Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

A word between brothers
Year 481

Brothers

Up on the wall…

… the night was calm. There was no wind and on the horizon rays of the sun coloured the clouds with ember. Melkin stood on the wall of Sarum and looked out with a bitter expression on his face, feeling conflicted and angry.

When he had grown up he had never had the same confidence as his older stepbrother Cadry. The many times he had been sick as a child, had often left him with a feeling of being left out from all the excitement Cadry, Maelgwyn and Content Not Found: gammond got to experience. He had always tried to come with them when he had been well, but being smaller, less strong and less experienced than the other boys he sometimes had gotten himself into situations that he couldn’t handle. Reckless as he was Melkin once fell out of the old oak on the Tisbury grounds when he tried to follow Cadry to the top of the impressive tree. He had broken his arm and missed out on riding, swimming and hunting that summer as he had the summer before.

Today he was left with the same lonely frustrating feeling as he had felt many a time both before and after that summer when he broke his arm, the feeling of being useless.

When he had scowled at the young pages for being afraid of rats he had had no idea of their size or ferocity. They had been rats, and he hadn’t been afraid. Yet he had been unable to defend himself against the vile vermin that had jumped him and Gamond in the cellar. As one of the dog-sized creatures tore a huge piece of flesh out of his neck Melkin almost fainted from the sheer pain and blood loss. Gamond had been forced to drag him out of the room.

The first feeling that hit Melkin when he realised that this was a severe wound, was not fear but shame. What type of squire let rats defeat him? He had been armed hadn’t he? As a result of his injury he had not been able to help Gamond and Cadry in either killing the very rats that had wounded him nor in riding towards Ambrius Abby in search of the important wine. Instead he was stuck picking flowers, and to top it off he had almost lost them to four men trying to rob him on the way back to Sarum.

Sitting on the wall Melkin thought back on the situation and of how scared he had been, knowing that he would not have been able to defend himself against the robbers. Did that mean that he was a coward? The words Amig had told him when arriving at Sarum still rang in his head.

“You are going to be a knight soon, straighten your back and speak up.”

Looking out north towards the barely visible Stonehenge Melkin couldn’t help but wonder if he would be able to become a knight together with Maelgwyn, Gamond and Cadry. Stretching his neck to see the sacred place the pain grew so intense that he had to sit down. His back to the wall he breathed heavily for a few seconds. A noise made him turn his head as Cadry climbed up the ladder looking around.

“There you are little brother,” Cadry said as he saw Melkin. “What are you doing, sitting here by yourself?” Cadry went over to his brother’s side and sat down.

Looking at the younger boy, he could tell that Melkin had turned his thoughts inward once again. The fact that Melkin often had been sick as a young boy had made him into a gloomy youth who for some reason always deprecated himself and considered himself less that his older brother or for that matter their two friends Maelgwyn and Gamond. Cadry had many times tried to break his brothers propensity for being maudlin and self-pitying but most of the times he thought he had managed to reach him, Melkin’s chaplain would be there and once again try to break him down and make him think less of himself.

Not waiting for a proper answer Cadry carefully put his arm around the smaller mans shoulders to reassure him and to share some of the affection he felt for his brother.

“I’m doing nothing really,” answered Melkin feeling stupid. “I needed to think. It’s been a long day, but even so I’m not tired, just… exhausted.”

“In that case, you are made of sterner stuff then I am. I am tired, exhausted, still feel dirty, cold and confounded.” Having said as much, Cadry yawned and stared out into the night. “What are you thinking of?”

“I was scared today” Melkin admitted after a short silence. “I couldn’t… I didn’t…” His voice broke and he bit his lip angrily.

Raising his eyebrows slightly, Cadry glanced at his brother in the weak torchlight. “Well, that’s not so strange. I was frightened too. Especially when that stranger just rode up to me when I was already wet, tired and injured and asked my name, and when I gave it he just attacked me. I really thought I was going to die.”

Slumping down a bit where he sat, Cadry had trouble concentrating on anything other than wanting to just curl up and sleep, but something in his brother’s voice forced him to focus.

“I think that everybody is scared from time to time and that it’s the brave man who can push through that and just keep going. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I stood before four armed ruffians intent on robbing me, but you did. That’s both brave and very clever.”

“Brave?” Melkin almost laughed. “You dueled a knight! By yourself! I… didn’t feel brave. I just felt scared, and I got myself injured by a rat, a damned rat, and because of that I couldn’t help with anything and I wasn’t there when that knight attacked you.” Melkin drew breath slowly. He was shaking now out of frustration. “I couldn’t even kill the rat that injured me, so useless…”

“Well, that stupid rat bit right through my armour and shield and got past my guard even though I was prepared for it, so you are hardly alone.”

Thinking back, Cadry tried to remember the entire day in the right order but the memories blurred together.

“You helped a lot so don’t go telling yourself anything else. If you had ridden with me and Gamond, my horse would still have misstepped and I would still have insisted that you and Gamond should keep on riding for the Abbey. And thus I would still have had to face that blackguard by myself.” Adjusting his seating slightly and turning towards Melkin, Cadry’s gaze suddenly turned a bit harder.

“So what if this one situation turned out a bit worse for you than me or Gamond? You can’t always blame yourself. You can only square your shoulders and be all the more determined to face the next challenge!”

