Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

The Death of Innocence
Winter 494

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’’ A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.’’

I was in an already in a foul mood when I entered Hillside. The village had grown ever so slightly in the months I’d been trapped in that forsaken castle at Llud’s hall but for me it meant nothing at the moment. Perhaps it had been the rain or the dreariness of the endless patrols and scouting expedition the sheriff had seen it, in his wisdom, necessary for me to take part in but mostly it had been the company which had been far from pleasant. Sure the sheriff is a just and honest man but he is also one who seems to never relax from his duties or find mirth in any activity or leisure. Even on the hunt he would never be at ease or revel; perhaps seeing it more as a chore than anything remotely enjoyable. Then there was the prisoner, thrice curse that bloody traitor, for months I had worked to meet him and when I finally spoke with him I came away with nothing but more questions… the disgraced knight tongue more poisonous and malicious then any viper or fiend I could think of.

Yet as the fortifications and stone walls of my ancestral home came into vision atop the windswept hill I hurried my horse’s hooves. For I knew that she waited for me there. With kind words and warm embraces. With tales of the children’s adventures and escapades that would sooth my weary brow. Only she knew how to make me think of the present and forget about the past and future, so it was with a smile on my face I dismounted Dafod. The servant were gathered outside the hall to welcome me, my wife in the front. How beautiful she was, her pale face framed by her flaming hair and her young body clothed in smooth linen. She rushed towards me and as she threw her arms around me I felt that something was wrong. Her small fingers dug into my sides firmer than ever before and she seemed to want to plant her head into my chest as she pressed herself against me. I held her close to me for what seemed like an eternity, feeling my heart sink even deeper with every heartbeat. It was long before any of the servants dared approach us, but when they realized that the giant would not let the frail woman go Sister Abigail finally drew breath and approached; a tiny corpse in her hands.

‘’She’s with the Lord now.’’ Still clutching Marion sobbing body with one arm I reached for the small parcel, no bigger than a loaf of bread but heavier than anything I ever felt before. My knees trembled as I saw the small face and felt the stiff little arms against the soft linen.

‘’It’s not uncommon my lord… She just stopped breathing.’’
I bit my lip so hard I drew blood as I let my wife go and handed back my dead daughter. Devin rushed to support Marion as she sank to the muddy ground. I wished nothing more then to hold her close to me; hug her until the pain went away. Hide away ourselves until this world forgot about us. But I knew what I had to do. With trembling arms I hoisted my shield above my head and as my voice drowned out Marions sobs i fullfilled my duty:

‘’As my heritage obliges I’ve returned to hearth and home with my shield and my honour intact. For me awaits safe sleep and good company, for you awaits fine wine and gratitude.’’

‘’As our heritage obliges’’ muttered the servants in response.

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’’

The following weeks, and some would say even months, an uncommon darkness lay over Chillmark. The servants and family of the Tarrens are used to a certain ponderous and even gloomy life atop the bleak hill but this was something different. Whispering voices talked about the lord’s father and the madness that had gripped him when his beloved wife died or of the strange blood that flowed from the Spartan forefathers making men into monsters. Yet those with careful and knowing gazes whispered that there was something sinister in the making in Chillmark. The servants whispered and bickered, some seeking shelter in smaller groups to gossip and worry about what had happened and what was going to happen while other met in secret during the nights. About the hangings in the tree when the lord was gone. About the lords dead daughter and the worrying circumstances of her death. About how brave Cynsten had been wounded and kept it a secret. But to the silent observers and prying eyes there was nothing to bind it all together; just strands of web with no sign of a spider. Yet the spider was there; waiting, binding and plotting. But whatever guided its hand no one knew for sure.

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Mending the cracks in the ice
Winter 493

ice

The winter skirmishes of the year 493 turned out to be quite successful for Melkin. He had offered his services to count Roderick, feeling that it was only in service to his lord that he felt completely at peace. He drew strange looks from the other men during their time in the field. It was, he knew, on account of the awkward paleness to his skin and dark marks under his eyes, but he had stopped caring. When he was younger, his ugliness had bothered him, especially standing next to his handsome older brother, but now he felt that, in its own way, it offered different rewards, like being left alone to one’s thoughts.

And so, Melkin had time to ponder their surroundings, fully taking in the reports he got from the other men to concoct strategic and unpredictable plans. They did well and so Melkin returned home with the respect of the men he had served with, not a small thing all considered. However, his horse was limping strangely after the last ride.

As he arrived at Hindon he had been surprised to see the household dressed in mourning. Hurrying to his wife in the doorway who was crying openly he took her hand and asked who had died.

“The children were playing by Nadar river,” she snivelled between hiccups, “and as they crossed it on their way home she fell through the ice.”

Melkin had felt the cold in his chest as he drew his wife into his arms.

“Which daughter?” he asked feeling his heart beat rapidly.

“My daughter!” she screamed, “My Indeg!”

It wasn’t until spring that her body was found. It had drifted downstream and got caught by the roots of an old oak. It was the washerwoman of lord Sutton who had first come upon the dead child. Melkin had ridden down to collect the body himself, using one of his spare horses since the charger was still limping.

“It is an ill omen for a child to drown,” said sir Gorfydd as Melkin came for Indeg’s remains.

Melkin had nodded and said: “I am just glad that we can bury her body, so that her mother doesn’t have to worry for her soul.”

“At least she wasn’t taken by the river god,” concluded sir Gorfydd, “that is always something.”

