Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

The mistrusted medicus


I’ve taken orders all my life. As I told eques Maelgwyn earlier this year, I might not always agree with the decisions taken, but I know how to do my duty. To me, it’s stranger that I now give orders myself. I don’t mind that either, but I’m unaccustomed to it. No, my problem lies with other men’s cowardice, incompetence and with my own blasted mouth. Holding back my own thoughts or actions is hard, and failing to do so has put me in many stupidus situations.

This summer I accompanied a young dominus, the leader of house Ironwheel, on border duties to the north of Salisbury. Me and fifteen or so other men were looking for a Saxon party that had been spotted in the area.

The first weeks we found nothing; neither traces nor signs of pillage. During the evenings we would talk, drink and laugh and I remember thinking how true the words of Cicero are in these dark times. Where there’s life, there’s hope but, life is truly nothing without friendship. Sad that not more men feel the same.

It was one of these nights dominus Ironwheel asked: “I’ve heard that you, sir Ennis, practice chirurgy, is this true?”

I saw the men around me snigger, and thought that this might be a hard one to get out off.

“Well, it’s a useful skill to know,” I said trying to deflect the question.

“For women,” laughed the dominus, “yes, and Romans I suppose.”

Some of the knights simply shrugged, others clearly saw the parable and smirked. The opening to the dominus’ argument, however, was so obvious that I laughed despite the scornful looks.

“Ah, yes,” I agreed, “a boy who has have never been wounded in battle, nor seen his friends die around him would say such a thing. But surely we knights know better than that.” I looked around at the other men who grudgingly were nodding, and then meeting the young dominus’ argy eyes I continued: “Don’t you agree, dominus?” I let my gaze drop to his bristly stubble on his chin.

He had no comeback from that, and I ate in pace with no further comments on my skills.

The next day the scouts found tracks. As the day progressed the scouts reported seeing an armed group of Saxons moving west. When we came upon them dominus Ironwheel ordered us into a line for a charge. To pull our lances in the woods? What was the man thinking? Some of the men flew from their horses as their lances got stuck between the trees. As we fought the saxons I had little or no view of the situation, and not until the last of the wretched vermin had fallen did I see that dominus Ironwheel had been badly wounded.

I asked two of the other men help me hold him down as I burned the wound clean. Pretty good work for an assistant surgeon. The poor man hadn’t the sense to lose consciousness however, and was screaming between his clenched teeth. I could see the hate in his eyes as I did my duty, but I knew that the worst part wasn’t the pain, it was that I’d proven him the boy he was trying not to be.

As Plato would put it: “Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable.” He will try to get revenge on me, of that I’m certain.

Dark Omens
Winter 495


Chillmark manor lies huddled in darkness atop its lonely hill as the early winter winds sweeps around its sides and gently coos in the nooks and crannies of the great hall. Even though lord Chillmark and his servants do their best to warm the cold stone there is little they can do when winter comes. So they do as best they can; huddle together in small groups to stay warm, pile felt after felt on top of themselves until they resemble cloth knolls more than men or creep dangerously close to the glowing embers of the fire pits to catch the fleeting warmth. Maelgwyn sleeps peacefully in his bed with hisbeloved wife nestled up against him, surrounded by the squirming and snoring children. Beside the dais lies the grubby and featureless mound of cloth containing Rhyfels snoring body but the bed on the lord’s left hand is empty.

I snuck out as soon as the last voices died down out there in the darkness. Carefully I parted the drape hanging around my bed and let my gaze sweep over the darkened hall. Here and there the light from the dying embers gave enough light for me to see the contours of the sleeping servants sleeping in the cool air. Oh, how peacefully they slept. I dared not put on my shoes due to the sound and with every step the chill from the floor felt almost painful in its intensity; a sensation closer to burning than freezing. I hate this kind of secrecy but I know it must be so. When I finally left the main hall I carefully slipped on my shoes and wandered into the falling snow. The world seems so still this night, the snow masking my hurried footsteps and all other sounds. It’s like if the entire world was sleeping and only I was awake. A lone wanderer in the moonlit darkness.

The chapel is freezing cold and as I walk around lighting the candles I can see frost glistening on the walls and floor. The sensation of the cold stone against my knees makes me shiver even more but there is nothing to be done about it. Prayer and atonement shall be done in solitude, just as Matthew decreed. So with my arms outstretched, the cold draft around me and with my mind towards the divine I silently whisper:

‘’Forgive me, oh Lord. I’ve failed my kinsman in aiding his wounds and I’ve failed in protecting Bradwen from the infidels. Please Lord forgive me. I’ve put the wellbeing of my son before my duty onto my lord and onto Thee’’ Slowly the knot in my stomach began to unfold and the light shone upon me once again. The Lord is mercy, the Lord is light. Somehow the dimly lit chapel didn’t feel so cold anymore.