Melkin met Cadry’s stern look and all the frustration seemed to wash off him. “I know…” he said looking defeated. “I tried. I… just don’t want to be left behind. I want to be a knight too, and… I don’t know… I can’t think…” The wound was throbbing again and Melkin put a hand over his neck.

“Left behind? You are not getting left behind.” Sighing a bit and carefully taking hold of the smaller mans arm, Cadry tried to somehow transfer his own certainty just by touch. “Next year they will make us knights and then we can really start making our mark on the world.”

Melkin just nodded and gave Cadry a tired smile. He wanted to believe his brother, but as of this moment he had a hard time doing it.

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The Guarded Bride
Year 480

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As the first sunrays touched the rolling hills of Salisbury a band of travelers emerged from Vagon. It was a rather odd group of traveler; a large wagon flanked by two marching foot soldiers, idly chatting with each other and the monk that rode next to them. Ahead of them rode a young lady, her head fixed on the road underneath her horse’s hooves, and what seemed to be her handmaiden. They were also flanked by two footmen whom out of respect were being quite at the moment. Ahead of the motley crew, on a horse a few grooms short of a stable, rode a nervous young boy who cursed his friends libido.

Maelgwyn quickly glanced backwards on the rest of the troupe and counted them; they were all still there, good. He mustered up a stern look when one of the foot soldiers squinted towards him in the rising sun and as he turned back to face the road he prayed that this would soon be over. But of course it wouldn’t. Lord Elad and Amig had both agreed that the journey to Ambrius’ Abbey would take at least a week with this many travelers, especially with a wagon. Why did they have to bring so much food? Because they had so many guards. Why so many guards? Because of Aneria. Why bring Aneria? Because Melkin just HAD to flirt with her! But Maelgwyn also cursed himself. It was his large mouth that had alerted Lord Elad that he wished to visit Ambrius’ Abbey in the coming years. So there he was: a young man with far too much responsibility and a sour mood, grumbling his way towards Dove’s Fields.

‘’bloody idiot… should guard his own damn girl…’’

‘’Did you say somethin’ me’ lord?’’ Maelgwyn looked down on the panting foot soldier that had suddenly appeared next to his sourly mount.

‘’Nothing. Nothing… What is it?’’

‘’Well, me’ lord… It isn’t my place to plan the route and such… you young lord being the leader and all… But isn’t Doves’ Field that way?’’ Maelgwyn looked the way the bumbling man was pointing and noticed the rest of the group standing at the fork of the road he had just passed. He felt blood rush to his face when he saw the other foot soldiers whisper and snicker.

‘’I was just… I was just getting a better view of the landscape… It’s good to know what lies ahead.’’

‘’Isn’t that usually done by riding uphill me’ lord? Can’t rightly see much from down here…’’
Silently nodding Maelgwyn turned his horse and joined the others, his face burning crimson for the rest of the day.

Your Best Friends’ Girl

Aneria seemed to be a sweet girl. A bit to forward for Maelgwyn perhaps but lovely to chat with during the long summer days. He kept the conversations pleasant and the banter civil, avoiding those lingual traps that had snared Melkin.

‘’If I may say so Melkin is smarter then all of us but I’ve got a better hand with horses.’’

‘’And Cadry and Content Not Found: gammond?’’

‘’Well Cadry is a great hunter and during the evenings he can tell stories for hours and Gammond… he… he can swim!’’ Maelgwyn saw Aneria, polite as she was, pretend to cough to stop her snicker but he still heard the rumbling of the foot soldiers mirth near the other campfire.

‘’Some water Maid Aneria?’’ Maelgwyn tried to ignore the slight against his dear friend and quietly filled Aneria’s cup.

‘’So what do you think it will be like? Being locked up in that cloister?’’ Maelgwyn silently filled his own cup and contemplated his answer.

‘’I’m sure it will be fine… Change is always hard and so is leaving someone you lo… like’’ In the failing light of the sun and the flickering warmth of the flame Maelgwyn saw Aneria’s eyes cloud. Her delicate mouth opened and just as the first tear was about to roll down her cheek he spoke.
‘’And even though it might seem hard now it will get easier. Besides the bible is not just lessons and virtues, there’s love to.’’ Maelgwyn cleared his throat and spoke softly:

‘’ My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.’’

Even though Maelgwyn was not able to heal the aching heart of Aneris during their travel he felt sure he soothed it. And when the stern nuns at Ambrosius abbey escorted the young lady away he met her eyes and bowed. They were going to meet again, he was sure of it.

The Blind Monk

‘’I knew you father you know’’ Maelgwyn’s heart sank as the blind monk spoke.

‘’I was there the day he died and even though I didn’t see it myself I can swear no men have ever fought so bravely.’’

‘’Thank you, brother’’ It was now clear to Maelgwyn why the old monk had insisted on leading him to his temporary cell even though he himself needed guidance by the young acolyte at his side.

‘’Don’t thank me. Thank the Lord that gave the bannermen strength to protect both you and me.’’

‘’I thank him every day, brother.’’

‘’I hope so… Here we are.’’
The cell was as austere as Maelgwyn had anticipated. He would be spending just a few days here but he already felt the tranquility and calm of the cloister comfort his weary bones. The only sounds he heard were the calm and quite conversation between the monks and the chirping of the multitudes of birds in the orchards.

