Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

Born at one birth
Spring 489

Born at one birth

It hadn’t been that she was old or ugly that had created the foreboding feeling in Melkin’s chest, it was the way old Llinos had looked at his lady wife as they entered the Tisbury longhouse.

“The twin God has chosen you,” was the words that had left the old priestess’ mouth as she stepped closer. Lady Nest’s eyes had gone wide when the old woman had made a slow motion to her enlarged front. “Uncommon,” had the old woman added, “their souls seem to be singing the same note”.

Twins. Melkin had asked the question, but Llinos had only given him a brief look as if he was stating the obvious.

“Anyone should be able to see that. She’s big as a cow. No, the things that I see though are far more interesting…”

The event however strange it had been, it hadn’t been the only one during their visit to Tisbury, far from it. Melkin did not pay much attention to it then, but during their visit both he, lady Nest and the children seemed to have been absorbed by the happiness that had lingered in Tisbury. It was a loving, open and heart warming feeling that grew by the hour. Melkin had looked at his own family and felt how his affection to them had grown as he watched them, as if his heart grew larger.

Whatever the atmosphere had been, Melkin still felt it now as he cradled one of the newborns in his arms. Lady Nest had indeed bore him twins, identical daughters with golden hair and blue eyes. Standing, Melkin felt the same loving affection that had followed him home from Tisbury. He leaned down and kissed his wife on the forehead.

“Not one of all the lords in Hillfort has a wife who has given them what you have given me today,” he had said as he kissed lady Nest’s forehead. “My lovely wife,” he met her gaze and almost didn’t feel any effect from the curse that normally gave him headaches from looking women directly in their eyes. “You have made me proud, and you have made me remember”, Melkin said and sat down beside her”.

And she had made him proud. Melkin had not been able to shake the ominous feeling about her pregnancy that he first had felt at Tisbury, and he was more than a little relieved that the twins’ birth had gone well.

“… made you remember?” Nest’s voice was silent and slightly confused.

Melkin smiled and looked down at the girl that he held. “Being the fifth son of my father, I happened to have two older brothers that also were identical twins. My sister has told me that they always were up to trouble, and that father suspected them as soon as something went missing or was broken here at Hindon. Ennis was the older one, the one who should have inherited Hindon after my father if he hadn’t disappeared during the Night of Long knives. Camlin, died a year earlier. He was stabbed by a knight when he himself was but a boy”.

Melkin sighed and stroked the sleeping babe’s cheek in his arms.

“I do not remember them”, he said and was surprised by the sadness in his own voice as he uttered the words. “I was too young when they died, but I’ve thought many times that they probably were more suited to be lords of a manor than I ever was. They seemed to have been quite brave even as children, and strong”.

“Strong, my lord?”

“I have always wondered what happened to Ennis,” Melkin continued giving his wife a short smile. “I always thought that he had escaped the Saxons somehow, or maybe I just liked to think that when Cadry was better at everything, and I needed a relative or a brother to be better than Cadry”. Melkin laughed and shook his head before becoming serious again. “I think that he might actually be alive, or that is what the loathly lady told me four years ago”.

Looking up he recognised his wife was almost falling asleep. He reached out and took her hand.

“I’m sorry, you need sleep and I only talk keeping you awake". He kissed her again on the forehead.

“Do you want to name them after your brothers?”

The question was unexpected, and Melkin blinked a couple of times before nodding ever so slightly. “I would,” he said finally. “I would like that”.

Nest had closed her eyes, but a faint smile was lingering on her lips, and Melkin realised how seldom he saw her smile.

“Ennys and Camlinne,” she said, “I like that too”.

Melkin left her sleeping in peace. Thinking about the new names Melkin went out to inform his chaplain, Doged, that he could stop hiding in the chapel and come back inside.

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Making knights out of boys
488

Making knights out of boys

My hall is full of some fragrant scent that I don’t think I have smelled before, or maybe I did but maybe it was back in the lands of twilight in faerie. It has been hard to separate out what was before and what truly happened in that strange, wondrous place. Something of that world seems to have followed me and Brangwen back to our own home. What worries me the most is the fact that none of these strange things worry me. One day I might wander back to that enchanted place together with Brangwen when our children are grown up and can shoulder the reign of the Cellydon family. That day is not today however.

My reverie is interrupted by discrete cough. I blink my eyes and glance away from the fire I have been staring into. To my right is my new lackey Guilaumme, looking at me with his kind, concerned eyes. I remember freeing from the bandit camp at Willowbranch and promising him that I would find a place for him and his sister. I don’t know what I have done to earn his fanatical devotion though but I am no less grateful for it nonetheless. He is an impeccable grooms-man and keeps my clothes in perfect shape. He also seems to be very well versed in what is the latest fashion and I have more or less turned over the decisions on what to wear at court to him.

Guilaumme seems like he wants something and when I quirk an eyebrow in his direction he replies “Sir Dylan and Sir Nerthach has arrived”. He puts gentle emphasis on the Sir when speaking the names. A reminder to me that the boys have been knighted in my absence. Some days it feels like more than half a year passed while Brangwen and I was away.

When I leave my hall and walk out into chill spring wind blowing through the forest of gloom (or should it be the forest of glamour?) I am met by two young men who have just dismounted from their new horses. The only similarity between the two young knight is that they share the characteristic thick hair that almost all Cellydons have. Sir Dylan, being the elder by a year, is a solidly built man with eyes that are much harder than I remembered. Maybe it is not too strange though considering that he squired for Sir Lycus who is a hard man if there ever was one. They have been a good match though since Dylan was always driven and stubborn.