The alarm sounded just as the sun was about to rise. Startled warriors and kinsmen rubbed the sleep from their eyes and armed themselves with axes and spears, ready to defend their home and honor with their lives. The lord himself was among the first to storm up the battlement in his hastily donned armor; his gleaming eyes searching the fields for enemies. Yet there were none. The bell had rung for Sister Abigail. The chaplain had found her lying unconscious in the chapel, a small pool of blood around her head. Carefully she was picked up and brought to her bed and it was agreed she must’ve slipped on the frosty stone. But what had startled her made all men who beheld it shiver. Someone, or Something many contended, had thrown a dead cat towards the praying sister. Young Athena cried when she saw her beloved tabby lying on the chapel floor, its eyes gouged out and the stomach pierced with a knitting needle. She screamed and kicked when the animal was inspected by the chaplain and her father. Had it not been for her mother leading her back inside she would have tried to hug it one more time. The cat was brought outside and burned for good measure. How Maelgwyn would have loved it to have been raiders instead, those could easily be fought with a sword.


The Prophesy of Sister Abigail

During the coming month’s sister Abigail slept almost constantly and it wasn’t until the spring came she finally recovered. She said she remembered little of what had happened that faithful night and that she, apart from feeling a bit dizzy and weak, felt she had recovered completely. When asked about her time bedridden she simply smiled and thanked the Lord for her restful sleep.

Maelgwyn was never sure if the sister lied to him or not. He had listened to her while she slept and mumbled, while she dreamt and saw. Maybe the Lord didn’t grant her knowledge of those things she spoke of when she awoke but her sleep had not been easy. Every night she mumbled and every night Maelgwyn or his chaplain was beside her, not letting a single word slip. For Maelgwyn had learned the power of prophesy long ago and in these dark days he sought advice wherever he could. But what strange advice it was…

When the darkness comes
Man will trade everything
But then, man will not be more than the weight of his own flesh
His body will be offered for sale as a pound of flesh
His ear and his heart will be taken
Nothing shall be sacred anymore,
Everything will have a price
And everything will be sold.
Man will give a handful of grains as alms
While they sleep on full sacks

When the Sword is lost
Everyone will know
What’s on all four corners of the earth
We will see children
Whose soul flee
And whose eyes are covered in flies
But the people seeing this will avert their eyes
For they only care for themselves.
Poison will be sold even in the churches
And the world wanders with the scorpions under its feet.

When the Dragon falls
The father will not protect his young
The mother will not raise her young
The old man will no teach the young
It will happen for all to see
And love will be the greatest threat to those
Who only recognize each other through the flesh
When the darkness comes

Brangwen's second story
Autumn 493

Brangwen's second story

Cadry’s reverie

What things hold meaning in this life? This i have asked myself many times while walking these lands, these lands that are mine by right of blood and by right of blade.

Many men would say that what matters are land, privilege and titles. They would say that you must grab everything you can and fight to the bitter end for every parcel of land and for every right to be referred to as lord this and count that.

Other men claim that the most important things a man possesses is his honor and his glory. How widespread your fame is is what measures you in the eyes men and gods. They would also claim that glory is the only thing that can make you immortal. The same men would claim that you must do everything in your power to avenge every slight upon your honor.

There are even some men who claim that the most important thing a man can have is riches and that with said riches one can purchase both titles, lands, glory and fame. And what can’t be bought directly can be acquired by buying enough armed men to take what you want.

All these things should resound within me with the ring of truth, but here and now they do not. For here i sit in a wooden hall grander than any that have ever stood upon this ground, larger than the homes of my ancestors who ruled these lands as kings in their own right. Large amounts of fortune have lain in my coffers and have been spent to show of my generosity. I have bested many enemies in both personal combat and in battles. I have had the ears of both counts and kings. My name is known far and wide for my many deeds.

Yet none of these things are present in my thoughts as I sit by the side of a large-framed bed. The bed in which my children have been conceived. The bed in which i have spent many long winter nights huddled up with both my wife and my sons, telling tales of heroes from long ago.

Now worry gnaws at my insides as I sit here holding the hand of my most beloved as the sickness that have ravaged her since the birth of our poor little daughter keep her in it’s shackles. Even with a fever taking it’s toll upon her she is still the most beautiful woman in this world. Some other women may possess a fairer countenance but they lack the grand, fiery spirit that animates her limbs and lights a fire behind her eyes when she looks upon me when we lie together in the throes of passion.