‘’I will speak to you later. The Sermon is at six and if you have any questions just ask for me.’’

‘’Thank you for your help, brother’’
When Maelgwyn lay down to rest that night he felt completely at ease. He had done his best to comfort Aneria and he had fulfilled his duty to Lord Elad and Amig, He fell asleep as only a young man with no worries can; unfortunately worries awaited him in his dreams.

The Dream and the Cave

dream

First came the sounds.
There was a crackling echo in the air, as if hundreds of pages of paper were being crumbled. And a low humming vibration, as if the very ears themselves produced the sound. It was a sound, not unlike that from an animal.

Then came the smells.
There was a dry, empty smell. And a smell of burning oil.

Then came the touch.
Foot on solid stone, cold and firm, like that of the ancient cave floor. It had been so long since anyone walked on it that any warmth had evaporated.

Only then, came vision.
A dark, somber room or cave, hundreds of relics, icons and holy items on the shelves, and they all felt like they were watching, judging, learning. There was many corridors, room and nooks. And whenever the eyes fell on one of them, another seemed to creep out of the field of vision. They stayed where they were supposed to be, only as long as they could be focused on. The second the eyes strayed, they were gone.

Behind two brighter shelves, appeared a strange bright light.

First came the sounds.
“Ewch wedyn brawd. Yr ydych wedi gwasanaethu tir hwn. A phan y gynffon dreigiau yn dychwelyd i’r nefoedd, byddwch yn dychwelyd.”

Then came the smells.
There was a strong sharp aroma, like iron that spent too long time being damp or wet. A thick, damp smell, like old people before they die.

Then came the touch.
Wet, moldy dirt crept up between the toes. Like when you take your first steps in a soggy pond. The earth enveloped the feet, and it did not seem like they intended to let go.

Only then, came vision.
A man, or woman, it was hard to tell. It threw something against a shining surface. Just when the object is about to touch it, a bright flash of light, touch, smell and sound. Like glass shattering the entire dream,

And the dream ended.

Only the words echoed. And the young squire realised that hundreds of smells, memories and most of all IMPORTANT things were left in the dream. If only he could remember, but the more he thought about it. The more the dream ran away. The more he thought about it, the less it made sense.

Actually, he thought he had dreamt it before many times. But… this was the first time he remembered anything more than the empty feeling of not remembering.

Conversation in the orchard

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Maelgwyn pondered the dream as he walk through the blooming orchards, listening to the singing birds and the gravel crunching underfoot. It surely meant something, such dreams seldom came without meaning or hidden truths. An omen of things to come? Perhaps even a warning of approaching danger and strife? Under the gaze of the sun in the warm comfort of the orchard the dream seemed even more distant and with every step he felt like he forgot another detail, another vital clue to this omen.

’’What are you thinking of, squire?’’ The soft words startled Maelgwyn but his blood calmed when he saw the Blind Monk sitting in the shade of the old apple tree. At first Maelgwyn hesitated to answer him truthfully. Something in him wished to keep the dream a secret from the outside world, at least until he knew more about it. But to lie to a man of the cloth was a sin and lying to one within the walls of a cloister would be an especially heinous one. Uriel had drilled his lessons well into his mind.

’’I had a strange dream, brother… and I can’t seem to make any sense of it.’’

’’Perhaps it’s just a dream and nothing more then?’’ The Blind monk hade turned his hollow gaze towards Maelgwyn, his unseeing eyes fixing him in a strange glare.

’’No, brother. I wish it was just an idle dream but it seems full of… potency… ‘’

‘’Tell me about it.’’ Maelgwyn let out a long sigh and seated himself next to the monk that claimed to have known his father. There, amidst the green grass and the chirping song, Maelgwyn recounted his midnight qualms to the nodding brother.

Into the cave

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‘’As soon as I heard you mention the cave I knew it was more than just a dream. The description just fit to well.’’ It was late at night and the rest of the cloister was either sleeping or sequestered to their cells for prayer. The monk was leading Maelgwyn through the inner corridors and sanctums as deftly as any seeing man.
‘’I’ve never seen it myself mind you.’’ The monk chuckled drily and as they were about to round a corner he signed for Maelgwyn to stop.

‘’I shall have a word with the guards, you just stay here.’’ Maelgwyn heard the mumbling conversation further down the corridor and after a short while two pair of boots briskly walked away. Maelgwyn understood his cue and walked up to the monk who was fiddling with the lock to a large iron door.

‘’Normally only those who have sworn the Oath are allowed in here but I’m sure Dilwyn wouldn’t deny the son of one of the Bannermen entrance… especially not in such pressing matters.’’
The door swung open and a breath of cold air with the faint smell of myrrh lapsed around Maelgwyns face.

‘’I will stay here… The guards will not be back for a while. Take whatever time you need.’’

‘’Thank you, brother.’’

The cramped stairway only accentuated the splendor and beauty of the Cave of Icons. Maelgwyn fell to his knees in the middle of the candlelit room, is young hands clasped for prayer. From every wall, corner and alcove the eyes of saints, Multitudes and the Son stared at him.

Hours passed before Maelgwyn emerged from the holy cave; pale as a ghost and without a word for the waiting monk. He would tell of what he found down there later but not now. For now it would remain a secret between him and the Divine.