Sir Nerthach on the other hand is willowy and tall but have managed to build some muscle during his years as a squire to my good friend Sir Jaradan. He had trouble fitting in at Dinton manor during the first year he lived there but adapted after a while mostly thanks to the fact the knight he served is larger than life and bends others to fit into his own life. Nerthach has become a vivacious young man who both quick with a cup and quick to bed a girl. He has also egged his lord on to venture out more and participate in both adventures and battles.

Here they stand before me, different in many ways but they are now both knights of the Cellydon line. I greet them both warmly and congratulate them on their prowess and boldness that earned them knighthood. We head into my family’s ancestral longhouse and I order mead and wine be brought forth. We sit down at the long table and I place them both beside me. We drink to their fortune and to the family’s future. I ask them to recount the deeds that allowed them to distinguish themselves and earn the knightly stroke at such a young age.

Sir Dylan begins by telling how he accompanied Sir Lycus to Frankia to fight for prince Madoc. When encountering the franks during one of the battles in that foreign land, Sir Lycus was struck down by two mounted Frankish warriors and Dylan had to defend his lord in order for him to bring Lycus to safety. On his way of the battlefield he managed to not just slay one of the mounted warriors but also several Frankish footmen. Dylan tells that when Lycus woke up he didn’t seem impressed but later when the troops had returned to Salisbury he one day told Dylan that he had recommended that the count make Dylan a knight.

Sir Nerthach for his part have maybe not distinguished himself as quite as capable fighter but on the other hand he seems to have made his name as a courtier. He ensured that several delicate social situations were resolved in a satisfying fashion. He used his lesser station as a squire to act as a discrete go between when a knight would have drawn too much attention. The one person that did notice him though was the count himself and after having defused a rather delicate situation by backhanded means, he received unexpected recognition. The count has also offered him a position as one of his household knights.

I listen to their stories feel pride well up in my chest, pride in the fact that my gambles payed of but also pride in the fact that my relatives are competent and capable men who will now work to further the family’s name and ambitions. One day they might even win land for themselves.

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The lingering traces of faerie
488

The lingering traces of faerie

They say that Tisbury manor is a strange place indeed, situated as it is deep in the forest of gloom. Some say that this reputation had long rested over the manor and the strange Cellydon family who had claimed it as their seat since time immemorial. Others however, claim that the rumours began in truth during the spring of 489. That was the year when the lord and lady of Tisbury had been missing for half a year and suddenly had returned in the middle of the Count of Salisbury’s winter feast. Lord Tisbury told a strange tale of how he and his wife had been lost in faerie and how he had to bargain with a faerie princess in order for him to regain his wife and return to the mortal realm.

Had this event been a singular occurrence maybe the rumours and gossip would have died down after a little while. This turned out to not be the case however. It was said that the enchantments of faerie followed the Cellydon’s home.

The good knight Sir Jaradan, when speaking of his visit to his good friend Sir Cadry of Tisbury, told that the man in question seemed much like himself at first glance and in casual conversation but when delving into more serious matters changes had occurred in Sir Cadry’s personality. Where he had once been a rather arbitrary man mostly concerned with his own doings and that of his friends, he now seemed much more concerned with finding out what was the just and righteous thing to do in all things. Sir Jaradan also spoke of the affection and love that lord and lady Tisbury shared for each other. Their love had even before their disappearance been strong but after their return it was almost impossible to separate the two from each other.

Sir Jaradan, being a man not given to poetry, nevertheless described the love he had seen shared between the two was like a fire or light that almost seemed to glow around the couple when they were together. He also claimed that lady Brangwen, who admittedly had been known for her beautiful voice even before her disappearance, had become an even better singer during her stay in faerie for she could now bring tears to the eyes of even a cold hearted man with but a few words.

Some, hearing Sir Jaradan’s account, didn’t pay it much heed since he was well known for being a boastful man who often embroidered his tales. But even these sceptical minds found it hard to ignore the tales that were recounted by other visitors to Tisbury manor.

A peddler who often travelled in hillfort hundred claimed that when he stayed the night at Tisbury after having brought fine ribbons to sell to lady Tisbury, he woke up in the middle of the night hearing strange music. He believed it to be the lady who was playing but when he looked around the hall he could see both lord and lady Tisbury sound asleep in their bed as was the rest of the household.

The arborist serving Sir Gamond had reason to pass by the manor during spring when the first flowers had begun to sprout. He claimed that he had smelled strange smells emanating from flowers growing around the manor. When later asked he said that he had identified at least three different species of rose and two species of orchids that could not possibly grow in these lands but grow they still did. With the lord’s permission he picked a few samples and dried them to preserve evidence of this otherworldly growth.

A squire serving Count Roderick rode out in the woods to give a message to Sir Cadry, told his lord that when he had delivered his message and was riding on to the manor of Sir Melkin he had witnessed strange lights shining out in a clearing. He almost went to investigate before remembering what had happened to lord and lady Tisbury the previous year. He later swore that he had heard voices calling after him and laughing at him when he hasted away.