The fire is still there but her eyes are unseeing. She does not seem to perceive this world, but rather something beyond this mortal realm. She raves and rants from time to time, sometime comprehensible and sometimes not. Our priestess watches over her and have set up protective charms around her bed but claims that it is the gods that she speaks to. I do not know if i trust her claim. The priestess is but a young girl herself, having not yet borne any children of her own.

A more reassuring presence is sister Abigail, a nun of the order of Raymond Nonnatus. I haven’t had much truck with the christian faith other than through my brothers in arms and sometimes at my lord’s court. Sister Abigail doesn’t strike me as a zealot or a missionary. She seems like she has seen many women in a similar situation as my wife too. Guilaumme has also discreetly informed me that the good sister apparently was put into a cloister after having given birth to a bastard son which just goes to show that some christian women know what is important in this life. It is a shame that the christian men do now to appreciate a fertile woman.

Sister Abigail has brought not just her faith, but also many medicines and a good dose common sense. She was the one who prevailed upon me to stay by my beloved’s side when other voices spoke for me staying away. I think a secret romantic hides under the white habit of the good sister.

To my happiness and joy, every day that i spend in my wife’s presence i think i can see an improvement. Others do not seem to notice but I know Brangwen better than any of them could ever do.

Brangwen’s struggle

What causes him to look upon me so? This i have asked myself over and over as I feel life trying yet again to slip away.

I watch as my husband’s eyes stare at me as if trying to capture my soul before it leaves the bed to walk into the other-world. His gaze scare me. He hasn’t left my side for days, refusing even to acknowledge the servants. I know he want’s to be a good Lord but he is not a good one right now. His duties suffer and his honor falters. Why? Because I’m weak.

What causes him to look upon me so?

Is he afraid to lose land, privilege or titles? My husband holds a great hall, an impressive title and holds privilege above the common folk. What do I bring to to his land, his titles or his privileges that causes him to watch me with such fear? Were I to die now, it would not cause him to lose any of it.

Is he afraid to lose honor or glory? I am a common girl, or at least I was. I herded the cows and sang songs of the old ways into the hills. Sure, I now command scores of servants and warriors, but I bring no honor or glory to this household. Maybe my sons will, but I have already done my part. They will bring their father Glory with or without me at this point. Were I to die now, I would bring no dishonor to his name.

Is it riches then, gold and silver? Is he afraid to loose gold if I die? I brought none of that to the household. The dresses I wear are payed by the loot of his enemies, not mine. His blessings are his own. Each man makes their own fortune they say, and he has certainly done so. Were I to die now, he could marry another young woman and bring land and riches to his name.

All of those things are important to him, that I know. But that is not what makes his eyes burn red with fear. That is not why he looks upon me as if I was to wither away any moment. He even brought that young christ-maid from the Temple of Jesus. He never cared much for the God of the Cross, but he seems to be taking no chances when it comes to me. The christ-maid and her healing is good and she knows where to look and what to do to aid my conditions. The young pagan priestess is too scared to even touch my sickly skin.

There are wards under the bed too… but I don’t think they’re rightly made. I think there is something from the forest near. I can hear them at night, speaking to me. What would mother say now, if she saw me wither away like an old crone. The young priestess is scared… I think she knows who I am. Am I to die here?

I gave everything to stay away from what mother wanted me to be. But now I find myself reaching to her again. Not because I ever wanted to, not because she wants me to.

But because his eyes forces me too.

I can die here right now if the Goddess wishes it.

But I cannot watch those fearful eyes any longer. I cannot watch him in pain.

“Help me mother….”

How did you get here?
winter 495


It wasn’t an easy job traveling that distance. I walked, mostly during the night, and tried my very best to avoid the saxon scum who were raiding the area. By staying off the road I managed to steer clear of them for the most part, but many weren’t that lucky. I got separated from two of my closest friends the very first night. One, I saw the day after, well his head at least, the other… I have no notion of his whereabouts.

I have witnessed the brutality and savageness of the Saxons many times before, but during my travels here they seem to have grown worse still. I saw other refugees being intercepted by scouts. I saw the saxons take all they had, burn their clothes in midst of winter, saw them dragging women off the road by their hair and…

You think you really know how much you hate them, and then they destroy your world. They take away your purpose, your daily bread, your friends, your liege, your… Dimitte me cometessa. I don’t wish to remind you of your loss, nor do I wish to burden you with mine.

You eh, asked me how I got here. I followed the Foreboding Forest west. I knew area, better than any Saxons at least, and so I knew that if I followed the edge of it long enough I would end up in Salisbury. Ha! It was easier said than done.

Two saxon scouts set upon me during the third night. I had wandered too close to their hidden camp and they surprised me on my path. That’s how I lost the horse. Honourless people, attacking the animal before the man. I took them down of course, and slept in their camp. After all I had been traveling a long time and had had no or little food the last couple of days.