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Trouble with women
Year 480

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During the summer of the year 480, Melkin realised that he knew less than nothing about the politics around women. Having grown up in a pagan home he had somewhat gotten a rather different view upon relationships and how they were meant to emerge. His roman family had sent him a chaplain who had taught him many things, but upon the subject of women the monk had always become a bit flustered and avoided to talk plainly about the matter. It thus became abundantly clear to Melkin that there were a lot of rules that he had never understood, and that they were complicated.

The first incident happened when a vassal knight came to lord Amig’s court when the knight himself was out on business. Trying his best to uphold hospitality Melkin worked hard to make sure that the sire and the daughter in his company were treated valorously and honourably. In the end he managed better with the valour than the honour.

The girl, Aneria was Melkins own age, and she smiled at him more than once during the first day of their stay. Melkin being unaccustomed to a young woman’s favour found her very attractive. Cadry always got the girls gazes, and Melkin decided he wanted to have a conquest of his own, just maybe to brag about to the other squires. He started talking to the girl, nervously at first but then more confidently. He told her about the ways pagans made love during the summer, running around naked dressed as animals.

“It seems like a wicked thing to do,” said Aneria with a smile at Melkin.

“It might be,” answered Melkin, “but my chaplain would never let me join so I couldn’t say for sure.”

She laughed at him.

“And what would you chaplain tell you?”

Melkin rolled his eyes.

“Doged would say that it is a sin, and that an honourable christian would avert his eyes from such filth.”

“But you don’t?”

Melkin leaned in a little bit closer, just a little bit, he didn’t dare to lean in more. She was a woman after all, but he was trying to seem knowledgeable and interesting.

“I always thought it was kind of beautiful,” he whispered. "Many find love during that summer feast and isn’t love of God?”

Melkin did think that their conversation went pretty well. He wasn’t sure he was flirting, he wasn’t really sure what he was doing at all, and apparently he had been doing something completely different than he thought he was. The next day Aneria’s father sat Melkin down and had very serous conversation with him about what he would expect from Melkin if he was to court his daughter. Being very surprised by the conversation Melkin was suddenly talking about possible wedding plans without knowing how he had ended up in that discussion.

That was the first incident. The other one happened when he suddenly was contacted by a distant roman relative who was interested in a cousin of Melkin’s in Britain. Melkin was confused by the proposal that if he made the arrangement so that she would become a courtesan of the roman relative he would be rewarded with a horse. Thinking that this relative of his must be quite desperate and in love with the woman Melkin eventually agreed. If he was ready to give Melkin a horse to be able to court the lady it couldn’t be a bad thing. It turned out that “to court“ a lady does not mean that she becomes a courtesan. It is as one might say something quite different, and Melkin hadn’t cared enough to ask since he had been offered a horse for the trade of favours.

His chaplain, Doged had been horrified by Melkins decision and lectured him for over an hour when Melking came home during the winter. Doged was even more horrified when Melkin didn’t seem to fully understand what he had done.

“Courtesan means mistress, you understand that don’t you Melkin?”

Melkin looked at his chaplain his head lowered, but he felt irritated.

“I’m sorry chaplain,” he said, “but how was I supposed to know that? Courtesan should be someone who attends a court or, is courted. It’s an illogical word.”

His chaplain stared at him, took a step forward and slapped him. It wasn’t a hard slap, but Doged had rarely slapped Melkin during all the years the old monk had taught the boy. It only hurt because it meant that Dogen was truly disappointed in Melkin. When the old man spoke again his voice was smooth, almost like honey, but deep in it Melkin could feel the chaplains anger:

“Are you an imbecile Melkin? I always thought you were quite the clever one, but maybe I have overestimated you. No one in their right mind would say the word mistress in any conversation if they would try to achieve one. It is implied in the word, because it is a sinful thing. Now,” he paused and looked at Melkin, “are you an imbecile, or do you understand?”

Melkin shut his mouth and lowered his head even more. It was a scandal, and his chaplain had received word from a number of irritated family members. Yet it was to late for Melkin to back from his word. However he handled the situation from now he would be caught in a political trap. It was done and both he and Doged knew it.

“I understand,” he said finally.

“And do you understand what you have done?”

“I do.”

There was a brief paus.

“And what about this girl Aneria,” continued the old man “I hear you talked to her about the pagan’s summer feast. I suppose you thought you could excite her and maybe lure her into sinful behavior?”

“I’m sorry chaplain,” said Melkin and this time he truly meant it. He felt regretful that he had angered his dare friend and teacher for many a year because of his behavior. He cursed himself for his lack of knowledge and recklessness. Had he thought that he knew what he was doing talking to a woman? About a woman? In politics? As of this moment it seemed more risky than fighting the Imber bear that he Cardy, Maelgwin and Gamond had killed in the forest of gloom.

“Well, I suppose it’s Cadry who have filled your head with these wicked thoughts. He is a pagan and you are a christian Melkin, I do not know how many times I have told you this before.”

“Yes chaplain.”

“Are you going to treat this woman properly from now on?”

“Yes, chaplain.”

Doged sat down beside the boy, for Melkin truly felt like a boy again.

“Your father was an honorable man, and his love for his family was endless. You would not be sitting here if he hadn’t been a true Christian, sacrificing himself fighting the vicious Saxons. You will have to try to restore your own honour from now on, and caring for your family is a fine way to do it.”