Melkin did his best to comfort his wife as the child was buried. Grief was, as he well knew, beyond any cure, but he hoped that lady Nest would heal eventually. He felt the grief himself and it lay as a heavy wooden log upon his shoulders, but he carried it, as was his duty. As he got word that one of his distant cousins in Bretagne, a grandchild of sir Victus, had gone raving mad after failing one of his missions, Melkin felt grateful that he had not lost his wits completely after the trial in front of the queen. There were many challenges, but he was fit enough to deal with them.

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A fools errand
493

A fools errand

The homestead lay nestled into the side of the hill opposite, a vague outline in the early morning light. Everything was wet. Wet and grey, and had been for the past two months. Winter was not long off, its teeth in the cutting wind..

Hantonne was a county under siege, the borderlands near fallen Regnensis already settled by the Saxon, and the rest of the region unofficially at war.

He would have to return home soon, before the ground froze, and had yet to make a telling mark in that war. A few lone warriors, stragglers, settlers. All gone to mud at his word, but it was not enough. The fortified longhouse on the rise below held families, warriors, a chance to make that mark.


Gamond rode hard down muddy roads, heading northwest through a forest. The bark of dogs and equally guttural howls of saxons on his heels. The attack had gone badly, impatience getting the better of him. He should have waited, watched. Instead he had rushed in blind with hate, found a hatch in the wall and tried to climb in. A torch had been stuck into his chest from within, the flames burning all the way up his neck and chin. Howling, he had lost his courage and run. Now the men were after him, he could no longer outpace them. He spied a rise, inaccessible from two sides. He would make his stand there.


Snow powdered the ground, cold stinging hands and face even through thick wool. He could barely sit in his saddle. His entire body hurt. Left arm numb, right side a cold and throbbing reminder of the axe that had nearly taken his life two weeks past. His neck was still the worst, an enduring agony. It was like it was still burning.

They had been overconfident, five men and two dogs. They had come at him up the slope, crowded themselves on bad ground. The dogs had been the real danger, and one had buried its teeth in his arm as he took the forepaws of the other with his first stroke. He had flung the beast over the side of the cliff, and invited the first man to come within reach the same route by way of his shield. It had become chaotic. Like most men, they misjudged his reach. Two died before they learnt. The last two rushed him together, catching sword on shield, opening his side wide to the axe stroke. Mail turned it just enough. Rage had taken him then. When he came to, they were all dead. The man he had cast over the side hacked to pieces.

Ludwell. He could see ludwell. As his horse began climbing the gentle slope he felt himself slipping in the saddle, and the world turned dark.


He recuperated slowly. The burns lingering for long months. Lilo sent for Cadrys surgeon Brachius, and without him Gamond might well have died.

That winter the village mourned, losing the last living kin to remember Neillyn, the very oldest of the extended Anarawd line. Another link to a better past lost, the living memory of the heart of the Anarawd fading.

Harran, Bodwyns son, missed no opportunity blaming the absent lord of Ludwell for the winters hardship, for deaths among kin and smallfolk, and rumors of his half brother lapsing again into madness.

For his part, Gamond would never speak of that winter, his failure an embarrassment best left to obscurity.

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The Great Hunt
493

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The snow had given away to a light drizzle that slowly turned the forest into slippery maze of wet bark and treacherous undergrowth. Yet the birds muted chirps and the rustling branches gave the forest a peaceful, almost tranquil, atmosphere. Many great thought could be had if one would’ve walked here alone and the deep peace could surely envelope even the most hotheaded buffoon in its damp quietness. In that forest far north from the familiar plains and hills of Salisbury walked Rhyfel, afraid that he, at any moment, would crap his breeches. His head darted from malevolent shadows and imaginary beast rustling in the bushes as he slowly inched forward with the thick spear in his hands. The baying from the hounds and deep tones from the hunting horns seemed so far away now and God did he miss them. Back home they called him Rhyfel the Brave or, depending on the speaker, Rhyfel the Idiot for the many times he pitched fights or embarked into the forest but right now he felt more terrified than ever before. He was leading his Lord towards the one thing that would make any man tremble during a hunt; a wounded boar. All this because of his lord’s big mouth.

‘’…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Genesis 1:26’’ Lord Maelgwyn had said with one of those half-hidden smug grins of his as they alone ventured forward, armed only with spears and clad only in their light leather. In the clearing behind them waited lord Meilyr, surely ready to aid them but too far off now to be of any help? After all: who was lord Meilyr to deny his guest this thrill? Rhyfel had not paid much attention when the lords spoke but he was sure there was some sort of bet involved… something about who should receive the meat and bones and the lord Meilyr just chuckled. He didn’t understand how they got along so well and he had seen fights break out between far more similar men. Meilyr spoke loudly of his deeds, both in and out of the bed chamber, drank like a mason on payday and even poked fun of lord Maelgwyns daily prayers; yet the lord of Chillmark only smiled and joined the banter, all be it more concerning Meilyrs growing girth than anything else. So they passed the evenings laughing and talking only stopping the merriment to go hunting or hawking, frolicking in the noble pastimes as there was no tomorrow; for the dog boys and Rhyfel the month seemed to never end.

