Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

Mad Men
Autumn 485

maelgwyn_ledsen.png
The autumn wind howled like a hungry beast as it prowled the stony hills and crags near Chillmark. Another year and another funeral. The mourners had left with their sweet condolences and heartfelt farewells letting a lost stillness return to the halls. The funeral for Lady Sian had been a quiet and dignified affair worthy a lady of her stature. Even though lord Dynbal said he felt great sorrow for his lost daughter he considered it more prudent to burrow her with a sense of noble brooding; avoiding the huge sentimental affairs the Tarrens were prone to indulge in. As the last carts rolled away over the winding paths and the backs of the riders were obscured by the waving grass Maelgwyn was alone again. From the rampart he gazed across his windswept domain and felt emptiness. He thought about lady Siân and the few happy moments they had spent together and felt nothing, realizing for the first time that she had been little more than a stranger in his manor. A sweet bird he had wrested away from her father with sureness and bravery only so that she could bleed out on his bed and be confined within the damp darkness of his family tomb. Her sweet voice had fallen quiet and once again the creaking from the ropes in the hanging tree reigned; marshalled by the soulless cawing of rooks and crows.
‘’Saddle my horse.’’ He gave the lands a last look before he followed his already scurrying squire. He would have to return to his ponderous gazing later; there was more pressing matters to attend to.

As they reached the Nadar River the wind was caught in the trees and as they rode further into the encroaching forest the ancient trees stopped the wind right in its tracks; giving rich undergrowth and swaths of birds a chance to frolic. Maelgwyn had never liked the great forest growing on his doorstep even though he admired the beauty of the yellow and scarlet leaves. The vastness and darkness of the great forest frightened him; the knowledge that people could be lost there, and monsters be found, made his skin crawl. But he knew the path to his battle brothers manor well and after a few uncertain hours in the cavernous woods the forest gave away to reveal Tisbury manor; its lord already outside to greet them.
‘’Greetings Cadry… I come asking for help.’’
“Welcome friend. I have been expecting you, though I do not know your purpose here.”
Having been told by his wife to go outside and wait for a guest to arrive, Cadry did not know quite who to expect by Brangwen was seldom wrong. It was almost like the animals of the forest gave warning when someone approached. Turning towards his new squire Jasper, Cadry orderd him to bring forth his horse and travel gear for he a feeling that they would be needed.
‘’Its Sewel…’’ Maelgwyn sighted, that old crazed goat was turning out to be quite the handful.
‘’He stole Meicals mule during the funeral and when i was informed he was long gone… I need you and your hounds.’’
“The imprisoned man?” Cadry looked slightly annoyed, but as he well knew, nothing is ever a coincidence.
“Curious that. I was planning on visiting you soon to speak to the madman, just in case he turned out to be the one that the Loathly Lady mentioned that might know more about the Crown of Ungwen.”
Just as squire Jasper came back leading Cadry’s horse he was issued another order “Fetch my hounds Jasper, we are going out hunting.”
Turning to his friend Cadry addressed his request “Of course I will help you! Like I said before I owe you and the others my life. If there is anything I can to do to help, you just have to ask.”
The kind words of the rumbling pagan brought a smile to Maelgwyns lips; melancholia is an illness best cured by friends. He had wished for the company of his companions during the funeral but at Lord Dynbals request only Melkin had attended. His attention had been on the tear filled eyes of his wife and the whining of his young son giving them little time to speak.
‘’Thank you brother. He rode east… I think he’s going home.’’
“What is home for that madman? Has he done something like this before?”
Some primal part awoke in Cadry, the part that relished the hunt. He was often reminded at times like these that his ancestors had hunted enemies of their tribe and clan and had taken heads from prominent enemies in an attempt to gain some part of their strength. The taking of heads wasn’t practiced anymore as mandated by the druids but some parts of the Cellydon family had been dark indeed and had heeded the callings of the darker gods of Britain. The glint in Cadrys eyes were not lost on Maelgwyn but he did his best to ignore it.
‘’No, friend. I think his home is where the madness first gripped him: Duplain.’’