After that it only got worse. I thought that there would be less Saxons the further west I got (sigh). There are Saxons everywhere. I don’t say this for the sake of glorifying my own tale, but they are like flies in a fish market. Without a horse the travels went slower, but on the other hand it was easier to stay hidden without it.

Then, when I came into Salisbury, I followed River Test. All roads lead to Rome, but in Salisbury all rivers points towards the Rock. That is how I came here cometessa. I came on my feet, blood on my sword and with a purpose in my heart.

Nothing is left to the east. There are only the desperate, the dead and the saxons left.

The White Hermit
Autumn 495

The White Hermit

“Mercy! Mercy, good knight!”

“Don’t call me good! And hold still you knave, or I’ll miss my stroke!”

The White Hermit quickened his stride; this was no common quarrel, this was murder. He rounded the bend in the forest path, and beheld the struggle he had been hearing these last few minutes.

It was a scene to make God’s angels cry.

There was scruffy looking man sprawled on the muddy track. Face pale, eyes bulging, blood dripping from a broken lip, he already look half the corpse he was very soon about to be. Towering above him was tall, square-shouldered youth with sword in his hands and murder in his eyes. Both men were splattered in mud. A broken basket had spilled an avalanche of wrinkled apples over the track. The steeds of the two heroes, a butter yellow charger and a bay mule, was grazing with philosophical calm twenty paces down the path. The quarrels of men meant nothing to them.

But it did to the old hermit.

This was his calling.

Apart from piety to spare, the Lord had given him the heart of a lion and the presence of a king. He also had a voice full of brimstone and hellfire: “Pax Vobiscum!” he roared.

“Krah! Krah!” A murder of crows, who was taking in the tableau with expectant eyes, rose to the sky, krah-krah-ing reproachfully before they disappeared behind the bare branches of the trees.

The two men on the path startled and looked up at their interloper, panting and trembling. The victim had an autumn leaf glued to his forehead. He wore the simple garb of a lay brother. His assailant was a knight by the look of it, and a very young one at that, all soft features crowned with a shock of red hair. His eyes met the those of the old wanderer. His cheeks suddenly colored and he took a tentative step back from the man on the ground. Tears started running down his face.

In-between two heartbeats the White Hermit formed his plan.

“‘Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place’.” He used his softest voice, the one that had made many-an evil man proclaim his regrets to the world under the gallows, and approached the knight with soft steps, as if he was a wild animal that could be scared into flight. “Put away your sword, boy. It will give you only dishonor here today.”

The boy threw his sword to the ground and sank down to make it company. The lay brother scrambled to his feet, and scurried away, taking cover behind the White Hermit. The hermit smiled and gave him a nod, while he crouched down beside the crying knight. “What ails thee, my childe?”

The childe looked up and then it gushed out: “It’s that wicked bishop, father. Bishop Birnius of Venta. He’s killing my kinsmen. Not mine, really, those of my ward. He’s had two of them done in, all for the sake of some stupid woman or other. My aunt and my cousin are nagging me constantly, that I must protect the family. I do not want any bloodshed, I just want weregild and peace, but he refuses to come the hundred court.”

The White Hermit was too good a confessor to stop the flood or words. They made sense enough for him, for he knew of the bishop and felt that there were truth in the words of the young knight, whom by now had stopped sobbing. He stood up, and pointing at the poor lay brother said: “If the King is dead, men must make their own justice, musn’t they, Father?”

“No. The King was nothing but a servant of God, and God is the Judge of us all. He will also judge the good bishop of Venta one day, but more importantly, before that, so will his peers. I know of this bishop of yours, and I know just what it will take to scare him to your hundred court to settle matters. It is but a trifling matter.”

The young knight just stood there, looking at the White Hermit with open mouth. The lay brother had very carefully started to collect his apples from the ground, while keeping an eye on the knight, lest he relapse into old habits.

“But how can such a thing be done, Father?”, said the knight at last.

The White Hermit smiled. “I will talk to the Archbishop. He will not tolerate this from the good bishop of Venta. What is a bishop that has been excommunicated?”

By the look of his face, the boy was trying to solve the most vexing of all philosophical problems that had ever plagued the greatest minds of mankind. Eventually, he said: “Oh!” and hung his head.

“Yes, ‘Oh!’, indeed. Now, let us turn to more important things, but first: will you let this poor brother go, with his mules and his apples?”

“Yes, father, yes … You!” He pointed at the scruffy man, who cowered behind his mule. “I give you my mercy! Be you gone!” The man, bowing and scraping, took his leave and disappeared down the path as fast as his mule could carry him.

