Autumn had begun to shorten the days and temper the heat of late summer. Gamond sat in his fathers’ old ornate chair, watching the group of elders gathered in his hall. They were many, and his new bailiff – Bodwyns son and his own brother in law – had informed him that the new arrivals had thronged into forestwatch so that it was fairly bursting at the seams.
He hoped that he looked like he was listening seriously to the old man hemming and hawing his way through the tale of their trials and tribulations. In truth, he felt a little lost. His wife and would be son had both died in bed a week past, and their absence cut unexpectedly. Though he had not loved her, he now missed her shrewd advice and calm support.
“… Saxons burned t’ville o’er them hills n…” he’d heard it all before. The old mans’ tale was as common as grass. Saxons. Scourges from hell. Burning, pillaging, raping. Taking all that was good and decent out of the world. The soil they trod on soured as god himself withdrew his hand from their lands. The elders before him were all distant kin, with families who all shared his blood. He’d never quite understood it before, just how far and wide that tie of blood among the Anarawd sprawled.
They wanted his help and support. It would be trouble. What would his father have done? He closed his eyes and tried to imagine it. All that came to him were stories, stories that really said nothing about who his father had truly been.
Fuck what his father would have done. What would HE HIMSELF do? Let that guide him, not the spectre of an imagined past.
He stood up, dwarfing everyone around him, and help up a hand.
“I hear you… “ he cast around for the old codgers name for a moment “… Kunn. You have all suffered at the hand of the Saxon, and blood to blood, you are all welcome to settle here.”
Cynsten watched the two lords seated at the table in the long hall of Chillmark. They very much looked like two young men trying their very best to get just drunk enough to bridge the awkward silences and stilted pleasantries that lay between them.
Sir Gamond had ridden up the path to the gate in full war-gear, coolly requesting Sir Maelgwyns hospitality. The footmen had nearly shat themselves and had sent for the lord directly without opening the gate. Cynsten understood them, something about the man made the hairs on his neck stand up, he smelled cold and hard, like a naked drawn blade. He was also fucking huge. His Lord was as fine a physical example as could be found anywhere in Logres, and taller than most men, but Sir Gamond still topped him by a head. There was also something else, something divorced from the purely physical, something that made the Lord of Ludwell loom. “Lord Ludwell” Maelgwyn had said, to which Gamond had replied “No need for that, I’m your peer, not your better”.
Now the two had sat in the hall for nearly an hour and a man could easily think neither enjoyed the fine wine, impossible as that seemed.
“I’ve come to ask your forgiveness, for threatening your life. It was rash, and ill done”.
“Forgiveness granted, brother”. Maelgwyn didn’t sound as If he really meant it.
“You talk a lot Maelgwyn, careless words that often hurt when I don’t think you mean them to.” The large man spoke slowly, measuring each word with great care.
“Maybe” conceded his Lord “You take offense easily, you’re thin skinned when it comes to that woman.” The lord of Chillmark didn’t like the bandit wench. that Cynsten knew.
“You demean something I treasure, our passions are what makes us men Maelgwyn”
“And what makes us weak!”
Cynsten just watched, thinking. His loyalty to the lord of Chillmark was the very core of him, driving out all other concern. It was that which had driven him to reckless heroics, again and again, and had given him his current privilege. A great and defining strength, but yes, also a weakness that could be exploited. One that would shatter him should Maelgwyn ever die.
From there argument blossomed. Some things, thought Lord Ludwell, was important enough to kill for. Anwyn, Family, Lord, Duty. Maelgwyn thought he should restrain his love, that it hurt his family and risked his status, but Gamond said he couldn’t, wouldn’t. His lord was suspicious, thinking that woman had probably stolen something. Hard to think she wasn’t connected to the bandits and hadn’t been one herself. At this the taciturn giant grew less apologetic, but at least both agreed that drawn blades should be a last resort, though some respect nothing less.
When Maelgwyn began to speak in metaphors involving Lord Ludwells orchard in that long winded and roundabout way of his Cynstens’ thoughts wandered. Lord Ludwell, with characteristic bluntness, eventually cut him off and said he didn’t understand whatever he was trying to say. Sourly Maelgwyn summarized; “If you can’t change you will die”.
After more wine and a heavy silence Gamond took up the thread again, asking Maelgwyn to apologize to Anwyn if he wanted to make things right between them. Lord Chillmark flatly refused. At least then, said Gamond, they should respect each other’s truths and be mindful of that?
Cynsten had to give it to the man, he was trying. He nearly groaned aloud when Maelgwyn simply refuted any such compromise, he himself spoke the truth of god, and Gamond was a foolish and unwise man. More arguments strained the peace of the house, arguments of pride, fearies and oaths, of repeated warnings and sermons of how Gamond would bring his house to ruin. Of cutting down the orchards in Ludwell and tricking the inhuman monsters from the fay lands. Gamond refused to do so. He had given his word, and would go his way as he pleased.
That did seem foolhardy and needlessly stubborn to Cynsten, what was so important about some trees anyway?
The sergeant was drawn from daydreaming of good wine and sleep by the sharp, strained silence in the room. Eventually, Gamond ground out, exasperation and a note of pleading in his voice; “What has changed so these past years Maelgwyn? We used to be close. Then I left you alone with that tutor, pouring self-loathing and poison in your ear”.
The rebuttal was instant “Only knowledge and humility! You’re on a dangerous path Gamond, don’t go further! Look at me, right now I’m living rich, taking care of my family, building my farms. My wife is healthy and pregnant. That’s what my tutor gave me, what have your choices given you?!”
The sound of iron crumpling and shattering cut the tirade short. Gamond slowly stood, gingerly untangling his hand from the ruined mess of his goblet. Cynsten found his own hand on the hilt of his sword, a sense of overwhelming violence choking his breath. For three long heartbeats he could have sworn Lord Ludwells eyes shone queerly white, then they were simply the dark brown of any man. “My wife died a month past, childbirth. My stepfather is now steward. I think you will soon find that we are not much different after all, you and I. I must get back to Ludwell”.
Melgwyn spoke to his back “You’re excused”.
That winter, Maelgwyns first wife died pregnant, and her child with her.
The road had not taken him to Ludwell. A deep anger in his heart would not let him return to comfort. He rode past the manor, taking on provisions and sending for his squire. Steering southeast and skirting past Charlton, through the stretch of desolate lands and on into the Kings’ hundred Chalkhill and Badger forest. The woodland to the east was much different than brooding Modron in the west, Badger forest was incredibly dense, but green and vibrant in summer and bequeathed with more evergreen than he was used to. Even this late in autumn the woods were mostly green.
The most important difference though was the lack of haunting memories. Though tense at first, gradually Gamond began to relax and enjoy the ride. Badger forest sported plenty of game, but mindful of the kings law both he and his squire kept to their rations.
Trails were few and far between in that place, but there was one to Hillfarm, Duhe rope with which they had been pulling themselves across had been cut by three swarthy brigands upon the bank, who now had much merriment at their expense. Gamond cut their merrymaking short with lance and sword and then proceeded to strip his armour. Grabbing a new rope, winding it about a tree, and swimming out to the ferry proved a fairly easy task for one accustomed to fast flowing rivers, and soon the kings men could step safely onto the bank with their armour and horses intact. Sir Caroc and Sir Heliandor de la montagne introduced themselves and sat a spell to eat of Gamonds replenished stores. They had come from the south, carrying important news for the king, and had been caught out by the bandits. They could not say their news or business, but had gotten lost on the wrong side of the river and faced the prospect of battling a roaming monster or crossing. Gamond wished them the best of luck, and buoyed by their thanks set home to Ludwell.