Sir Melkin, who had himself grown up on Tisbury manor mentioned to one of his friends that time seemed to pass strangely when he had spent a couple of days in the company of his foster brother. He could swear that he had only been there for two days but when he returned home, three days had passed.

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The severed heads
Winter 487

The severed heads

At the winter court of Count Roderick in Sarum the usual peace and quiet was interrupted when one of the more prominent servants of the court rushed in to announce that Sir Cadry of Tisbury had arrived, just a few steps ahead of the aforementioned knight.

Some had speculated on why Sir Cadry hadn’t arrived in the company of Sir Melkin like he usually did when it was time for court. Only lady Brangwen had arrived from Tisbury manor and she had no explanation for why her husband was missing. Surely those bent towards gossip got something new to talk about when Sir Cadry marched in, dressed not in finery, but rather in an huntsman’s armor. With him he was carrying a sack and the more perceptive among the gathered noblemen could note that the burlap was stained red with what could only be blood.

The Count, being used to being obeyed, immediately demanded an explanation from Sir Cadry for his tardiness, his dirty appearance and what was going on. One could note some manner of uncertainty in Count Roderick’s eyes however when Sir Cadry approached, for there was something fierce resting over his appearance and bearing and his clothes were stained with mud, blood and leaves.

In a harsh voice Cadry spoke “I apologize for the lateness of my arrival my lord but what delayed me was my duty to both you and to my family. Three days ago when I was out hunting I found tracks in the forest to the north of my holdings, tracks that someone had covered up, someone used to moving in the wilds.”

One could note that there were a great anger hiding behind the words of the imposing man as he retold his story of the following days. “I started following the tracks, though the going was hard. A while later I found some traces of blood and they led me to a fallen tree where someone had stashed the body of Brathach.”

There were some murmurings among the assembled knights and someone quietly asked another who the blazes Brathach was. Sir Cadry apparently heard the comment and turned around towards the speaker and almost roared “He was 11 years old and my cousin four times removed, murdered in the middle of the forest!” The speaker did not make himself known and most people standing around seemed to embarrassed to say another thing.

Turning once again towards the count, Cadry lifted one of his hand to his face as if trying to wipe something away from his face. “They had cut his throat from ear to ear. A boy! I set out after the ones who had done this foul deed and a few hours later I almost caught up to them but they must have noticed that I was following them. They set up an ambush and one of them almost shot me right through the eye. It was only because the Forest Mother kept her hand over me that my bow snagged on a tree branch and I had to take a step back to untangle it. Had I not done so, the arrow would have pierced my skull.”

The knights standing closest to Sir Cadry on his right side could see a shallow clotted wound on his right temple where the arrow had grazed him.
Count Roderick seemed to be almost enthralled by the tale but made a small gesture as if to encourage the knight to go on.

“There were three of them. Three saxon scum, although I didn’t know that at the time. What followed was two days of relentless hunting where we chased each other around the forest. They were skilled outdoorsmen who could move through the wilderness without leaving much in the way of tracks. They set further traps for me and tried to use their superior numbers to their advantage but they did not know the forest like I do. When they came after me I led them deeper into the more dangerous parts. The forest took one of them as a tribute. I could only hear his screams in the night and judging from those it must have been a gruesome death.”

Some of the more grim knights present looked almost satisfied from hearing what had happened to a hated foe while others looked spooked, fearing the forest and what dwelled inside.

“The remaining two let their exhaustion get the better of them after two days of constant movement and skirmishing. One of them acted as bait and the other one hid himself away armed with a bow in a hedge. He was the first of them that I killed. When I approached him from behind he didn’t notice me until I was on top of him. He tried to pull out a dagger but I skewered him through the stomach before he could defend himself. His screams drew in the other one and that one came running with an axe in his hand. He tried to cut me down where I stood but exhaustion had robbed some swiftness from his arm and I managed to parry his blow in time. We fought for a long time. He was more than my match in skill of arms but what brought him down in the end was the slippery ground strewn with the blood of his dying friend. He slipped and fell and was to slow in raising his defences. I stuck my sword right through his throat and kept slicing just like they had done to poor little Brathach.”

Cadry looked like his legs would give out at any second and something hazy came over his eyes but something deep within him pushed him on and he steeled himself.

“When I got ready to give the dead to the forest as an offering, I notice one thing the dead men had in common other that the fact that they were saxons. They both carried markings indicating that they belonged to the fenris family. The same scum that several times have targeted me and my kin specifically. I say that they are a menace and a plague upon the land like all saxons and I say that if there is anything that this court, this county, this land needs to do before anything else it is to take up arms against the saxons!”

It seemed like Sir Cadry had struck a note within the hearts of many at the court and several men shouted out their agreement. Sir Cadry picked up the sack he had brought with him and approached the Count on shaky legs. He knelt down before the throne and looked up at his liege.
“I lay the greatest gift before you that I can give you my lord. Your dead enemies heads!” With these words, Cadry upended the sack and out spilled two blonde-haired heads and then he himself collapsed at the counts feet. When men rushed forward to see what had happened they discovered that Sir Cadry had suffered multiple wounds and lost a lot of blood. I wasn’t until a few weeks later that he had recovered from his ordeal and by then word of his deeds and dramatic appearance has spread.