‘’See that? We’re close boy.’’ Rhyfel drew in the cold air sharply and focused again. The blood was fresher here. Lord Maelgwyn hunched down best he could and started to inch forward in that peculiar way all knight walk when they think they are being stealthy. Bent knees but with an almost straight back and feet that seemed to seek out every branch and twig that could snap. The bushes rustled and broke as a small piglet, screeching, darted between the feet of Rhyfel as it fled through the forest. But as the screeching of the youngling slowly ebbed away among the damp trees Rhyfel perceived a far more ominous sound; the panting, rasping breath of a mother who knows its children are threatened. He could not tell if it was luck or fear that guided his feet when he turned to run but it sure saved his life. The boar was, at least when the story was retold later, more of a demon then a mere boar. Its eyes flaming with hatred and pain, its tusks gleaming with the blood of hound and frothing spit, its ragged hide bearing a patchwork of scars and wounds. Rhyfel dodged and turned in the slippery undergrowth only finding footing by some divine will with the Mad Boar only a few paces behind him at every turn. The boar had no trouble finding footing and in lieu of a path it simply broke trees and bushes to make Rhyfels lead even shorter. Then finally he saw his lord among the trees. Standing with his feet broadly parted, his heels deeply dug into the muddy ground. Rhyfels heart leapt and then fell. For a moment he was sure that he, no they, were going to survive. That his lord perhaps had some clever plan to avoid the boar or otherwise flee this hopeless battle; but his lord was, as always, as stupid as he was brave. No man could face such a beast as this boar by himself. One of them was going to die… and his lord seemed ready to sacrifice himself to save Rhyfel. As Rhyfel passed his lord in the small clearing he felt gratitude but with every step he took afterwards a feeling of disgust rose in his throat. Disgust for his cowardice. Fuck it! If they were going to die fighting this bloody boar then so be it! There must be worse fates then to die next to a famous knight! Drawing his short dagger he turned to face death with his lord.

‘’My lord! Draw it towards me!’’ But just as he was going to charge to Maelgwyns help he stopped dead in his track. His lord had not moved an inch in order to receive the boar. The impossibly large creature had stopped mere inches from his lords heaving chest; the long spear impaling it from eye to tail. The boar was quiet, looking almost peaceful in death. A great beast that accepted its fate with a strange tranquility. Slowly lord Maelgwyn let the spear slip from his large hands. The boar fell to the ground, its rugged flanks still moving with gasping breaths.

‘’Fetch the others boy.’’ Rhyfel shut his gaping mouth and started to hurry towards lord Meilyrs company. The last he saw of Maelgwyns before his figured were shrouded in the green of the thick woods the lord slowly fell to his knees in front of his fallen prey.

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A record of Gamond, father of Cyn
A.D. 492

A record of Gamond, father of Cyn

To Cyn ap Gamond, as spoken by your father and recorded by his humble tutor.
Lord Ludwell has asked that this record remain sealed until his son, Cyn, has taken up his duties as a squire.

I have done my best to faithfully render my lords word in ink. Please Cyn, remember that your father is not an eloquent man. I have worked hard to create some coherence to this record, and admit to some wordcraft that may not be Gamonds own. His meaning is as preserved as I know how.

This work began in the tenth year of King Uthers reign, the year you became the warden of Meliodas of Lyonesse. It has taken nearly three years to complete. If at times this record seems disjointed, it is because your father is a man of infrequent words and deep passion. Please keep his words as you would your own thoughts, in your secret heart.

In the year of our lord 492, Berth

My father had many failings, two relevant. One I do not intend to repeat. He left me nothing to remember him by but stories, and stories are often fancy lies. I think it fair to say I never knew my father. By speaking to you now, I hope you will know me. It is likely that we will never meet, that I will be dead before you ever come home.

The second I cannot right. My father lost the heartblade. Many say it is a story and therefore a lie. I know it is not. From the moment the blade was lost in the night of long knives and turned to hate, our family has been caught in its fall. It is dragging us down, like a weight dragging us into deep water. Our fates are tied to the blade. The blade is wielded by the knight of ribs, a great evil. My friends think it is as simple as killing the knight and taking it back, but it is not. Simply taking it is not enough, it must be reclaimed by the Anarawd, but not by me. I am not a good man Cyn. I have always relived the slaughter of our family in my nightmares. Lately though, a new nightmare comes more often.

Ludwell is burning, and in my dreams I feel joy. Around me lie everyone I have ever loved, all of our family, our smallfolk. All dead. By my hand. The slaughter of them is glorious, a thing of beauty. It calls to me Cyn, in my sleep. If I took the blade, I would become more terrible than the knight of ribs ever was. Our family would be finished.

But you, Cyn. You could be good. Good enough to take the blade and turn it from evil. There is a way, a prophecy. Only by redeeming the blade can our family be saved. It is because of this I asked Prince Meliodas to take you, to teach you to become a better man than I will ever be. A man that I cannot teach you to be.

I hope that when you are a man grown the Saxon will have been driven out of our land, into the sea. They are a terrible enemy, these devils, but this year we have dealt them a blow. Cynic Aosa and Cynig Octa have been humbled, their armies defeated. But Cyn, instead of finishing what we started, driving home our advantage, our armies rest and the Saxon devil grows strong again. A great man among us, Prince Madoc, knows. He leads men tirelessly to drive them out, but it is not enough.

I led men this autumn, burned villages, hunted down warbands. In those villages I saw women, children. Old folk. They are not like us, Cyn. They are demons. The she-devils birth litters, three, four, six boys to each woman. Every man an axe-hand seeking Cymric blood. They look like little girls, like women of beauty. All I can see when I look at them is their children, babes who will grow to men who may one day try to kill you, our family. Like they did on the night of long knives. The key to breaking the Saxon is their she-devils. I, and the men with me, we killed them all.