“What are these important things, father” said the knight slowly, while picking up and sheathing his sword.

The White Hermit was silent a few heartbeats. Then he made the Speech.

“Young Sir, there are hard time a-coming, murder and rapine, treachery and greed. The rich will suffer, and poor will suffer more. This is not a time for heroes. But this is a time in dire need of good men. And I can tell that you have a good heart, young knight. You must make up your mind. Will you follow what is in your heart or let these dark times drag you down into murder and worse? Will you listen to the wanton tongues of women or to the goodness that God has placed within your soul? When you take you leave of this world to go to thy Judgement, shall men and angels say of you, that you left this place better off than you found it – or worse?”

The boy but frowned and went to fetch his horse in silence.

“What strange words you speak, old man. First, I thought you would give me one of those boring speeches my confessor gives me.”

He looked up at the hermit. “I do not know what to make of them, right now. But I must take my leave.”

He climbed into his saddle. The White Hermit looked him in the eyes, and Reading his heart, seeing what he had hoped for, smiled.

“Pax Vobiscum, Sir!”

“Pax Vobiscum, Father.”

The boy was several hundred yards down the path when he realized he had forgotten to thank the hermit for his pledged help. Swearing like a mighty warrior in war camp, he turned back to find the old man. He never did, but no long thereafter the Bishop of Venta came to the hundred court, humble as saint, and paid his wergild without a grumble or so much as a sour look.

Bad Blood
Spring 496

‘’QUIET!’’ The flock of ravens that had been picking away on the carcass of the sheep took to the grey skies at the sound of Lord Chilmark’s booming voice and the eyes of the gathered peasants turned to him.

‘’There is no proof of what you speak of… until the next Court I want to hear nothing of it.’’ The grubby men from Hillside nodded approvingly towards the more bitter shepherds of Sutton who grumblingly gripped their staffs and turned away their gazes. The small mob of men were about to disperse until they one after another froze as they heard the sound of galloping hooves. Maelgwyn saw him first and begrudgingly turned his horse to greet his approaching neighbor; a heathen man he never seemed to agree with.

‘’Greetings Gorfydd; another sheep is dead and…’’ The broad shouldered heathen held up his hand as he dismounted, begging Maelgwyn to be quiet. He stood close to his peasantry and spoke to them in a hushed voice, moving his hand inquisitively over the wounded man’s head.

‘’He woke up like that… said someone attacked him, milord’’ Gorfydd eyes were filled with anger as they met Maelgwyns but his demeanor betrayed little of what he was thinking.

‘’Greetings lord Chillmark. A right mess your peasants seemed to have caused this time.’’ The lack of pleasantries surprised Maelgwyn but he ignored it. He could understand the man’s frustrations just as he hoped Gorfydd would understand his. But the comment nevertheless put him on edge.

‘’My peasants? It seems like it’s yours that see imaginary foes wherever they turn… even managing to get attacked by them!’’ As his peasants laughed around him and as Gorfydd face slowly turned crimson he knew he had made a big mistake. He knew he would regret those words soon enough and he cursed his quick tongue.

‘’Imaginary? Four sheep’s dead and now this?! You say that some ghost did it? No, this is something from your side of the river.’’ Gorfydd pointed towards the windy hill where Chillmark lay just across the frothing and gurgling Nader.

‘’Ghosts or spirits; whatever you people call it. I’m done here, bring it before the hundred court if you want to… otherwise keep me out of this matter’’ There was nothing to be gained here thought Maelgwyn. Only more frustration and anger, better too calm down and speak of it later.

To this day no one but Maelgwyn are sure they heard Gorfydd whispered remark. Some say the lord simply looked for any excuse to fight his heathen neighbor but whatever the case nothing would ever be the same between them.

‘’With a man like that no wonder the lady suffers…’’

Afterwards Maelgwyn said he remembered little of the scrambling fight on the muddy field, just that there was a lot of broken bones, missing teeth and shouting.

Last words
Autumn 495

Last words

Berth stood in the long hall, it was quiet, unusually so. Most of the household had gone to Sarum to retrieve the body of Lord Ludwell, and had now been spotted returning. They would be here soon. He looked down at the scraped hide scroll in his hand, weighing it. The things were surprisingly heavy.

A commotion in the yard signalled the arrival of the processon, and Berth sighed. The time for quiet contemplation had gone, now he had to be the tutor of the manor. Listen to distraught relatives, prepare. He walked into the yard, and stopped. There was no body.

“Lady Sioned, wha…”

She dismounted, gathering her skirts as her feet touched the ground. “It’s still in Sarum, a hero’s burial they say. We’ll have to go back when they get around to it. Though I’m not sure they will, with all that has happened”. She was pale, but composed.