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Pieces of silver
Autum 487

Pieces of silver

Scouting was, in Melkin’s eyes, something you did to uphold the strategic plans you had in motion. The problem was that the traditional way of scouting did not seem to be working as it should. The bandits in Salisbury seemed to know exactly what was going on, when he or any of the other knights rode out and where they were heading. Now, Melkin had changed scouting strategy to see if he could manage to adapt to a more unpredictable pattern. He had tried to go out on odd times much like how the Saxons seemed to be moving, and change his mind in the last moment of where to go. Someone was feeding the bandits information of his and his friends’ movements, and he was not going to let any potential traitor tell them what he was up to.

As of such Melkin and Deian were riding north alongside the forest of gloom, keeping an eye out, and sometimes making a short entry into the forest. It was late October, and most of the leaves had fallen from the trees which made it easier to spot any movement inside the forest.

“I heard that sir Victus had been injured,” said Deian suddenly with an undertone of a question to his voice as they rode down a hill.

“He lost another body part,” answered Melkin sighing, “this time a finger on his right hand. Not too bad considering”.

The remark made Deian laugh.

“He joined the battle with prince Madoc last year then?”

“It seems like he did, and it also seems to have been quite the adventure”.

“The one-legged-knight with the nine fingers,” Deian said shaking his head slightly, but Melkin noticed the gleam in his eyes.

“The old man is getting a reputation”, Melkin continued, “and gathering wounds.”

“Maybe people will start calling him the scarred knight,” suggested his squire.

“Then we can share that title between us,” said Melkin amused. “Marwths in general seem to be hard to kill, but maybe not too hard to injure”.

Deian did not laugh at this. Maybe he remember all to well all of Melkin’s own injuries but before he could continue Deian stopped his horse and pointed. “Sir Melkin,” he said frowning. “I saw something move in there”.

Melkin gave the boy a nod and turned his horse around. Surefoot as he had named the new steed trotted over the uneven ground into the forest with ease. Melkin had never had a horse that he had felt so united with before. Having ridden the brown charger for the past couple of months Melkin himself had grown a lot more skillful rider in an exceptionally short amount of time, and he could feel the difference.

Going into the forest he did notice something moving briefly to his right and he and the horse made their way towards the movement. Melkin thought that he saw a figure leaping behind a tree but when he reached it there was no one there. Behind him he suddenly heard the other horse neigh, and as Melkin turned around he saw how Deian was thrown out of his saddle in a wide angle. The horse standing on its hind legs neighed once more and started gallop out of the forest.

“Deian,” Melkin called to the squire who had landed out of eye shot.

A pained grunt came as answer. Melkin looked around, scanning the area. Nothing. If someone had been there, they had taken the moment of chaos to escape. He rode up to Deian and dismounted. The young man had fallen badly and bled from a gash from the head.

“Don’t get up,” Melkin kneeled by his squire’s side.

“Sir, I swear I saw someone in the bushes! He scared the horse he…” Deian pointed in the direction where Melkin thought he had seen the shadow and tried to stand.

“Well, he’s gone now,” concluded Melkin and sighed. “Lie still whelp, so I can take a look at that wound.”

The cut wasn’t too deep and Melkin decided against stitching it together. From own experience he knew that Deian probably would be dizzy and nauseous for a day or two though, and that he they’d best return to Hindon.

“It’s not too bad,” he clapped his squire on the shoulder. “But I see you need more riding training still. You’re soon to become a knight and it wouldn’t do if you get yourself killed from falling of the horse in battle”.

Deian shook his head, and then winced from the pain. “No sir,” he said quite sheepishly.

Melkin couldn’t help but to smile at the boy. “I guess we’ll just have to take some extra time for it during next spring. Now get up on the horse”.

“Sir?” Deian looked at Surefoot.

“If you fall, you have to get up at once, or else you might fear riding later on. Now then, up you go”.

Melkin let Deian climb up into the saddle himself as lord Amig had done for him when he was a squire. He was just about to grab the reins and start to lead the animal out of the forest when he caught glance of something on the ground just a few meters away. Picking up the leather sachet Melkin heard the clinking noise from inside. He gave in content a brief look and then put the sachet in his belt.

Later, when the other horse had been found and Deian indeed had gotten sick, Melkin counted the silver. The sachet had contained as much as an entire pound, exactly one pound. Well, he thought as he put the money in the roman chest in the long hall, he hadn’t found any bandit, but retrieving a pound from their coffers wasn’t bad either. The question was who the money had been meant for. It was a precise amount, and Melkin dared say that no bandit would go around with that amount unless it was meant for something particular. Had the sachet even been intended for a traitor?

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Peace
Year 486

Peace

Early autumn was often beautiful in hillfort. Rolling hills and trees that walled the hundred to three sides, ever present in copses, small outlier forests and scattered in singles throughout the land. As leaves turned from green to vibrant colour hillfort came ablaze.

It had been a strange time for Gamond. His new wife made few enough demands and seemed to have understood the situation at Ludwell even before the wedding, apparently she was content with material things, responsibility and power. She was not particularly content with the lack of marital activities of the physical nature, but made no issue of the repeated failed attempts. All those living in the overcrowded village of Forestwatch had been given the voluntary choice of moving to new pastures, as a result, most of those who distrusted him had moved away, leaving many of the kin who had come for help and a core of loyal peasantry. For the moment Ludwell was relatively at peace, even if its’ lord was not.

Anwyns absence haunted him. He trusted her to have left for good reason, and also to take care of herself, but that did not make the longing that steadily grew in him any less. During long sleepless nights he was driven out of bed and into the cold, riding or walking far afield to relieve his anxious heart.