Melkin sighed. He wondered if he would ever dare to talk to a girl again. Making decisions around them surely seemed dangerous.

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The year of the bear and the maiden fair
Year 480

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The Bear

The strangest things can happen when one does something as simple (yet dangerous) as hunting a bear. The slaying of Imber bear by Cadry ap Cadwallon, Melkin of Marwth,Gamond ap Edern and Maelgwyn ap Ceiwyn put them all to the test and allowed the young squires to prove their mettle and valour. The first thing that came from the slaying of the bear was an ill thing. A pregnant woman by the name of Erin had been slain be the beast during the night that the squires waited out the bear. This in turn led to Erins husband Kenryc accusing the young men of cowardliness and slothfulness and claimed that if they had gone after the bear as soon as possible his wife and unborn child would still be alive. Cadry, being a proud young hunter, had his good mood spoiled by these accusations and told the peasant that he should be grateful that they had hunted down the bear at all since otherwise it would have kept terrorizing the village for a long time. Harsh words were traded and when the squires finally left the village grudges were nursed on both sides of the conflict. Kenryc would not soon forget and he would vainly try to come up with some way to revenge himself on the young lord to be.

The Maiden Fair

The second and third thing that came from the slaying of the beast was the arrival of a young woman and with her came a magnificent cow. The girl, Brangwen by name, had arrived several days before Cadry rode home to Tisbury and she had stayed as a guest of the Cellydon household. The usually suspicious Cellydons had welcomed the girl since she said that she had come in the name of the goddess Damona to deliver the cow to the young man who had helped slay the Imber bear that had killed so many cows.
When Cadry entered the yard of the manor that would be his in a few short years he called out his regular greetings to different family members and retainers that he had known for as long as he could remember. When approaching the door to the hall he stopped however when he heard an unfamiliar song sound around the houses. He turned towards one of the outhouses and there he first beheld the maiden who was singing and at that moment he lost his heart into her keeping. When she turned around whilst still singing, she gazed directly at Cadry as if she had been expecting him and then she smiled. The young squire, who seldom lacked for words or opinions, was struck mute for the first time in his life. He could only stand gazing at the young red-haired beauty as she walked by him while giving him an enigmatic smile and not saying a single word of greeting or presentation.
Only when she had left his presence did he regain his composure and immediately he headed towards the hall and searched for his uncle and foster mother. He barely got out a few words of greeting before demanding to know who the fair lady that was a guest in the household was. His mother, Lady Cerys was the one who spoke and told him that her name was Brangwen and that she had brought an incredibly fine gift as thanks for Cadrys deeds. Cerys brought her son out to the stable to show him the wondrous bovine but he barely had eyes for the gift and only afterwards would he remember to make a sacrifice to the Lady of Cows for this blessing. The young man only had eyes for the messenger who had brought the gift and to his thinking she had been the greatest gift that anyone, man or god, had ever given him. The guest soon left the manor but stayed in Hillfort hundred and from time to time Cadry would find her out in the forest or out among the other commoners although no one seemed to know where she belonged. When winter finally came and he couldn’t see her anymore he turned quiet and introspective to a degree that he had never been before. He would often request his elder relatives to recount old love stories from tribal times and he would often sing the lovesong of Rhiannon, the song that Brangwen had sung when he first saw her, to himself.

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Glimpses of memory
Year 478-79

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Gamond paced a well-worn pattern, round and round and back and forth. Ludwell felt like a prison. He hated winter. Hated the way snow weighed everything down, muffled sound, made cells of houses. How the cold would sneak in and bite like a dagger slipped into an armpit. It was impossible not to think in quiet winters. And that was worst of all, thinking.

He fled outside, braving the teethsplitting cold. Armed with a shovel he made war on the smothering white ramparts around the longhouse. Dug ditches and moats, shaped murder holes from which one could throw a spear, shoot a bow, or pour oil onto those who would come in the night and kill his family. The saxon snowman he’d built and demolished with a wood-axe several days past still listed drunkenly over its’ collapsed upper body underneath the awning of the cattle barn.

That snowman would be rebuilt and die a hundred different deaths before spring finally put it out of its’ misery.


The older boy was clearly the better swordhand.

Vagon in the spring was a mess of mud and sprouting green. Too many men and horses always moving, making miserable footing of the practice yard. Around were many other boys who, like Gamond, trained as squires under various lords and knights of Salisbury. Gamond didn’t see them, didn’t care to. The circle was one of few places where he could be entirely in the now, focused. The circle that two men make of their blades, as Elad often put it.

He stubbornly stood his ground as the sole focus of his attention, a soon to be knighted boy from the hundred Swans, set a flurry of blows upon his shield and sword. Each struck hard enough to send splinters of wood into the mud.

Suddenly one slipped past, he didn’t even see it, just a blur out the corner of one eye. The world wobbled, spun, faded at the edges. His head rang like a churchbell struck.

He tried to focus. Stay upright. For a long moment it was a not a boy staring at him anymore. A huge beard, red with dried blood. Bulging blue eyes, yellow teeth, tattoos crawling up his neck. The world went from grey to blinding white, a roar like the river Nadar come snowmelt drowning everything else.

He couldn’t move his arms. Or legs. Someone was screaming. Screaming his name.