“What has happened Lady? I only received word of Gamonds death.”

For a moment, Lady Sioned leaned against the flank of her horse, her face lined with worry. Then she was composed once again.

“They are dead Berth, they are all dead. The king, Count Roderick, all the high lords. It’s the night of long knives all over again. We’ll be vulnerable, and we must prepare for hard times.

“Well, my lady, then I have an urgent matter that needs your attention. If I may?” He gestured into the hall, and as soon as the lady of the house, now the de facto ruler of Ludwell, had dispersed the servants and assigned necessary tasks they entered.

“What is it that is so important?”

“It is Lord Ludwell, Gamond. He left… his last words.”

Sioned snorted with momentary laughter, quickly choked as it turned to a near sob. Berth could not help but admire her, she had exceptional self control.

“That is… so like him. They said he never spoke before he died, trust Gamond to be contrary and do things his way, even in death. Let’s hear them then”.

Berth unrolled the scroll, catching the small fragment of jade as it rolled out. He didnt really need to read it, he knew the contents by heart. For some reason, reading made it easier though, comfort found in familiarity.

“Ah… hm. I should say, it’s not very…”

“I knew him Berth, I dont expect poems. Just read it.”

He took a deep breath, and began.

I have made Berth put my words here. Yes, Berth, I will
say that these are my final words and wishes. I dont understand
why it is important. These are my final words and wishes.

Berth looked up apologetically “he ordered me to write every word just as he said them… I” He shook his head, and continued. He hadnt dared do other than precisely as instructed.

This has been a bad spring. A bad winter. I feel something
terrible coming. I see my death, down almost every path.
Does that make sense? No it doesnt. Well. Let us simply get
on with it.

Sioned. You have, in your way, been the best of my wives. I
have come to care for you, if not love you. You will always have
my esteem, and should you quicken after I am dead, with a son,
you also have my gratitude.

If his Grace Roderick lives, ask him to take Mabsant into
knighthood if he survives that long. I hope the count regards me
enough to do so.

My son must not return home before he is old enough to be a
knight. Do not allow his return, do not send him word. He must
not suffer what is to come. I leave Ludwell in your hands. When
he returns, give him the fragment of jade. Do not lose it.

If you have my sword, keep it safe. My son must place it next to
the other in the grove of thorns when he returns. Why should I
explain that?

It is stupid. No, they do not need to know. Very well, I suppose
my son ought to. I thought on this for years. We are swords,
forged to be knights. The sword is who we are. What is love? Like
the thorn, it cuts deep. It can wound deeply, spill blood. But it is
also beautiful in good times, in summer. It binds all of us together,
more as years pass, from one generation to another as long as our
memory remains. The briar arch, it is all that.

There. Berth. Stop smiling.

“Thus read the final words of Gamond ap Edern, Lord of Ludwell.”

The colossus has fallen.

A last conversation between brothers

A last conversation between brothers

“By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb;
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath taken thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes,
But lo! These gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell,
Take them, all drenched with a brother’s tears,
And brother, for all time, hail and farewell.”

Dark is the day and dark is the mind. Dark is the future and without leaders we stand blind. Here I sit on a lonely graveside staring through the rain that falls on my brothers grave.
Gone is the sad, pale boy that so dearly want to follow his older brother out into the woods.
Gone is the shy, young man who stared at the painted and masked girls on Beltaine, even though his chaplain tried to beat into him that it was a sin.
Gone is the squire who tried pleasing everybody even at the cost of himself.
Gone is the knight who found his courage and became one of the bravest men that walked this earth.
Gone is the lord with dreams of a grand roman heritage for his descendants.
Gone is my brother and my dearest friend!

I miss you so much my little brother, my baby brother. I tried as best as I could to keep you safe from the evils of this world. I promised mother that I would. Our father made no such request but I think he knew what awaited both you and me the day we were sent off to become squires. I think he knew that we would in all likelihood die on a battlefield somewhere just like our fathers before us. And now you rest here beside your father and mother and brothers. I hope that you are at peace no matter where you have ended up. I dearly hope that your Saint Alban has seen you safe to a good afterlife whether it be in the land of the young or up in the heavens. If he hasn’t, him and I will have words when it is my time to go, and he will have to talk fast.

All my close kin are now dead. In a way I am glad that mother died last year, I don’t think her heart would have borne it if she had to put you in a grave while she still lived. I wouldn’t have been able to explain how we could win the day at St Albans with you at the helm carrying us through one of the harshest battles I have ever witnessed, yet we lost at the end of the day because we didn’t expect the treachery of the saxons even though they have proven what they are capable of again and again.