A stir among the peasants drew him from other work, and one among the smallfolk. a young lad he vaguely recognized as one of Mellews’ brood. The boy bowed awkwardly and spoke with his eyes on the ground.

“Mlord, t’treeman wants ya”

That could only mean that Gusg, the brilliant but eccentric orchardist, had something he deemed important enough to interrupt his work. Gamond felt like he was choking, did the centre bear fruit?
He patted the boy on the head and have him two large apples, sending him on his way. On his own way to the hill where the orchard stood, draped over its slopes, Gamond considered his manor. The peasants resented the orchardist and his constant, impossible demands. He was brilliant, but a difficult man to relate to.

As he neared the orchard and climbed the slopes he marvelled at the beauty of the young trees. Half, the eastern side mostly a delicate and clear pink, the western bright white. A large grove at its’ heart grew above the rest of the trees, a vibrant red and pink. The heart of the orchard, the wild cherries of the ancient grove. He ascended the dirt path and was swallowed by the trees. They were already tall, some 20 feet, a subtle and pleasant scent putting him at ease.

“Gusg?”

The man small wiry man dropped from one of the trees, smiling so wide his face fairly split apart straight through his bushy beard. “My Lord! Wonderous, fantastic news!”

“Has the heart of the orchard borne fruit?”

“No, no, but Gamond…” he forgot himself, as he often did when absorbed by his favourite subject “…LOOK AROUND!” He did a strange little dance. “They’re blooming twice! Usually the Prunus Avium bloom once a year, two only under the very best of conditions! And we have the very best!”

Gamond nodded, moving deeper into the orchard as Gusg chattered on incessantly, jumping from tree to tree. The man would be nowhere to be found and without two words to spare for weeks on end, but the dam of words would burst at times like these. The heart of the orchard was especially lovely in the early autumn sun, and Gamond sat on the ground among the trees. Not all of them had many blooms, but many did, and here was where that subtle smell originated.

“Gusg?” Gamond spoke and cut the enthusiastic fellow off mid-sentence “..Eh, yes?” “I’d like to be alone, please”.

He barely noticed when Gusg left, having found peace for the first time in many weeks.


The temporary reprieve had ended, with a vengeance. Over the course of two months his eldest son had taken ill and died and his new wife had followed Meneri into the grave, torn inside by the babe fighting to get out of her. That babe, now his oldest son, had lived. The only blessing this miserable late autumn had provided.

The night to which Gamond was woken was every bit as miserable as that. His footman had shaken him, stirring the small baby cradled next to his chest under the furs awake with a reedy cry.

“What?” Gamond rose and handed the babe to his nursemaid. “Milorde, the lorde of Chillmark is at the gate”. “Well, what are you standing there for? Ask him in.”

The footman left, and shortly returned to a half dressed Lord Ludwell, looking nervous on shuffling feet. “Milorde, e dosnt want to come in”.

Gamond stared at his underling for a moment. “Is he armed?”

“No m’lord”

“Good…”

Gamond armed, and strode into the pouring rain and oppressive darkness. Gathered were Meical the tutor, Squire Devin, Cynsten and the Lord of the Tarren line. Thunder struck, and lightning cast the indistinct silhouette of Lord Chillmark into stark relief for several long heartbeats.

Maelgwyn was thin and pale, on bare and bleeding feet in the mud. Dirty claw marks glared an ugly red all over his arms. “GAMOND! Brother! Please, please forgive me! I have sinned! I have hurt you, and everyone I love! Please forgive me!”

For long moments, Gamond simply stared at the man he once called his brother. Thunder rolled across hillfort, lightning painting awkward shadows across the men gathered on the courtyard.

The towering Lord of Ludwell stepped forward, Cynsten gripped his blade, ready for the worst. Gamond took his old friend, his brother, in his arms.

“Melgwyn…” Gamonds voice caught “_What… in heavens name have you done to yourself?”_ He lifted the man as easily as he had his child, hugging him close. “Whatever you have done, I forgive you.”

He carried the closest family he had left aside from his mother into the long hall, summoning furs and hot wine. Maelgwyn had lapsed into deep sleep, and both brother and adoptive mother watched over him throughout the night.

For the rest of autumn and winter Maelgwyn and Gamond both did penance at Ambrius Abbey, and many strange dreams were visited upon them…

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Family and quarrels
Year 485

Family and quarrels

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.

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Maddening Dreams
year 486

Maddening Dreams

I’ve been running for so long in the winding caves and corridors that they all look the same. Every wall seems alike, every archway familiar and every damned cave a repetition of the last. The ancient stone seem untouched by man, only formed by the dripping of cold water and the passage of time. My ears hear nothing but the tapping of my bare feet on the sharp stone and the pounding of my heart as it fights to keep me moving. Then suddenly light caresses my eyes. I don’t know how I was able to see in the looming darkness before but now I’m drawn towards the flickering candlelight like a moth. The room seems impossibly big compared to the narrow stone passages and even in this distorted form I recognize my bedchamber. My mind embraces the familiarity with open arms; finding pleasure in the aging woodwork and thatched roof overhead. The simple earthen floor feels like heavenly clouds compared to the sharp rocks of the cavern floor as I walk towards the bed. Sleep, I need sleep. But my bed is not empty, she is lying there. Lady Dwyns face has turned into a grotesque mask of suffering, not soothed by the touch of death. Her delicate hands are gripping the linen sheets and the entire room now reeks of blood and tears. She looks just like when I saw her for the last time. Just before the crying midwife presented me with my screaming son. Desperately I turn around looking for the exit, for anything is better than this. Anything, even the cold caverns and the eternal flight through the endless corridors. But the opening it is gone, closed without a trace.