I would kill thousands to keep you safe.

There is one story they tell of my father that I do not think is a lie. That he made a pact with the old ways and rose again from death to save our line from being lost. I have seen the place where he and his friends, the bannermen, made their stand. He did not make it in time to save us all, but I and my friends survived. A great mound of the dead mark their deed.

We are bound, Cyn, bound to a lady of the old ways. When I am gone she will call you. Seven times.

By the salt of blood and brine
I pledge this bloodline to the Stone.
From this day forth we shall be true and faithful.
Seven times she will call our line.
Seven times we will answer.
In the name of the Lady and all her Crows
I bind my blood to service.

I know the words by heart. We have served her twice now, five remain. I feel doubt. What the lady wants us to do does not feel right. She bound us to silence and ignorance, and bade us help Merlin the sorcerer. He took king Uthers child, his heir. Every time we have done her bidding, a dread unlike anything I have known consumes me. Something is wrong. She tells us she will curse our lines to damnation and extinction if we do not obey, but what if she lies? Perhaps her threats are empty.

Be wary Cyn, wary of her and what she makes you do.

I love you, my son. It is a strange thing, to feel so for someone I do not know and have barely seen. Someone so far away. But even so.

I love you.

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The architect and the cook
Winter 492

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It wasn’t until first frost that Melkin finally managed to recover from the sickness and madness that had haunted him throughout the fall. The sorrow that had buried itself in his heart had been hard to understand, and Melkin knew but one other knight who understood what utter heartbreak felt like.

Sir Gamond had been calm. He had shown quiet understanding while listening to Melkin’s pain, something that Melkin had failed to do when Gamond had lost his life’s love. In the end, Gamond had asked what Melkin valued more than his own life, something that could give him respite from his devotion to the queen. Despite everything the answer had been easy, Melkin had explained that, whatever hardship, his duties to count Roderick always came first. He knew he was unworthy of the queen and however strong his affection for her, he was first and foremost his lord’s subject. Gamond had nodded and then advised Melkin to focus on that duty for a while.

Most of their conversations had been in the forest. There, in a glade, Gamond had created a place for reflection, and it seemed to have been well visited before Melkin ever found out it existed. Next to the marble benches, that Gamond had probably carried there himself, there grew a strange thornbush in which Anwyn’s old sword had been placed. It stood there, rusting while being slowly devoured by the thorns around it. It somehow looked terribly lonely to Melkin.

“One day, my own sword will rest next to hers,” Gamond had said nodding toward the sword. “If you want to, you can leave the dagger that you stabbed yourself with in there. It will make it easier.”

After considering the offer for a few moments Melkin had taken the advice, cutting himself on the thorns as he thrust the dagger into the frozen ground within the bush. It had made him feel better to leave it there. A couple of days later, word came that king Uther had found the architect he had promised Melkin at the king’s wedding. By then Melkin had gathered himself enough, his heart a lot lighter since his talk with Gamond in the glade, and he traveled to meet his new architect.

Melkin had thought the dream of rebuilding the roman villa lost, but Guiseppe, the Italian architect, explained that, well yes the foundation was going to be expensive, but it was by no means impossible to restore the building. While explaining the structure of the villa to his best capacity to Giuseppe, Melkin barely noticed the brother of his new architect until Antonio said:

“Beg your pardon, my knight, but you seem familiar to me. I somehow know those eyes of yours.”

At first Melkin had thought that Antonio had met his father Bryn, but as the discussion progressed he soon realised that it was someone else that the cook had encountered. Describing a worn and well-traveled man, who had partially hidden his face below his robes, Melkin realised that it could have been none other than his blood brother that Antonio described. The eyes had been distinct, as Melkin’s own were, having the same deep blue colour as the Mawrth shield.

Antonio conveyed all he could remember about the man, and Melkin felt one step closer to finding his lost brother. In the end Melkin could do naught but ask Antonio to join his household and Antonio agreed. He argued that Guiseppe was already in Melkin’s service, and, after all, in a household, nothing was more important than a good cook.

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Decay and renewal
492

Decay and renewal

Autumn

The autumn of 492 turned out to be a busy season indeed in Modron’s forest. Sir Cadry had been in a right foul mood after having returned home from appearing before the king’s court. Nothing had gone right and except for his wife and children, no one could get a peaceable word with him for several weeks. He would scream and curse about the fact that the arch-druid of Britain had been branded a traitor and banished from the isles. Unlike most others, he refused to denounce Merlin or believe that the magician had enchanted him or his brothers in arms.

No visitors were invited to come feast at Tisbury and Cadry himself only made the most perfunctory appearances at the court in Sarum. Some quietly wondered if the same sickness that had struck Sir Melkin was also afflicting Cadry. He was quite unlike himself in that he spoke little and had few counsels to give, whereas he would usually ramble on whether he had been asked too or not.