“GAMOND, SNAP OUT OF IT!”

Melkin and Maelgwyn had an arm each, Cardry sat on his legs. Elad was screaming, full throated and red faced, a fingers breadth from his face. He’d damned near killed that boy.


Weightless. Nothing on his chest, or his mind. Just the singing of forest birds, whisper of trees and leaves and the quiet murmur of the river all around. Luxury, summer. At length he turned from floating on his back, swam downriver. Dove among stones and banks, tickled fish among the reeds. For a time, it was possible to forget the burden of memory.

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Urien's lessons
Year 479

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The Chillmark manor can be seen for miles around as it rests on its lonely hill surrounded by rocky outcroppings and stunted trees. The narrow road winds its way upwards from the small village, the footing now made even more treacherous by the sweeping spring rain. A lonely figure is hobbling along the muddy path and at first glance one could easily mistake the figure for a beggar or fool. But his gait has a certain magnitude and purpose that is not found in the hearts of the peasants. Living within the thin frame lies authority and in his dim eyes one can easily see the twinkling sin of pride.

When Urien walks on to the manor ground a wave of tension hits Chillmark’s every inhabitant: the guards straighten their backs, the maids scurry into hiding and when the young Lord hears the rapid tapping of the chaplain’s cane his heart leaps. Maelgwyn is already standing when Urien enters the long hall and shakes the rain of his tattered tunic.

’’Curse the little bastards! They will get what they deserve!’’ the old man mumbles and bites the knuckles of his free hand as the other works the cane. Maelgwyn sees the anger flashing in the chaplains’ eyes as he stands to greet his tutor.

’’In the village my lord! The little bastards have no respect! Satans piss what is this land coming to!’’ Maelgwyn simply nods his head as Urien sits down by the hearth to dry his weary bones and as a serving girl arrives with some warm milk the old man’s anger starts to sputter. There will be no lesson today, just another bitter sermon formed in Urien’s wheezing chest. The children of the village are not as frightened by the aging Chaplain as Urien thinks proper and every time he hobbles through the muddy roads they follow him and sing their little ditties:

‘’Rotten brain
Rotten Cane
Ay ay! Urien!’’

As the warmth of the hearth and milk slowly makes Urien as amiable as he ever can be Maelgwyn carefully sits down beside him. Blood trickles from the knuckles where Urien had worked his anger unto himself and as it slowly drips unto his tunic Maelgwyn gently grabs the man’s hand. For a while the mumbling increases but the old man lets Maelgwyn tend to his hand only to let his thoughts race to his wounded pride.

The day’s lesson is, again, about the teaching one can learn from ones elders and how any curses, ditties or disrespect directed at them is an affront to the Lord.

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Sins of the father
Year 479

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I’m not sure if I remember my father but I’ve heard the story of when he gave me my sword so many times that I sometimes think I can. The wild chase to Chillmark, the desperate search of the forest and the Last stand. How my father died clasping his brethren’s hands, his body riddled with mortal wounds. My father forged his legacy from blood and steel and in his death he didn’t hold me but held what he thought more important. He was buried next to my forgotten mother.

In those early days I was taken in by Lilo, the widow of Edern. During the dark times she comforted me in my loss and sorrow as best she could. She’s the closest thing to a mother I ever had. I grew fond of Ludwell and when the time came for me to take my throne in Chillmark tears fell from my eyes. Gone were the warm hearth and caring words of youth, replaced by the rocky hills and grim hanging tree of Chillmark. As I walked my land the only thing I could think of was my unknown father and mother resting beneath the hill, like old overlooked spirits of an age long since gone.

In Chillmark my tutoring started under Urien. The old man gave me a clearer picture of my father that was starkly different from the tales of bravery and gallantry I was fed in Ludwell. My father had been a violent man; cruel and often rash with little regards for God. A sinful man who, even though he earned fame and greatness in this life, would receive a harsh sentence by the Lamb. Lying in bed I swore I would not repeat my father’s sins.

The years I spent as a squire for Elad were… difficult. I rather not speak of them too much. He treated me differently each day and each hour. At first harsh and brutal as if he for some reason held a grudge against me and my linage and at other times with kindness and empathy as if he suddenly had come to remember fond memories of my family. Still I flourished in his tutelage and I can’t deny that much of my current skill come from my teacher.

Rodrick always had a kind word and an encouraging smile for me during the most difficult stretches. His admiration and friendship with my late father made him treat me slightly different from the others. Even though much older I sometimes thought of him as my older brother. An older brother that wasn’t left bleeding in the Forest of Gloom.

The year is 479 and Maelgwyn carries his father’s sword with a weary heart. He swears under his breath to not live or die as his father but little does he know that fate never plays fair.

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Red hands and red hats
The redcap- a childrens tale

Redcap Tale

It was an early morning in the summer of 471, when Cadry and Melkin snuck out from the Tisbury longhouse with their bows. They had decided that they would go hunting together the night before since Melkin once more had missed out on the last hunt because of a fever. Wanting to be more like his step-brother Melkin had begged Cadry to take him, so that he could practice without feeling self-conscious about his skills, and Cadry had promised he would try to show Melkin a few of the tricks he learned from Corwyn.