‘’Why do you do this? Why do you show me this!?’’ My voice echoes strangely between the walls and a moment later I wish I never asked. The voice is soft at first but soon becomes clearer and hoarser:

‘’He takes what he wants
With smiling lies
He takes what he wants
And someone dies’’

Terror fills my heart as a decayed arm emerges from the darkness underneath the bed and slowly a figure crawls out. Lips that are not supposed to carry anymore songs or rhyme sing to me, filling my heart with fear. She, no It, crawls out from under the bed; the brown hair in disarray and her smooth skin crumbling, a corpse brought back from the past to torment me further. Lady Sian stands up and gazes towards me with glazed eyes only her broken lips moving in the dead face. Her eyes don’t leave mine as she reaches down and help Lady Dwyn stand up, their voices joining as they stare at me. I recoil, pressing myself against the unyielding planks of the wall as my two bloodied wives walk toward me.

‘’He takes what he wants
With smiling lies
He takes what he wants
And someone dies’’

I cry, I scream, I pray but they just walk; corpses still dripping with blood from birthing my offspring.
‘‘SIN Maelgwyn! Sin brought you here!’’ Uriens voice shakes the entire room and for a moment drown out the chanting. His hand explodes out of the dirt and holds me firm as my wives reach out for me. I can’t move. Their nails dig into my arms as I try to fend them of and their voices screech in my ears.

‘’A knight so noble, strong and right
With appetites to match his might
With gore and glory in his bed
His penis rules a rancid head’’

I awake with a scream; my mouth dry from shouting and my arms still flailing against my wives clawing arms.

‘’My lord!’’ Cynstens voice calms me and as I meet his worried gaze my muscle slowly start to relax.

‘’Are you all right?’’ Warm blood is dripping from my arms and as I look around in the dimlight of my hall the entire household is awake and staring at me. The men look bewildered and confused while the women clutch their children and whisper among each other.

‘’No Cynsten. They came to me in my dream. They all came to me!’’ Wrapping my arms around myself I feel no pain from my gashed arms, my mind still focused on the terrible dream.

‘’I need to right my wrongs. I need to act before it’s too late. I need to visit my brother’’ Raising from the bed I start to dress myself.

‘’My lord it’s the middle of the night and…’’ My glare leaves no more room for discussion.
Devin, my squire, has prepared my horse but I will not need it. I will walk to my brother and ask for his forgiveness. I shall walk barefoot in falling rain to seek my atonement.

During the hours that pass I can only think of the dream and the sins I’ve committed. How I’ve turned my brother against me and wronged so many. How I’m becoming like my father; carving a life out of lies and greed. How I loved my dowry more than my wives. How I never listen to the lessons of Urien. Suddenly I see the lights from my brothers’ hall. Now I can only hope he forgives me. Hope that’s it’s not too late to atone.

[Too be continued by Gamond]

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A father's wait
Year 486

A father's wait

Melkin was sitting with his head in his hand outside of the long hall, trying not to think much about what was happening inside. He was holding Brynach absentmindedly on his lap with his other arm, but barely noticed that the boy was crying and struggling. With all that was going on he had felt that at least he could free another pair of hands by keeping the boy with him tonight.

The year 486 could not be said to have been the best of years Melkin thought as he gripped the babe more firmly. Bad fortune had followed him at every turn, and now he felt that he was struggling in head-wind without getting anywhere.

Once more his body had been weakened from a serious injury. His skin was now covered in more scars than many senior knights could hope to survive in a lifetime. Melkin knew he had been lucky this year when the giant had struck him and shattered most of his ribs on his right side. For even if the wound had been grave Merlin had once more been present to heal the injury. Melkin was thankful, the problem was rather that he had lost so much strength in his body over the last two years that he now easily overestimated his own physical power.

He couldn’t help but to close his eyes in frustration thinking back on the skirmish in Caercolun this autumn. Melkin had made a bloody fool out of himself when he had tried to use a strategic trick he had learned from Amig a couple of years ago. The trick included closing a wicket when one part of the skirmish was drawing enemy riders into a trap. This should have been no problem, but the wicket had been too heavy and the mud slippery. Surprised, Melkin had pushed harder with his feet but instead of closing the gate Melkin’s foothold had given way. He had fallen headfirst into the mud, the riders had escaped the trap and all the other men couldn’t help but to snigger at Melkin’s misfortune.

Sighing, Melkin looked out into the dusky weather. Then, when he had returned to Hindon, Melkin had been met by an enormous workload. Lady Mairwen had been sickly back and forth, which had left Melkin with a doubled burden. Within all the things that he had actually managed to care for, the defenses of Hindon was not one of them. Neglected, they had rotted away before Melkin got around to think of them. Everything that he had so cunningly added, adjusted and planned last year had been lost within a month of rain and storm.