The truth was that he had to many things on his made concerning matters closer to his own home. During late summer Brangwen gave birth to a daughter who was born so weak that she didn’t survive her first week of life. The birth was also very difficult and Brangwen took very ill and was close to deaths door for several weeks afterwards. Never had Cadry appeared more frightened, not even when dying himself, than he did the following weeks when he hardly left his wife’s side. She managed to pull through some of it but the midwife on Tisbury informed the lord that the lady’s sickness was of a deep and dangerous nature and that she would need all the help she could get if she were to survive. At first Cadry ordered his chirurgeon, Bracchius, to do whatever was necessary to save his beloved wife, but when said healer told Cadry that he had no expertise with womanly diseases, Cadry would have thrashed the man if not for the calming words of his sickly wife. Desperate for any help possible, Cadry came to think of the abbey that his good friend Maelgwyn had raised but a few years back and he remembered that the good Christian had offered the healing of that house not just to Christian women but also women of the old faith. The one thing that would cause Cadry to swallow his pride would be a threat to the woman he loved, so with a heavy heart and a sour taste in his mouth he went to Chillmark, fell to his knees and begged Maelgwyn that he would honor what he had said at the hundred court. It was all done needlessly, for even before he had managed to utter his full plea, the kind Sir Maelgwyn assured him that he would personally put in his good word with the abbess. The only thing he requested was that Cadry would make an offering or donation to the abbey. Relieved, Cadry promised that of course he would and that he would even give a sacrifice to the Christian god, not just his servants if that would in any way save the light of his life.

After having taken care of his wife and having escorted her to the abbey of Raymond Nonnatus, Cadry had returned home since he wasn’t allowed to stay in the abbey. There he sat brooding and quiet in his hall for over a week. Then one day an obsession struck him and he woke from his slumber. He decided that if his wife were to make a recovery, she would need a good and safe home to return to. The hall that had served his father and grandfather and who knows how many Cellydon lords before him seemed paltry to his eyes and for the first time he saw the decay that infested its walls and its roof. He noticed the holes in the clay walls that had repaired over and over again, he saw that even though the straw of the roof was relatively fresh, the beams holding them up were sagging and rotted. How could he have seen past all flaws and faults. A more economically minded man would have made extensive repairs and let that be enough. Cadry however was struck by another idea. He would build a new home, a home worthy of the queen that he considered his wife to be, even though she wore no crown.

Having been given forest rights by King Uther the year before as a present at the kings wedding, timber turned out to not be a problem. Only skilled labour and all the other materials would have to be paid for. Said and done, Cadry hired skilled carpenters and gave them free reins with his purse strings as long as they built a new, large wooden hall and made sure that it’s roof was made of tiles, not straw. During the autumn and into early winter, a hall grander than any his forefathers had ever ruled in even as kings, had its foundations laid with the promise that come spring, walls would start rising and amenities would be installed.

The second thing that would have to be dealt with before his wife’s return home would be to ensure that no one and nothing threatened the inhabitants. Sir Dylan had set of two years ago to continue uncle Corwyn‘s quest to find uncle Garren’s final resting place and bring home his bones. Evidently the young knight hadn’t succeeded as of yet since Cadry’s household had reported during spring that they had once again spotted a restless wraith wandering around the sacred hill as if looking for an entrance. Something had to be done unless the curse of the dead would risk striking the living. Cadry summoned his uncle old squire Galran, now a knight in his own right, to ask him to retell any pertinent details of the quest. Unfortunately, Sir Galran had already left in the company of Sir Dylan a couple of years ago. He did however find out where Dylan and Galran had been spotted not too long ago thanks to Guilaume’s ardent inquisitiveness.

Realizing that this was a problem concerning matters beyond the ken of knights and might involve forces that could not easily be defeated a strong arm wielding a sword, Cadry took the roads. His quest carried him first to Stonehenge to consult with the druids there but no of that holy order could leave their duties to the dead buried there. Not letting himself become dejected, Cadry instead inquired where he could find his friend and mentor, the ovate Athanwyr. The druids gave him some vague and mystical directions, for it is ever in the nature of such sorcerous men to talk in riddles. At first travelling north and then west, a chance encounter on a road just outside of Bath in Summerland finally brought the knight and the ovate together. Explaining the situation and the quest that was about to attempt, Cadry beseeched his mentor to accompany him and guide him on the way. Athanwyr at first seemed reluctant, but having asked about what had happened to Merlin and what the second calling of the Lady of Crows had entailed, the ovate suddenly changed his mind and declared that Cadry’s roads would be his own the coming years. Returning home during early December, the two men decided that they would set out during spring the coming years to look for the walking wraith.

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Sick with madness
Year 492

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Not one of his lineage men dared to go near him for weeks. Melkin would vaguely perceive them sneaking in and out of the manor as he sat motionless in front of the fire wrapped in sheep skins. They had tried to talk to him about what had happened at his trial in front of the king, but Melkin couldn’t stand the sight of them. He became mad, dangerous even, and they had quickly learned to stay away from him, only casting incomprehensible glances in Melkin’s direction. A few years back Melkin would have done the same, and had done the same to his friend Gamond.

The women around the household took care of him, but it was only his daughters that made Melkin forget his grief, even if it was just for a moment. Now, Indeg would play the harp to him and he would stop thinking of how he had failed his incomparably beautiful queen’s demand that he, Melkin, must die for his crimes. There were times when Melkin had thought that having five daughters was a burden, especially economically. His grand plans of rebuilding the old Roman villa had disappeared when the twins had been born and he had felt sad to see the dream go. Now he was grateful for them. His children, his daughters, having seen depression once before in their mother, seemed to have some womanly understanding that Melkin so desperately needed.