As they reached the forest Melkin stopped hesitantly. He was not as used to the forest as his brother and this morning there was a haze lying ominously between the trees that discouraged him. Caudry turned to him and said:

“Come now little brother, you can’t always stay at home when they want you to. You are going to be lord of a manor one day and then you can’t just let people tell you what to do.”

Taking the hand of his foster brother Cadry started walking into the forest along familiar trails where only Cellydons and animals usually roamed. The mists usually lingered in the forests and this morning was no different. The boys walked in silence until they reached a clearing where an old stone circle rested. The stones always gave Cadry the shivers. He couldn’t remember lying hidden underneath the dying priestess Meleri with both her blood and the blood of a saxon warrior covering his face and hands, but deep down something always stirred as if to acknowledge and remind him of the life that was given. It was an unsettling feeling. He turned around to look at his brother and saw that Melkin had grown pale. It wasn’t his usual look of sickness or that he had seen too little sunlight this spring because of the reoccurring fever. This was fear.

Melkin pulled Cadry down into the grass behind the rune-stone and drew his dagger.

“There’s something walking in the edge of the glade,” he said with a tremble to his voice.
With their hearts beating heavily the two boys peeked around the stone. There, as Melkin had said, stood a tall strange creature barely visible in the mist. Its limbs seemed to unnaturally long and it swayed slowly back and forward as a snake looking for pray. The only thing that was clearly visible was the red cap worn upon its head.

“What is it?” whispered Melkin still clutching his knife tightly. “It can’t be the…” he stopped himself and looked at Cadry.

Cadry seemed to have frozen completely and didn’t respond. He couldn’t take his eyes of the squat, hideous figure that was sniffing the air. The figure kept rubbing his head that was covered in a brownish red cap. Finally he whispered:

“The Redcap!” A great terror awoke in Cadrys heart and he stared frantically at Melkin, feeling the need to run but realizing that that would mean leaving his brother behind. “He is going to kill us and dye his hat with our blood”. Melkin, being the more thoughtful of the two brothers, started looking for a idea of how they were going to escape this terrible monster if they couldn’t outrun it.

Melkin tried not to let his own fear and the panic in Cadry’s eyes distract him from thinking as he scanned the glade. They could not run, he decided looking back at the tall figure outside of the stone circle, so they had to try and fool it. He looked down at his knife and then back up at Cadry.

“Give me your arm,” he whispered suddenly. “Don’t scream.”

As he cut his brother, Cadry’s eyes went wide, but he did not utter any sound or complaint. Melkin took off his knitted hat a pressed it towards the wound.

“If we color our hats like its’,” he whispered, “maybe it will assume us to be some sort of brethren. Now cut me!”

When Cadry cut him, Melkin couldn’t help but to draw breath between gritted teeth at the sharp pain in his arm letting out a wheezing sound. Both their hats dyed with the blood from the others arm, the boys rose as quietly as they could while staring towards the middling shape of the redcap. The faerie caught some scent or other as the wind, in a stroke of evil luck turned, and brought the smell of fresh blood. He stared at the two small shapes in the distance among the tendrils of mist and seemed to hesitate. The two kinsmen clearly carried their hats and they clearly smelled of blood from other creatures yet there was something off about the situation.

Cadry nudged Melkin with his elbow as he raised his other hand in greeting, as if to indicate that Melkin should do the same. His stomach turned ice as he saw that the creature hestitantly waved back. Cadry quickly yet carefully grabbed his brother by the arm and started walking away from the murderous faerie. Both boys could see the shape of the redcap linger and they could swear that it was looking at them as if to remember them if he should ever meet them again. When the boys couldn’t see the redcap anymore they set of in a wild run back towards Tisbury with blood on their hands and blood on their hats. Having returned home and having told their tale to their foster father the boys received a harsh beating both for sneaking of without permission and above all for lying. Corwyn told the boys that if they had truly run into the redcap they would both be dead and dinner rather that sitting on a bench and spinning tall tales. The boys told their friends Maelgwyn and Gammond what they had seen but their friends seemed to doubt the story since Cadry and Melkin gave completly different descriptions of the faerie. The only things they could agree upon was that they had seen it and that it wore a red bloody cap.

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The last night
Year 463

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The knife glimmered as it was pressed down in Bryn’s neck by the large saxon warrior. Bryn did not have enough time to react and felt himself fall forwards from the chock and pain. In the brief moment that it took for him to plummet to the earth he watched as his brothers Cadwellon, Ceiwyn and Edern was stabbed in similar ways by the saxon guests.

“This is it,” he thought as his body hit the cold ground. “I should have seen this coming.”

He felt the warm blood form a puddle under him as his vision started to blur. First darkness surrounded him, then his hearing faltered. He filled his lungs and smelled the grass, then didn’t. The last thing that left him was the taste of blood in his mouth.

He was dead.

Killed.

Murdered at a feast on the holiest of places. A feast, for peace.

And then, he awoke together with his brothers. Within the inner circle of Stonehenge, with the stars watching closely, they stared at the lady who had awoken them. The queen of crows had granted them until sunrise, if they pledged their bloodlines to her cause.

Edern was distraught by his daughter’s horrible death and was not listening to the lady’s proposal. Therefore, Bryn called out to him and begged him to bury his grief for now so that they could fight to save their living children. Thus they swore on their blood that their heirs would answer the queen’s call seven times.