There was no storm now, except for the ruckus inside the manor. Melkin winced as another agonizing scream echoed from within the long hall. The new baby was on its way, a month early, and nothing seemed to be going right. Melkin had been telling himself the second child would be easier than the first, but it hadn’t been. His wife was still weak from the fever, Melkin had seen all the concerned looks as the day had prolonged. After seven hours of labour the midwife had told him that the situation didn’t look bright.

Melkin could hear Mairwen sobbing again between the screams and he stared out into the grey rain feeling nauseous. He hoped that Deian had reached Tisbury by now, he couldn’t bear the wait alone anymore.

Having been out hunting, Cadry had met squire Deian en route to Tisbury. The squire had explained the situation and Cadry had told Jasper to go home with the stag that they had shot earlier and a message for Brangwen telling her that Melkin needed Cadry. Taking a shortcut through the forest, Cadry and Deian arrived at Hindon manor from the southwestern path.

Upon seeing the manor house Cadry grew worried. Rot was setting in in the thatch upon the roof and one of the walls looked like it needed reinforcing, The second notable thing, was the screaming. He had heard Brangwen, scream, curse and cry when her time was upon her but the screaming and sobbing coming from the hall sounded much harsher and somehow a lot more foreboding. Over by the chapel he could see a familiar shape sitting slumped on a fallen tree. “Little brother, I am here”. Cadry waved towards the hunched up knight.
“What is going on?”

Melkin almost jumped at the greeting. When he saw Cadry his strained shoulders relaxed a little and he absentmindedly patted the whining Brynach’s back, but his eyes were wide and stressed.

“My wife,” he said his voice trembling slightly, “she might not make it.”

A sympathetic and pained look passed over Cadry’s visage as he walked up to the smaller man. He sat down next to Melkin and put his arm across his brother’s shoulders and tried to smile at his little nephew.

“I sent Jasper back to Tisbury to fetch old Llinos. She has brought forth many children in her days. If anyone can help your wife, it’s her. Her or the gods. Maybe you should go out and make a sacrifice to Modron, she might listen.”

Knowing that his brother probably wouldn’t heed his advice, Cadry briefly considered doing so on Melkin’s behalf but the Mother would only hear pleas from those closest to the mother or child and unfortunately Cadry was neither.

The shouts from inside were growing more urgent now along with the continuous screaming. Melkin nodded his head slowly, a greyish colour to his face. “I guess it could not hurt at this point,” he said and looked towards the chapel, “but Doged cannot know.”

He felt angry at the old priest. The man seemed to be nothing but inconvenienced by his wife, and Doged seemed to have started right out avoiding her the further her pregnancy went. The same last year when Mairwen’s time had come the old man had grown pale and barred himself into the church claiming to be praying. What was it really with his chaplain and women? Did they scare him? Melkin pushed the thought aside while loosening his knife from his belt. In the end prayer might be a good solution. He cut his hand and watched as the blood spilled upon the ground.

“Mother…” he said, “Holy Mary and Modron alike, hear my prayer and take my sacrifice”. It couldn’t hurt to ask both of them for help in this situation, Melkin reasoned. “Ill luck or a curse has been placed upon me and this household, so I beg you to listen. My wife and unborn child are standing on the edge to death. I ask you humbly to save them from the grave, and lift whatever evil that has entered this house”. Melkin looked from his bleeding wound towards Cardy.

“All we can do now is hope.” Cadry felt that it was a trite thing to say, but it was all he could muster at the moment. Unable to make himself stop hearing the screams, he felt like leaving again and return to the forest. He knew that Melkin couldn’t afford such a luxury though and therefore he forced himself to stay. Instead he reached out his tattooed hands towards little Brynach like if to ask for permission to hold his nephew.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.

“No,” Melkin answered and handed his firstborn to Cadry while listening to the panic inside. With a sickening feeling he realised that the screaming had stopped. Brynach also calmed while being hold by Cadry, and so silence fell over the Hindon hill.

One of the women came outside then and called for him. Standing, Melkin swayed a little. He had probably drunk a little too much. It felt like a day’s journey to reach the door. When Melkin finally arrived he gave the washerwoman a brief look before entering. Her pale face somehow managed to prepare him for the gruesome sight inside. What looked like buckets of blood covered the sheets and the floor. Mairwen was lying with eyes open staring into the ceiling, unmoving, mouth half open. Melkin stepped over to her and closed her eyes, as was his duty as husband. He gave her a kiss on the forehead as if to thank her for giving him Brynach. The taste was salty with sweat.

“My lord,” the words broke Melkin’s paralysis as he stood there looking at his dead wife. The woman who had spoken handed him a small package. “It’s a girl,” she said giving a smile through the tears.

Surprised Melkin looked at her and then at the small child. As if the babe knew that this was a place of sorrow she hadn’t cried, and Melkin hadn’t understood that she had been alive. The babe looked at Melkin with her big blue innocent eyes.

Walking in a few steps behind Melkin and holding his nephew, Cadry kept his eyes mostly fixed on the child in his arms and he tried rocking the boy to settle him back to sleep. He had calmed now and was looking extremely tired. Glancing over at the dead woman lying in the bed Cadry only felt more sadness settle on him. It was a year for death and loss evidently. Finally he looked over at the small bundle in Melkin’s arms and hoped that the child at least would live.

“Ceri,” Melkin decided looking at the little thing in his arms feeling such warmth towards the little girl as he had never felt before. “I will call you for the life that was given”.