If I still had my favor from Merlin I would have called him then and there and I would have asked him to spare you above all others. Before Kings, dukes, counts and barons. I would have gladly ignored them all even if it was in my power to spare them if it had meant that I could save you.

I fear that grief would have struck me mad if it were not for Brangwen’s soft voice telling me to grieve and let it all out. She tells me that it is what I must do and then I must don my blade once again and I must be strong for Salisbury now stands weak and excepting Lord Amig and Sir Maelgwyn, no strong men remain in the service of our beloved homeland.

Brangwen is wise in a way that is beyond many other, be they lords or commoners. She is right. I will leave my tears here in your keeping brother, that and a part of my heart. Maybe one day I will come back and retrieve them. Remember me in another life beloved brother for I will not see you again in this one.

May it be like a cloak wrapped about him
year 494


Not knowing what to else do Melkin held her. The night surrounded them, but Melkin knew that Nest was awake. She was still shaking. Melkin thought he had known, truly known, that childbirth wasn’t an easy task, but had he really? After experiencing his first wife dying in labour, he had learned to dread it. After lady Nest’s many births of their daughters, he had learned to love it. Tonight he had learned to mourn it.

They had been outside. The children had been playing whilst lady Nest were sewing in the late summer sun. Melkin had been training with his new squire, a younger relative to him that someday wished to become a knight. The day had been beautiful and Melkin had been feeling better even though the scar from the hillman’s axe was still an angry read line across his back. Having been so close to death this year Melkin had really been appreciating being back home at Hindon.

Melkin had been in the middle of explaining to Mendred the proper use of the boy’s shield when lady Nest screamed. Turning to her, Melkin had only seen the blood-filled water that had covered lady Nest’s dress. She had only been in her fifth month.

Now, Melkin hugged her and tried not to think about the unnamed girl who had been born. It had been so very small, and there had been nothing to do for it. Nest was clearly not feeling well, hugging her abdomen and shaking silently. Then, she suddenly loosened his hands around her and moved away from him.

“Won’t you let me help carry your pain?” Melkin asked, feeling the rejection.

She lay quiet and unmoving, not answering. Melkin sighed and rolled over onto his back and gave out a muffled groan as he accidentally put pressure on the healing wound.

“She was my daughter too,” he said then, “and I know you think I do not care but I do.”

“You think you know the pain of having lost a child?” Nest said turning towards him. He could see her eyes in the dark. They almost seemed to be glowing.

“I have lost two,” he answered.

“_Indeg_ wasn’t yours,” she murmured about to turn away from him again.

“She was,” Melkin argued giving his wife a sidelong look. “As much as Cadry is my brother and Cerys is my mother. She might not had been mine alone, but she was my daughter.”

Nest’s eyes narrowed. For a moment Melkin was unsure what she was going to do. Her face looked determined in a way he had never seen it before. Then, she suddenly slid her arms onto his chest putting more pressure onto the newly healed wound. Melkin groaned again, feeling angry at this sudden behaviour.

“If that pain never leaves you,” said Nest and pushed harder. “Then you know mine.”

As much as anything it was a reflex, and Melkin put his arms around her and drew her full weight on top of him.

“Then lie here my lady,” he grunted pulling her firmly against him, “and let me know your pain.”

She struggled for half a moment, but Melkin saw the surprised look on her face. He held her in place, and she soon grew still, her head on his shoulder. It was a battle of wills but after about an hour her breath finally deepened and slowed.

There had been good moments between them, “hadn’t there?” Melkin thought as the pain in his back grew worse still. They had been married for eight years, almost as long as Cadry and Brangwen, and while Melkin didn’t love Nest in any way near as madly as Cadry loved Brangwen, he cared for his wife. Sometimes, he felt that maybe Nest’s happiest moments had been when she had been staying with the monks at Saint Evasius Abbey, away from Hindon, away from him. He knew he shouldn’t have asked her to kill him. It hadn’t been right, but Melkin had been sick and he had thought that she might actually do it. He had wronged her and it definitely hadn’t improved their marriage.

Melkin didn’t know when it had happened, but sometime amongst his thought, he must have fallen asleep. He heard his name being called from far away and he opened his eyes. The Roman Villa surrounded him, but somehow this wasn’t a surprise at all. Melkin found himself following he path that he had walked years before in another dream. A familiar staircase took him down in spirals and then out into the Perilous forest. There was no flutter of wings, no crow this time to lead the way, but Melkin knew where to go.

He walked slowly while his surroundings gradually changed from late summer to autumn. When he finally arrived at the round ominous lake the first snowflakes started to fall around him. There was no ice. The lake lay open as a round black mirror. The wounded back hurt worse in the cold and Melkin decided against going into the dark waters even though he felt drawn in that direction. There was no hurry. Instead he stood by the water edge, waiting.