There was no doubt in Bryn’s mind as took the oath. To save his family he was prepared to do anything, and he had never felt his inner fire burn this clearly or strongly as they rode together through the darkness, fighting endless numbers of saxons to get to Hillfort.

When Bryn saw the dead bodies of Cælia and their son Coalan within the hall of Chillmark he felt despair and rage in ways before unknown to him. Like nothing else in this world besides his brothers, his family was all to him. Pain searing in is heart Bryn splintered the closest table with his sword. Now it was Edern’s turn to convince him to go on. Reminding him of the three children he still had.

“I will kill them all,” he swore as his spirit leapt out to Ennis, Emogen and Melkin prating foe their safety.

In the forest of gloom, he found the two younger of the children scared but alive. Emogen had hid in the cave by the glade they found but a day before. To see her unharmed was the most relieving thing Bryn had felt that night. She was such a mirror of her mother, and knowing that in this way Cælia was still with them, Bryn regained some of his hope. He found Melkin under the roots of a tree together with Gamon, Edern’s youngest and Bryn knew that his legacy was saved. It was his own eyes that stared up at him in the dark as he carried the boy back to the cave. So he knew, that even if the boy might be too young to remember his father, at least the tie between them was strong.

“I will look through you eyes,” he murmured to the boy when they entered the cave.

Of what had happened to Ennis Bryn couldn’t get a clear answer in the brief time he had before the saxons came. They lined up, Bryn, Ceiwyn, Cadwellon and Edern, as thirty bloodthirsty fighters came towards the cave.

Never had they fought as ferociously as that last fight. Bryn felt the very essence of his soul strain itself to the fullest as he hacked and slashed at the enemies before him. Seven saxon warriors fell at Bryn’s feet before he slaughtered the leader of the group.

“You will all die,” he bit of between shut teeth as he drove his sword through the mans thorax. “You cannot cut me down. Not until sunrise, and by then you will all be dead.”

Dawn came, and none stood but for the cymric brothers defending their children and wives in the cave behind them. Bryn managed to laugh as the he first light of the day shined down on them in the glade. Although they were drenched in blood, and soon to be gone, his delight was immeasurable. He was grateful that they had shared the final battle and could leave this earth together with their remaining parts of their families safe. There was no fear as he stretched out his hand towards the others, and the banner men joined hands a last time as the promise was fulfilled.

They started to bleed and Bryn managed to glance over his shoulder and smile back at his children a last time.

“Take care of each other,” was his last words.

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Strange family in a strangely familiar house
Year 462

Haruspex

Innocent blood will be spilled

The twin wheels of fortune and time grinds forever on and on and leaves no one untouched not even the greatest of warriors. Those are the thoughts that have long accompanied Cadwallon and the last years events have not changed them at all. He had seen his squire Amig grow taller and stronger in the few short years that he had served and already had the makings of and excellent swordsman even before he had been recognized as a full warrior. If he managed to survive his early battles he might very well be a legend in the making and Cadwallon felt immense pride that he was shaping such fine young man. Amig would be a testament to Cadwallons own skill as a teacher and lord and his squires accomplishments would reflect well on the old warrior.

Having recently remarried on the basis that all children need a mother as well as a father, the life on Tisbury manor had been stranger than usual. Cerys, his new wife, was indeed a young woman at merely 21 years of age and of burgher descent to boot. Fortunately she was also raised a pagan or else the customs of her new home would probably have seemed strange indeed to her. The old man underneath the hill seemed to have accepted her since the signs had all been decent if not bright when they consummated their marriage on the stone at the top of the hill. Hopefully the union would soon bear fruit and Cerys would have a child of her own to care for and not just her stepchildren. The children had taken to her though which was a good thing, although her relationship with both Duddug and Annest was more that of an older and kinder sister than that of a mother. Cadwallon couldn’t help but note that so many things and shores that came with the life on a manor was unfamiliar to her but she was indefatigable in her aspiration to learn the management of both people and land and she also had an infectious happiness that won her many allies and friends on the manor.

There was something about her that made Cadwallon forget most of his years and feel like he was only thirty and in the prime of his years again.

Despite this good union there were still strange thoughts that nagged on his mind as he went through the motions of another cold winter. The omen that Meleri, the priestess, had foretold had not in a certain way come to pass yet. Innocent blood had not been spilled. Many men had died for certain but not a one of them could be considered innocent so the question remained who would die to satisfy such a dark prophecy?
During the shortest days of winter the moon turned strange and five nights in a row a blood red moon shone in the sky and left nightmares in it’s wake. The priestess was asked to ascertain what these signs meant for the coming year and she slaughtered a young goat and read it’s entrails. When she had done the reading she turned quiet and immediately went into a retreat in the sacred grove and didn’t leave the circle until the blood moon had passed and then came to speak privately with Cadwallon. She told him that the omens were both good and dark a the same time. The deeds and actions that Cadwallon had done during the last year had won him the blessing of the gods or at least one of them. Unfortunately the goddess who had shown her favor was the one who demanded blood and sooner or later called all men back to her Cauldron. The lady of ravens, the mistress of bloodshed. These omens spoke of further bloodshed in the near future and boded ill for the coming peace meeting at the sacred stones of Stonehenge. Perhaps the gods would demand a grave price in order to restore Logres to peace and to a rightful king?

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