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The old generation
486

The old generation

Autumn

The autumn rains were drizzling down on a small entourage consisting of a knight, a squire and dead old man slung over one of the packhorses. The knight bore the name Cadry ap Cadwallon and his squire was named Jasper ap Jaradan and the dead man was named Corwyn ap Cadlew. The three men were travelling on their way to Salisbury, having been to the northern parts of Logres where old Sir Corwyn had died from the wounds inflicted upon him by a saxon. Cadry had been quiet for most of the journey, at least after having collected the corpse of the man he had called father for most parts of his life. His true father Cadwallon had died when Cadry was but two years old and his uncle, with his ever-present smile and bushy beard, had taken it upon himself to raise his nephew together with his brother’s widow. Corwyn had also been the foster father of Sir Melkin, son of the great warrior Bryn, one of Cadwallons and Corwyn’s best friends.

Cadry rode on, drenched to the bone and seemed to be locked within himself. He didn’t know how he would tell his younger brother that their father was dead. He didn’t know how he would tell him that a saxon whoreson had robbed them of a father. He felt his anger boil inside together with his blood. Like the priestess Llinos had said last year, these slights could not go unavenged. If the cursed fenris family wanted a feud, then by all the gods dark and terrible, they would learn what it meant to rouse the ire of the Cellydon family. He would give the priestess permission to retrieve the old skulls from the forest and start working her curses on the blasted enemy. They would come to regret their choice of enemy when the last of their line died out and the spirits of their slain were doomed to forever walk this world as restless spirits forever denied the peace of the otherlands.

The squire Jasper mustered his courage and broke the silence “Sir, we must seek shelter. The horses will fare badly in this weather”. Cadry turned around and stared blankly at the young, stocky boy and was about to snap something at him but as always, Jasper had found a way to break through to his lord in a non-offensive and eminently sensible way. Sighing, Cadry nodded in response and started looking around. In the distance he could discern a small farm and he steered his horse towards it.

Arriving at the farm, the peasants first seemed reluctant to host an armed man, but when the sound of clinking coins was heard the door couldn’t be opened quickly enough. Having been given a simple meal of barley and pork both Cadry and Jasper sat by the fire and watched as their clothes dried.

Tearing himself away from his own grim thoughts, Cadry turned to young Jasper and studied him carefully. They were different in a lot of ways: one was tall, thin and blond, the other short, round and brown-haired. But despite his unfortunate shape, Jasper had turned out to be among the best of squires. He worked hard, he learned quickly and, unlike his father, his feet were planted firmly on the ground. Cadry couldn’t help but admire his friend’s young son. He would one day make Dinton into one of the most prosperous manors in logres if he was given a chance.

“Jasper, we might as well continue your lessons while we are sitting here. A knight is as much his words as his deeds. Your lord will from time to time expect you to counsel him on matters grand and small. That is as much your duty as taking up arms at your lord’s command.”

The young squire concentrated on the words of his lord and took them in and seemed to consider them, trying to discern where this lesson was heading.

“While it behoves a squire to be careful and attentive, as a knight you are going to have stand up for yourself and defend your honour and your ideals. A knight takes pride in his deeds and actions, for even the least of us are better than any other man or woman. Put a firm belief behind your words and let no one doubt that your counsel is true.”

Jasper seemed to be a bit uneasy since he was a quiet lad by nature, but the continual goading from Cadry had made sure that he had started to open up and actually voice his own opinions instead of just saying what he thought others expected him to say. There was a core of good, solid courage within the boy even though it had been subdued by having an overbearing father who usually took up all the social space in a conversation. Jasper was also a bit too careful for Cadry’s taste, but he supposed that that might help the boy survive.

“What Sir Amig taught me as a squire, was that a knight’s most important task was to do his duty to his lord, his family and his gods no matter what. It took me while for that lesson to sink in and maybe I understand his lesson a bit differently than he meant it, but it is still good solid advice.”

Sinking into a deep reverie, Cadry drank more of his beer and drifted of leaving Jasper to mull over what his lord had told him. Something about the words seemed to have taken root in the young man and maybe one day it would act as a solid ground for him too stand on when times turned tough.

Winter

Times back home at Tisbury turned out to be a strange mixture of dour and happy. The dourness came from Sir Cadry as he brooded over how he would find his uncle Garren’s remains and set things right with Ol’Tiss on his dead uncle’s behalf.

Cadry’s mood was also dampened by the burial of his uncle Sir Corwyn which had been large affair thanks to the old man’s renown and thanks to the fact that he had in everyone’s eyes been the chieftain of the Cellydon family even though his nephew was formally the lord of Tisbury manor and thus technically the true heir to the Durotriges royal line. Thus many kinsmen near and far had been summoned and for the first time since the death of Cadwallon, the whole of the clan was gathered in the same place. The burial had been a splendid and celebratory affair where everyone told tales of what awaited the old man in the land of the young and how they looked forward to meeting him on the other side or in another life.

After the celebrations, which lasted several days, more formal matters had to be attended to and the warriors of the gathered family swore allegiance to the young lord. Matters regarding the death of not just Corwyn but also a few other men of the family at the hands of the fenris Saxons ignited a fury among the gathered men and the invocation of blood feud against the hated enemy was well received. It was even decided that the ancestral seat needed to be better defended even when the lord was absent. Therefore, the family sent two additional warriors to live at Tisbury, increasing the guard force to 5 men in total. Nothing was more important to the family than blood.

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