It could have been minutes, days or weeks, Melkin didn’t really know, but a face suddenly leaned in and Melkin could hear a distant voice calling his name. It was an ugly woman, with blond stripy hair, compared to the silky dark of queen Ygraine, a woman with a crooked potato nose compared to the queen’s slender straight thing. It took Melkin a while to realise that it was his lady wife that leaned over him. She had red leaves sticking to her coat and hair, and he realised that Nest had come home from the abbey to stay. Ugly as she was, she was still a calming sight to him.

Melkin stared at her for a moment looking at her lips moving without comprehending what she was saying. Then, he pulled her close to him and whispered in her ear; two words that only she could hear.

Lady Nest looked at him with wide eyes and drew back from his touch. A minute passed as they looked at each other, then slowly, Melkin unsteadily rose from the chair. He felt the tears start down his hollow cheeks. He took one step towards his wife who stood paralysed, her eyes fixed on his face. Then, Melkin fainted.


The Hillfort cough was not a joke, not in any part of Salisbury. Melkin had had it many times as a child, but as he had grown older he seemed to have left the terrible sickness behind, for good he had hoped. Back then, Melkin remembered wheezing and gasping for air, feeling as if being on the verge of suffocating, much like he was feeling now.

High fever was making the room go round and round in circles, the sore throat made water feel and taste like fire, the pain in his lungs made him wish that he could make them stop his breathing altogether, and sleep was an endless nightmare between winter’s cold and infernal conflagration.

Around him people would cover his body with hot clammy blankets, then suddenly put ice on his forehead that made the head feel like splitting, and force bitter herbs and liquids down his pharynx until he choked. They thought him delirious. He would scream at them to stop the torments but nothing he said would change the treatments. They thought he was dying.

In fact, Melkin’s only sorrow was that he knew that the sickness wasn’t killing him. If he were to die then queen Ygraine’s wish would be fulfilled and his conscience would stop torturing him as much as the sickness was, but he knew that his body would beat the cough as it had done plenty of times before, and eventually it did.

His body fought through the sickness, the fever broke and he was left weakened, diminished and damaged by it. A ghost-like white colour covered his skin and made it look almost transparent. He had dark bluish circles around his eyes. Melkin was still healing, but even if his body was cured, his mind was still far from it.

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Dark signs
A letter

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To my friend, the most reverend and divinely beloved Brother-abbot Dilwyn, Lord Maelgwyn sends greetings in the Lord.

Dear friend and favored tutor, I send this letter in hopes that you are in good health and that you can assist me in a dire matter that has befallen my family.

Foremost I want to once again extend my gratitude for your most pious and generous donation to my nunnery and assure you that the construction is proceeding well. I also wish to extend greetings and well wishes from my household and my dear wife, who fares well even though the birth of my most beloved daughters has taken its toll on her health and sleep. They are precious, my children, but four small babes are truly both a blessing and a trial sent by the Lord.

Further I wish to assure you that I am in good health and that the minor scrapes and wounds from my ill-fated duel with my battle-brother, Lord Gamond, have healed well and that I am looking forward to visiting the Abbey as soon and spring comes.

I am sorry if it might seem that I am stalling my words and request dear friend but what has befallen my family is hard to think of and even harder to speak of. It began last year with the birth of my twin sons, may they live long and in good health, and on the eve of their baptismal. My kin and tutor Meical, may the Father wathc over him, had for many days been more reluctant than usual to share in our meals and conversations and as my servant went to fetch him to perform his sacred duties he was not in his chamber. Worried, as one naturally would be, I myself searched the room and made the finding that I so dread to retell. I found my poor cousin dead underneath his bed, his skin as dry as paper. I stifled a shout of alarm and fear, as to not worry my servant or dear lady wife, and quickly covered the poor man’s corpse so that no other man would find fear in those sunken eyes and broken lips. I composed myself and tried to forget the stench of witchcraft in the room and so decided, in that moment, to permit myself a small lie; I told the servants Meical seemed to have died from poisoning. A half-truth I know but I didn’t wish to worry them more.

During the following day I questioned the servants and the rest of the household as of Meicals dealings and whereabouts during the last months. The servants said that he had been very secretive of late and refused anyone to clean or handle his personal belongings. I also found that some of his personal belongings, most notably his satchel, had been stolen or otherwise misplaced.

I feel shame to admit that I in that moment started to doubt my late tutor, as the more I thought of it the more I realized I knew little of his current dealing or company; having been occupied with the glory of battle and the joy of fatherhood during the last years. I must admit that I know little of Meicals life prior to him entering my service and therefore I turn to you most beloved tutor. Do you know from which monastery Meical hailed? Some of my counsellors have advised me not to dwell to long on these thing but it seems disgraceful to me, and my beloved family, that not one but two of my tutors have passed without me really knowing them. It is my hope, God willing, that by discerning more of Meiclas past I can discern more about his murder and, God willing, find whoever was responsible for the horrendous act of witchcraft and malevolence.

Fare thee well always, and pray for me, most honored and holy master.

Lord Mealgwyn, Servant of the Lord most high, Loyal Subject of King Uther and Count Roderick, Lord of Chillmark, Bulwark of Hillfort.

Answer from Abbot Dilwyn

To Sir Maelgwyn, faithfull servant of our Lord, to his dear wife and to his children, and to all his other family of note – greetings and blessings.

These which I write to you, are only a few things, Sir Knight, of the many which you need know. And because I am not able to tell them all, or what lies in your future, they may sooth you less than you deserve.