mad_men.png

The Hunt

So the two friends set of eastwards with the baying hounds leading them along the riverbanks and the forest edge. The trail was fresh and Maelgwyn let Cadry lead the way; respecting, but not liking, his thirst for the hunt. From time to time they would lose the trail on the muddy roads or fallow fields but many had marked the madman’s passing. Even in these troubled times the sight of a crazed noble riding a mule was something to take note off, even if no one dared approaching him.
With the setting sun in their backs they rode through the gates of Duplain and before the Lord Hywel could greet them they heard the cackling of Sewel. Formalities were hastily exchanged and Maelgwyn explained his predicament as best he could.
‘’He rode in this morning and before the guards could grab him he locked himself in there.’’ Lord Hywel grumbled and pointed towards the small shed by the castle wall. Three guards were stationed outside; confused and bewildered by the prattling emerging from the woodwork.
‘’He refuses to come out… or talk sense.’’
‘’If you would allow me to speak to him, Lord Hywel. I believe he, in his own way, trusts me.’’ The castellan nodded and waved the guards away; happy that someone else would handle the situation. Through the thin door Maelgwyn could clearly hear the nasally tone of the once proud castellan. Sewels voice that once commanded respect and obedience was now, like the mind and body of the aging man, nothing but an echo of his former self. Years in that cold stone cell had robbed him of everything.
‘’Sewel! Come out of there!’’ Maelgwyn raised his voice and for a moment the cackling stopped.
‘’No! This is my castle! I don’t need guards to follow me or rules to bind me! Only those worthy are offered my hospitality!’’ Maelgwyn glanced nervously at the senechal behind him and mustered up a dry smile before he turned back and lowered his voice:
‘’I come bearing tribute.’’
The maddening voice fell silent and a quiet shuffling was instead heard. With a creek the door swung open ever so slightly and the bony hand of Sewel appeared from the darkness. A small package changed hands and as the hand disappeared the door remained open. Maelgwyn motioned towards cadry to come closer.
‘’If you wish to speak to him: this is it.’’
Entering the dank shed, Cadry looked around trying to spot the madman. The only feature that could be clearly seen though was a window with open shutters and a curtain waving in the wind. One of the guards peered inside and saw the empty room and shouted:
”Bloody hell, he has escaped out the window!”
Suddenly the other guards and Maelgwyn started fanning out in the courtyard to try to locate Sewel, wherever he may have hidden. Cadry for his part didn’t really care for the old fool, but only for the answers his broken mind may hold decide to go over and have a look out through the open window. That’s when he heard a strange creaking sound and looked up into the rafters. Up in the gloom he could see the old man hanging from one of the roof beams and how he was now lowering himself down to the floor. The entire time the madman was chanting his eternal mantra
“The wheel of fortune is ever turning”.
Cadry asked the old man “Are you capable of answering a few questions? Someone told me that you might know something about the iron crown of the Cellydons, also known as the Crown of Ungwen?”
Something came over Sewel and his demeanour changed.
“You know, you look like your father. I did not like him, and i don’t like you”.
Eyeing the man incredulously Cadry was slightly thrown by the man’s apparent lucidness.
“I know not what the grievances lay between my father and yourself, but if there is anything to apologize for then you have it.”
While Cadry was speaking Sewel moved closer and started walking and capering around the young knight all the while muttering his mantra. Cadry couldn’t help but feel ill at ease. It was said that the mad had been touched by the gods, but it was never said if it was as a blessing or as a curse.
When he didn’t get an answer, Cadry forged on
“Lord Sewel, can you tell me about the crown of Ungwen? I would be very grateful for any such knowledge that you possess and would be willing to share.” Lady Cerys had always told her son Cadry that courtesy never hurt anyone and might ensure that hurt did not come the way of the speaker.
Sewel didn’t stop moving but his muttering changed
“The dark lady that came here and treated me when I had been grievously injured told me many secrets, maybe what you are looking for are among those things. But you see, i swore never to tell.”
Considering the madman’s words Cadry couldn’t help but feel both frustrated and excited at the same time.
“Is there any way that you can be freed from your oath, or perhaps a way that you can share the information without breaking your oath? Is there something you want with it the information? Or perhaps something you want for yourself?”
Starting to walk backwards now, Sewel seemed stranger by the second but still another person than the moonstruck fool that would sneak around on Chillmark.
“I want vengeance on the wheel!” The word were spat out almost like a curse.
“As for my promise…” The man seemed almost to hesitate as if considering something
“No, no… I swore, there is no way to release me or circumvent that oath” Yet something in the fool’s eye told a different tale.
All the while the two men had been speaking, the band of guards had been searching the yard and some of them had apparently decided to check the shed once more. When they came in through the door Sewel went back to his usual deranged self once more. Cadry shouted over the din of the guards that
“I will come and see you again lord Sewel, consider my offer, If you are willing I will help you find away around your promise”.
The last thing the madman uttered before he was dragged away were the words “Only one knows what’s in the kettle”.