No wind blew, all was quiet.

Then, a tall man appeared on the other side. He removed his shoes and as he took his first step out unto the unmoving water a soft light seemed to come of his body.

“Saint Alban”, Melkin thought as he kneeled before the other man. It had to be. He knew in it heart that it was so, and he felt safe. As safe as the last time they had met here by the murky waters.

“You called me,” Melkin said when the man had passed over to him.

“Yes,” said the other man in a warm and soft voice, “Years ago I asked you to come here, and you have fulfilled your promise to do so.” Gently the tall man loosened the fastener. “Now, hard times are afoot,” he continued while tenderly sliding his druid cloak around Melkin’s shoulders, “and therefore I will lend you this.”

As the cloak touched Melkin’s back he felt as if all his worries was lifted from his heart. His sorrows were lifted, his pain removed and his chest filled with purpose.

“Tell me Melkin,” said the tall man leaning down kissing Melkin on his forehead, “do you remember?”

“I do.” Melkin woke from his own voice uttering the words. He stared up into the roof above him. He did not, in fact, remember whatever it was that Saint Alban had asked him about, and he didn’t know why he had said that he did. Lying in the bed though, he felt light, as if some indefinable burden had been cut loose. He felt like a useful knife, or a good sword that had been sharpened.

His gaze dropped to his wife who still sleeping on his shoulder.

“If that pain never leaves you…” he murmured. At least her shaking had stopped.

The Crow and the Raven
Winter 494


Down below, upon meadow and hill, wood, fen and marsh, the Saxon came. Beneath their feet, the land writhed. He smashed into them, charger snorting and kicking. Turning a spear thrust on his shield, hacking down to part arm from torso. And again, and again. At his side, Maelgwyn fought like a man possessed. Between them, the dead made the ground trecherous. Ahead, a bannerman, howling wordless hate and hoisting tattered standard. He cut both down. From upon the pole, a raven flew, circling up. It would never be enough. The ground grew dim, and was swallowed by a rising tide.

For one who had inspired such dread, his remains were pitiful. Rusted and torn chainmail, dented shield and withered man beneath. Gamond paid the corpse no mind, It was calling. In his chest, the empty sucking hole left by Anwyns passing sang in tune with the siren call of the black blade, Heartless.

He was lost, lost in mist and elusive shadow. Ahead, somewhere down a winding path, stood he himself. Bent over a broken shape, reaching. The crow crowed, warbling, sharp. It flew. The mist shifted with it, flowed ahead.

He knelt before a young man with solemn eyes, clad in ochre and blue. Around his own shoulders, a cloak of Anarawd red bisected by the same stripe pattern as the young mans badge. He rose, turned, and walked into the circle left by his peers. His sword, plain, old and worn by use rasped free of its scabbard. He would speak with the champion there, until that champion could speak no more.

A harsh caw, muted by fog. The Raven lurked. His overhand stroke, caught by an upturned shield that gleamed metal and colour far away to the side was lost to his eye in the murk.

He strode down a path wreathed in fire. On either side, houses stood alight. Fallen bodies on the ground, bearded and savage. Ahead, the weeping of women and children, and a desperate last stand by old men. He smiled, showing red stained teeth. Where he and Heartless sang as one, death followed.

Cawing, like laughter. The raven lifted off a carcass nailed to the wall of Ludwell, fleeing the thick smoke of burning houses. Were they saxon, or Cymric? Did it matter? He smiled, showing red stained teeth.

The crow struck, black feathers flying, savage beaks stabbing. The Raven brought down and both swallowed by the grey sea. He himself, standing among the ashes of the Anarawd, laughing at the death of legacy, swallowed with them. Lost to sight.

He did not know where to go. All around rose shapes of men and circumstance, isles of meaning in this labyrinth of possibility. In all of them, death lingered. Brave Tarquin, snared in fae lands, slowly losing himself. There Gamond strode bold, carrying the boy onto forlorn shore. Here he left his squire to languish, pleased to hoist his own fate upon another. He reached for the bolder path, and it slipped as smoke through his fingers.

The crow perched over the raven, matted blood in its feathers, wing askew. The raven weakly flapping, dying. And laughing. Cawing, now all around. In shadow the deeper black of Ravens’ eyes gleamed. Thousands, the beat of their wings stirring the mist.

He woke, and burned. The fever stole most of the winter.

For all the misfortune of that year, one achievment brought the Lord of Ludwell solace. That autumn he had ridden to Sutton, and had spoken long as a guest to the lord of that manor. Gorfydd was a man possessed of many qualities Gamond lacked, and had agreed to ride with him to kill the Saxons in autumn. No longer alone, this could be the first step toward achieving a long held ambition.


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