Windsor steam. “It’s all in how you choose to look at it, Art. What it really is, you can either make the best of it as Duck King over a duckpond principality, or you can choose to carp and criticize. You can stand here all day and complain, or you can take possession. As for me, I’m going. It’s just the right place. It couldn’t be better. I’m sick to death of tents, and I’m going to live in my own house, even if it is just a hut with thatch for a roof! Just as soon as we’ve had a meal and rested, we can use the wagons to build our first shelters and a defensive stockade, and the plows the king sent along will start plowing immediately. The guards can show us how, no doubt, and the children, those who are able and strong, can help if they like. Might as well get them adjusted to the idea we are now farmers. As for the chaplain and rabbi, they can tell us what they want in the way of a chapel, for this community is going to be Christian, just as the other villages and towns here are. I’m not going to be grandmother over a lot of heathen Windsors! Well, it’s time to be going!”
The children glad to wade with her, took to it as gleefully as ducklings, and the grandmother stepped down into the water and started for the isle, feeling her way with a long stick she had used to fend off sheep dogs running at the horses.
At her cue, the cavalcade followed, and presently Arthur was left on the bank, wondering what a fool he must look--a Duck King who seemed afraid to put his feet in the water! “Wait!” he said. “I’ve changed my mind.” As he started into the water, dark clouds which had followed him nearly all the journey, broke. Rays of light shone through the gaps, spreading plume-like through the sky, and it looked like heaven was shining through windows in the sky. The heavily wooded isle, toward which Astrid and the others were still wading ahead of him, shone with a golden light. Rain curtains falling in the distance were caught in the light, and suddenly a bow shone in the heights, arching from one side to the other until the whole isle was framed.
Arthur heard the cries of the children as they lifted their hands pointing. He thought at first they meant the rainbow, but then, looking harder, he saw something else--three golden doors! Three windows of heaven! The light was shining through each one with indescribable beauty and strength.
He stopped in his tracks at the sight, water up to knees. Suddenly, the scene from the musical comedy broke upon him--the one he had slept through. He heard the singing of a child up ahead, and her high, piping voice carried sweetly across the water. “What could she be singing at a time like this?” he wondered. He strained his ears for the words. Then he realized it had to be little Emily Wotoo, who had insisted on wearing her costume of “The True Spirit of Christmas” until it wore out, and she was again singing her favorite lines from the musical, John 3: 16!
The others, hearing her, joined in just as the whole cast on stage had done:
that He gave his only Son of righteousness,
that any soul believing would thereby gain
a paradise eternal, without tears, and without pain!
It was growing dusk, too late in the day to explore the whole island, which was covered with trees to the top, but the shore had open ground enough, and there they decided to make camp for the night.
Later, Arthur and Astrid stood watching the children scatter as the mothers and fathers worked to set up their first living quarters on Avalann. As for the newlywed Tristan and Isolde, they were good for nothing but themselves, of course, as they wandered off, hand in hand.
The former DC, Tom Owens, happened to pass by, and Arthur pulled off his ring with the Windsor coat of arms, and handed it to him.
“I won’t be needing it anymore,” Arthur said, when Owens hesitated. “Please take it for your services in remaining with us as a guardsman.”
Owens would have bowed, but he corrected himself and shook Arthur’s hand instead, then went off to help Wotoo and some of the older Windsor boys with getting some firewood.
The ex-queen, who had watched this scene, turned to her the former king. She smiled. “I’m proud of you, my dear Ducky!”
His once royal brows lifted in surprise.
“Yes, I am proud of you, Art,’ she repeated. “It couldn’t have been easy, doing what was necessary and sensible to do in the circumstances. I wanted you to do it alone, by your own choice, so I didn’t want to appear to be for both abdication and dissolution of the monarchy. But you came through magnificently! Isn’t it much better being King of the Ducks, if that is what it takes to achieve all this happiness and peace?” Arthur’s burr dropped from his mouth. “What?” Then he bent and retrieved his precious pipe. “Robert Goulett in that ancient Broadway musical, Camelot, singing, 'How do you handle a woman?' certainly comes to mind at a moment like this! The chap was dead right. You women are so changeable! I thought you were dead-set against what I felt l necessary, in my heart, to do.”
Without reacting, Astrid got up from her place and went to look out to see where the children might be playing next, and seeing them, with help from adults, hanging a wagon wheel from a big branch of an oak tree for a swing, she came back to him.