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Those who lie in wait
485

Those who lie in wait

The first winds of winter are howling outside of my longhouse on Tisbury. Some of my household are outside attending to shores but most huddle inside for warmth. The smoke lies thick from the hearth we keep burning most days and nights to stay warm. There is a smell of cabbage and roast mutton hanging in the air and above the usual din of the house I can hear my wife try to comfort my oldest son who is crying for some inexplicable reason.

For my part, I can’t complain though. We have plenty of firewood stacked up just outside the house and we have recently slaughtered both sheep and cows so that there are less cattle to feed during winter. The harvest has been good and we will have plenty to eat, and from what mother has told me the peasants are doing alright as well despite the raids earlier this year.
To be quite honest I did not expect to sit her this winter. I did not expect to be able to kiss my wife and lie huddle up close to her during these long nights. I did not expect to get the chance to see my second child be born in a few months.

By all rights I should be dead. For some reason I am not and this has given me a lot to think about. I haven’t been able to explain to Brangwen what waited for me on the other side. I couldn’t admit to her that I wanted to let go and to walk into the otherlands. She has noticed that I have been in a strange mood and she has done her best to poke and prod and care for me to find out what is bothering me.

So who does one turn to when one cannot talk to his wife or to his friends? One turns to the gods or in this case one who understand the gods like few others but is still not afraid to scrutinize them and their actions closely. So I have turned to Athanwyr, the ovate who has taught me much and counselled me several times. He sits next to me, close to the fire and we have just finished talking about the everyday matters of the world. He glances over at me with his dark, inquisitive eyes and gets right to the heart of the matter.

“Tell me what is bothering you Cadry.”

When it is just the two of us he is often informal and ignores using my title. It often annoys me but the man has earned my trust even though he is often inscrutable. I briefly consider waving away his question but for some reason I feel the urge to talk about the very uncomfortable subject of dying.

“A saxon’s spear killed me at the battle of Mearcred Creek.”

Before I can continue, Athanwyr interpolates “Yet here you are, alive and seemingly no worse for the wear. Imagine that.”

I glare at him and his rather glib expression. He has a tendency to pre-empt and mock other people in a rather sarcastic way. Sometimes it is enjoyable but for now it is mostly annoying.

I growl something unintelligible in his direction and try to gather my thoughts.

“I was dead; I am certain of it. The battlefield around me changed and everything slowed down. It was still a field… or maybe a cavern? Any which way, it was full of dead men and women. They had all died a violent and often ignominious death. I could see how my own life’s blood came flowing out of the wound in my throat but for some reason I didn’t feel weaker.”

My hand has involuntarily gone to my newly tattooed throat. Mother have worked hard and has wrought some of her best work to date in the swirls and loops that now cover the ugly scar the defaces the right side of my neck.

