One of the most engaging fellows in the series of Merlin’s Secrets is Merlin’s friend, Ectoris Coel. I know him as Old King Cole. In my first novel of this series, the “king” was known by the Greek version of his name— Hector, who was then in his late teens and one of the most respected men around the table discussing the Britons’ plea for military help from Rome to help them stop the Saxon invasion.
It was a shocking time. Armed only with seaxes, and often naked, the Saxons would rush ashore screaming a war cry and using their axe to behead whoever they saw first: children, their mothers, their grandmothers. It took the Britons a long time to work out the mentality of these vicious invaders. They knew for sure that they weren’t farmers and wondered why the Saxons wanted their land if they could not cultivate it. The Britons were bewildered by their savagery. Hector Coel thought it through from his own experience and ethical view and provided his colleagues with interesting insights.
Coel lived like a king in today’s Chester, in the vast military fortress of Deva, which stood in the Roman imagination at the edge of the world. It was perched on the River Dee that helped form a beautiful natural harbour to the Irish Sea. If you lined up the forts, built along the western coast of Britannia, of Caerleon, Deva and Carlisle they formed a straight line running from south to north. This line was to be the new Saxon Shore, and Deva, besides its strategic importance, was focussed on trade with Hibernia. But there was something else unusual about this garrison. At its centre was a sizeable elliptical building that was so grand it had to be built for a king.
Hector Coel knew, as did every other petty king of Britannia that they had to fight for their land. The question was how—Hector Cole he had a completely different perspective. “You entice men to join you. How? We have good food and wine,” was his startling reply and “Food is essential because hungry men will join us to fatten up. We will send good men around to entice men to fight with us because our food and wine are great, and our mead and beer are even better. We will not become stripped of our humanity and Christianity by becoming like the Saxons. After we fight, we talk about what we have eaten, where it came from and how to grow it best. We disconnect from battle, and we will sing, we call for the pipers, we call for the fiddlers, we call for our bowls (they were like large mugs without handles), and that will help us strengthen and balance our mentality.
Where ever King Coel went he made a splash. Soldiers smiled because his stories made them laugh. It was easy for Uther to select him as a foster father and a tutor for his son.
He had four necessities—that Arthur lives with the finest, most principled people, the best Christian role models, and somewhere safe from abduction. He must learn how to administer a kingdom, be tutored in Latin, Greek and the French tongue (considered the languages of diplomacy and leadership) and he had to have friends close to his age for sport and companionship. Britannia was under attack and Arthur had to defend his nation from the forces of darkness. And Old King Cole was his beloved foster father and his son Kai, (Kay) his bodyguard and Merlin, his teacher, credited as composing an early version of this song.
“Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his Pipe, and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh, there’s none so rare, as can compare,
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.