The illness of which you speak, that befalls only a cursed few, is seldom spoken of amongst those not learned. Brother Angar the Byzantine spoke of it during visits, of which he had many, to the island of the British.

Of the illness, he spoke thus: [This part of the letter is written in Greek]

He belived, as do many of the learned brothers of my abbey, that the illness is caused by the lack of humidity in the eyes. This causes dryness in the skin, and if not treated, the spirit may escape the body, leaving only a dry carcass. Ask your servants thusly, did poor Meical have dry and red eyes, such that can be seen in women that has cried to much? As always, lack of humidity in vital areas of the body is caused by lack of spiritual prayer, or sinfull nature.

Also, faithfull Knight, I implore you to take caution, not only for your spirit but for your corporeal body, for the wildlings of the old ways speak of this illness too. They claim it is a curse, cast only on the wicked or the weak of spirit, by the devils found in lakes or forested wetland. Such creatures are said to have many dangerous powers, not all are benevolent but dangerous as the Ladies.

Of whence Meical came, before his time at your side, I know little. I have sent a letter to an old friend at court, as favour for the many times we have spent praying together at night, during the times you have visited. But such messengers will not take payment in prayers.

As always, I charge you to do right, to carefully watch over your land, to do your duty as you ought to your Lord, your children and your servants.

Right Reverend Father, Trusted Favourite of King Aurelius Ambrosius, Trusted Favourite of King Uther Pendragon, Humble servant, Dilwyn

Addendum by Brother Rinworth
Please address the Reverend Father by his correct title in future letters and avoid to annote friendship, his Reverend Father is not allowed to keep friends. It’s “Right Reverend Father Dilwyn”. Out of respect of your good deeds and respect among your peers, the Reverend Father has allowed that you address him simply as “Father Abbot” in face-to-face conversation in the future, it is a great honor.

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The fall of a saxon champion
491

The fall of a saxon champion

It is a cold autumn day at the end of October. Beltaine is fast approaching but a few days yet remain until the veil between the living and the dead is at its weakest. A light rain dampens everything without soaking through the thickest clothes. The stand of trees to the west of the field have leaves that are yellow, brown, orange and red showing their full autumn splendour. The field that we are focused on is uneven and hasn’t been properly tilled. Remains of old wheat and barley is withering away together with various weeds in patches here and there. On the field four men have met, despite the inclement weather.

On the western side of the field a Cymric knight by the name of Sir Cadry is just strapping on his shield marked with the green oak of the Cellydon on a white background. Assisting him with his preparations is his young, squat squire Jasper, the son of one of Sir Cadry’s best friends Sir Jaradan.

To the east, a hulking saxon warrior by the name of Lifstan has just dismounted from a horse. The observant among you might notice that the saxon isn’t a skilled rider and walks with a stiff-legged gait as he starts making his way across the field. Accompanying him to witness the duel about to take place is another warrior who goes by the name of Vigrid. Vigrid is by no means a squire but rather a warrior in his own right. Vigrid considers the fight about to take place foolish, and would rather have seen a fullscale raid on the manor of the enemy. Honour has dictated however that this fight must take place and such is life. He keeps his mouth shut.

The two duellists walk towards each other and stops when but fifteen paces remain between them. Both fighters start seizing up each other to determine if any advantage is to be had from any perceived weakness of the enemy.

Sir Cadry measures in at 183 centimetres and weighs in at 87 kilograms. He is a tall, lean, handsome man who moves with the grace that is almost elf-like. He has no other living brothers and some claim that all the potential that was meant for several sons culminated in Sir Cadry. Others claim that his father, Cadwallon, made dear sacrifices to the old, bloody, pagan gods of the forest to ensure that they would favour his son. What is certain is that the fair knight has made a name for himself in several battles and he has fought several previous duels. He has as much talent for acquiring fame as he has for making enemies. At the age of 31 he has slain and murdered countless Saxons. In his chest burns a seldom seen hatred for the foreign invaders that has at times lent his sword arm a strength and speed far beyond his years.
Behold the arming sword “Oak Edge” that Sir Cadry wields in his right hand.
Eighty-one centimetres of pattern-welded, double-edged carbon steel, Cymric quality. 1.16 kilos in weight with a 5mm tapered fuller and a solid iron pommel. The grip is Salisbury oak harvested in the forest of gloom, polished smooth by 3000 handholds.
The folded carbon-steel, laid over a softer steel core, accounts for the sword’s impressive flexibility, as well as for the high price it fetched at the market in Sarum since it had to be shipped from the forges in London.
In his left hand, he hefts a large kite shield fashioned and finished according the precepts set forth by the mighty king Uther. On the inside of the shield an enarmes can be found, and it has been pulled taut to secure it to Cadry’s arm. The shield is made from solid, laminated, Salisbury oak with a leather covering produced from cow hides. It is truly a shield created for mounted warfare but it is also serviceable when dismounted.