“It’s just what I’ve observed, that you too saw that we cannot hold what we no longer need to keep. The Crown, I mean. As Christ our Lord said, you lose your life if you refuse to give it up, and you gain it if you choose to lose it. So it was with us! Everything was taken, but you still had to choose to give it up, and then when you did that, He could start giving it back to us. What that pathetic, little Chillingsworth fellow sought to do, he really was powerless to do, as long as we resisted, but it was really for our own good that we willingly gave it up. Or, then again, like a drowning person, we couldn’t be saved by the lifeguard until we ceased struggling to save ourselves! This place could be heaven or hell, a new beginning or just another jail. It was our choice, and we chose rightly. Now we will see what the Lord will do for us, instead of vainly trying to hold on to the remnants of what we could not hope to keep forever. Isn’t what we have now far better than Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, and all the rest?”
Arthur looked away, hearing his grandchildren’s squeals of laughter coming from the swing, and he sat without speaking for long minutes.
When he felt he was able, he turned to her, taking her hand. “It’s hard to believe it’s all gone--like a dead weight I could never get the strength somehow to bear but must always pretend I could bear! Now I feel like a--a young man, courting you all over again!” he marveled. “It is most remarkable!”
“And I feel like a prep school girl staring at you from a group of my friends by the school wall!’ she laughed. “Could it be this place, or setting up a new household on our very own land?”
Arthur said nothing. His heart was too full. Anything more and it might burst! He also felt all the weariness and aches of the long journey begin to tell him he needed rest. Besides that, his clothes were not properly dried from the splashing he gave himself. Even with fresh stockings, he was feeling the chill he had got from the real water.
“I think it’s time we retired, dear. It’s been a long day's journey.”
She looked at him with surprise. “But the children--I need to watch them a bit more. You can’t get them to go to bed this early, while it is still light, especially since we’re still celebrating homecoming!”
“Yes, you’re right, “ he said. “I suppose they’ll want a jolly, big bonfire and will be singing songs all night too! And, no doubt, someone will have brought along those blasted Black Watch bagpipes.”
“No doubt! Everyone seems to love it here!”
Arthur looked about, seeing the isle with new eyes. “I could do more sun and less rain and clouds, but it is pleasant, so very England-ish, isn’t it? So lush and green, and the trees, and all these flowers, and the thick grass. The soil must be splendid on this hill. And--aren’t those cultivated fields further up, my dear, or am I imagining things?”
His words, however, grew thick and slurred, and when the queen stopped watching the littlest Windsors for a moment and turned, she saw that her husband had slipped off, snoring with the burr between his lips.
Removing it carefully, she found a blanket and made him more comfortable, and, getting out her Bible, it happened to fall open at a portion of Psalm 107, and she read,
The Lady of Avalann, with a sigh, closed the holy book. But she had little time for solemn reflections. Little Egberta, her comically squared, fat, red face squeezing her eyes nearly shut, was crying and running toward her just then with a scraped knee.
Taking the little ex-duchess into her arms, she comforted her, then took a handkerchief, and tied it round the red spot. “There, there, my little duck!” she soothed the child, who grew calm but rather too heavy in her arms. She was still standing there, rocking Egberta, when Owens and Wotoo came down from the hill, leading a line of robed, bearded men.
“Monks are living here?” she wondered. “I thought this island was uninhabited and ours alone!”
Wotoo began the introductions for the monks of the church founded by Joseph of Arimathea four centuries before. Just then the Windsor’s chaplain came up, and he too joined in with introductions. The churchmen of Avalann were at first surprised when they heard the pilgrims were all Saxons and Angles, and even more surprised when they heard that they were not armpit-scratching, heathen idol-worshipers like the rest of their brethren.
“Church?” replied Astrid, looking up around at the thick forest for something the size of a Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's. “Where? It must be quite small then.”
The bishop and the holy men pointed into the forest, toward the top of the hill. “You cannot see us from here, but we could see you plainly,” they explained via the quacking translator. “We thought it best to let you come to us when you were ready. Welcome to the Holy Isle of the Lord!”
Even with a duck’s voice, Astrid’s ears could not have heard words more desirable, for they completed the welcome she had felt from the first moment stepping foot on the doorstep of their new home.
Kneeling down, the men prayed for blessing for the newcomers. Not wanting the Duck King to miss out, Astrid turned to the soundly sleeping Arthur. She looked at him, then up at the men, and they smiled. As Astrid knelt and smoothed Arthur's mussed hair, the holy men quietly crept off to join the children and young people’s merry bonfire and lively song fest.