Lifstan is a large mound of muscles measuring in at 197 centimetres and weighs in at 110 kilograms. As is usual for many of the greater Saxon warriors he relies more on brute force and overwhelming strength than dexterity. Many enemies have made the mistake of underestimating the hulking man though, judging him nothing but a brute. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lifstan is a cunning and skilled warrior that has seen more than 40 winters pass and he is as of yet undiminished by age. He has slaughtered Cymric warriors and knights since he was but 17 years old and carries the scars to prove it. In his beard, he carries many iron rings forged from the weapons of his departed enemies and they rattle against each other in the wind blowing around the combatants. He has many reasons to stand on this field today. Foremost among them is his sworn promise to behead Sir Cadry if the aforementioned knight did not release Ingold, nephew of Lifstan. Such release has not come and thus familial loyalty and honour dictates that Lifstan must pit his own skill against the hated Cymric knight. Secondly, he also plans to ride toward Tisbury manor after Cadry is dead and reclaim the Sword of the hero Sigeberht, taken so ignobly from said hero as he was killed by Cadry’s father Cadwallon. Lifstan plans to claim the sword and gift it to the head of the fenris family, Saexwulf, who happen to be the son of Sigeberht.

Lifstan’s axe, loosely held in his left hand, weighs in at 6 kilograms of high carbon steel, flaring out at 32 centimetres at the notched killing edge. The haft is made from ash, harvested in Suth Seaxe, measuring in at 56 centimetres. It is a shock weapon, favoured by many Saxons, meant to splinter shields and cleave even the stoutest helmets at close range. Lifstan, being a bit of a blunt object himself has named it “Hel”.

In his right hand Lifstan tightly grip a large wooden round shield marked by a stylized wolf’s head. It is made from durable yew wood and has a large central iron boss that will protect the hand even after most of the wood is chopped to kindling. The rim is reinforced with cured leather hides.

By some unspoken consensus, the fighters start approaching each other and circling clockwise. None of them wants to overextend himself before having taken measure of the other yet someone has to strike the first blow.

Cadry takes a few, quick steps closer to his enemy obviously intent on utilizing his longer reach due to his tall sword and thrusts the tip of his sword towards Lifstan’s expose right knee. The massive saxon just lowers his shield and the sword quickly taps the surface. Lifstan has been waiting for the knight to come closer and releases a large cut from overhead really putting his shoulder and hips into it. Cadry is prepared for the counter attack though and takes two quick steps backwards and interposes his own tall shield. He is surprised though by the force behind the blow that makes his shield groan as splinter fly from left side of it.

Realizing that his shield won’t be able to handle to many of those massive axe blows that the saxon champion seems to deliver all to casually, Cadry carefully backs away. He has noticed how slippery the ground is thanks to the damp and knows that the first man to lose his footing will probably lose his life too.

Lifstan is experienced enough not to follow up the attack, knowing that the knight isn’t quite as much on the defensive as he seems. For an instant the two men stop and stare at each other and one can see hatred burning in the eyes of Sir Cadry. Lifstans eyes on the other hand hold a quiet but fierce determination. He knows that even should he lose this duel he will be feasting in Wotan’s hall this evening as long as he dies with honour and a weapon in his hand.

Suddenly the duellists are at it again, both now fully committed to death or victory. It is hard for the observers to notice every blow and move made since both warriors are fighting far beyond their normal capacity. Sir Cadry’s blade seems to live a life of its own and strikes like a snake from many different directions. One can tell though that there is force behind the cuts and thrusts as chips and splinters sail through the air as Lifstan’s shield takes a beating.
Lifstan for his part is slower, but not by much and the blows that he deals out are terrible. One of his chops goes right through Sir Cadry’s shield and cuts into the arm underneath. Sir Cadry cries out but a rage has taken hold of him. Buried deep inside is a dark and terrible memory buried from when Cadry was but two years old and saw many kin butchered by the treachery of the Saxons. All that hate blocks out most of the pain and forces him to fight even harder and faster.

The fight flows back and forth with both fighters taking wounds inflicted by the other. None of the wounds can settle who is to win though and soon blood mists the ground together with the rain.
Neither of the two observers dares to shout any encouragements or swearwords during it all for fear of distracting their own champion.

What finally tips the fight in the end is that damn horse. Lifstan, being saddle-sore, is slightly more stiff-legged than usual and thus his footwork lags behind as the muddy ground turns more and more slippery. Sir Cadry’s old trainer and lord Sir Amig, would have been proud to witness his old squire utilize all the training he beat into him and finally outmanoeuvre the saxon bastard. As Cadry slides in low on Lifstan’s right side, Lifstan is just a little bit too slow to shift his shield in the way of the darting blade. Before he realizes it, 30 centimetres of steel is shifting around in his gut, having penetrated right through his rugged Frankish chainmail. He tries to force his left hand to rise and hammer a killing blow down on Sir Cadry’s helmet but the iron worm in his belly is quickly stealing all his strength.

Sir Cadry backs away still with both blade and manhandled shield at the ready. He can hear the large saxon heaving out breaths like stunned bull and he sees shivers rack Lifstan’s great frame. After what seems like a full minute, the saxon finally falls to his knees. The only part of him that doesn’t seem to relax is his left hand that holds a dead man’s grip on Hel’s haft.

Cadry steps forth and with a swift stab through the neck he finishes of his enemy. After having done so he raises his blade against Vigrid and says “Next time any of you decide come after me, remember what happened to Lifstan. Remember that you will all die in vain on your foolish quest for the that overgrown sword.”
Vigrid stands quiet for a short while before he replies “I will tell Saexwulf”.

The bout of the day being concluded, Vigrid turns and walks over to his horse and mounts up and rides away to the east. How he will make his way back to his own lands the story doesn’t tell but a few days later word of what happened on that muddy autumn field reaches the ears of Saexwulf, head of the Fenris family. None can say for certain though what he is thinking but it is clear that this blood feud is not settled.

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