Athanwyr has grown more serious and in his eyes I can swear that I see a hunger that craves something beyond this world.

“In that place everything was covered by a cold, unrelenting fog, and I could only vaguely make out shapes that moved around me. I think that there were entrances of some sort in all directions. Some appeared to be illuminated by a strange greenish light and some were dark but somehow I still knew that they were there. There were … things… scenes… taking place within them. I get the feeling that I saw something in there, something that I have forgotten.”

With something almost unpleasantly eager in his voice Athanwyr asks me ”Did you see anyone there? Was anyone present?”

I dig around among those dark memories and try to recollect if anyone was indeed there and suddenly a terrifying memory surfaces.

“I tried to head towards one of the doorways but I couldn’t move. Something was holding me fast. When I looked down I could see that the hands of a dead man were holding me and that his grip was like an iron vise. He stared up at me and it was my father, long since dead, that stared up at me! He spoke to me and said “Not yet!”. Then other dead men and women grabbed me and started to pull me down into the earth.”

I can’t stop shuddering as I remember my father’s face, bereft of all humanity and life. Only his voice was like I remembered it from many years past.

“There was one thing that was highly strange though.”

As I speak these words, I can see Athanwyr leaning closer.

“I caught sight of three odd shapes in the mist just before I was pulled under the ground. I think they were watching, but it didn’t feel like they were part of that place or like they belonged. Then the ground started closing over me and the last thing I saw was starved lips in the gloam with horrid warning gaped wide. And then I awoke and found me there, lying cold on my side.”

Silence lies palpable between us and it is almost like something has entered the longhouse and stolen away all the sounds.

The ovate breaks the silence.

“These are indeed strange things you have witnessed. It sounds like you had set your feet in Annwn. I am not surprised that the gods sent your father to act as a messenger, especially in the light of the summons you and the other three crows received in Sarum. The lady of the cauldron has called you and you can be certain that no ordinary year lies ahead of you. Fulfil the quest she has set before you and She will favour you.”

I have to ask him, for my mind will not give me rest until it has its answers.

“Who were the three shapes?”

Athanwyr looks at me like he is measuring me.

“I cannot say with certainty but you can be sure that I will look for answers. I think that this might be trial for us both in this, though not in the same way.”

His replies are as vague as can be expected. The minds of ovates and druids are tangled, strange things and they never seem to think in a straight line. Maybe he will tell me more at another time.

“What shall I do Athanwyr? These memories haunt me and they will not relinquish their hold on me. I feel like I belonged in the otherlands.”

A look of pity passes over Athanwyrs thin and sharp face before he resumes his usual serious and impassive demeanour.

“That I can at least tell you. The otherlands are strange beyond reckoning and they exert at lure on the living who have been close to them. It is a land of eternal youth, where no one suffers and no one goes hungry. You must break the hold it has on you. Do not spend any more time dwelling on its mysteries fore it will only drive you mad or to your death. Focus instead on this world what awaits you here. Lie with your woman, drink what wine or mead suits you, enjoys the fruits of this winter’s slaughter. Do not overthink, it suits you ill Cadry.”

I try not to smile at his mockery but somehow I can’t help myself. I do not know if I will be able to follow his advice but perhaps it is something to hold on to.

“That at least is something that I can grasp.”

I stand up and leave the ovate to his pondering and walk over to my pregnant wife that has managed comfort our son. I sit down behind her and hold her tight in my arms and some part of me tells me that maybe things will be alright after all.

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The hundred court of Hillfort
485

The hundred court of Hillfort

Early in the year of 485 our young knights gathered at the local court in Hillfort to sort out juridical issues, as of their duties as vassal knights. Many a legal case was brought to the court some more interesting than others. A man was hung for having stolen a bottle of wine with the intention of selling the ill gotten bottle at Sarum. Another man was refusing to pay king’s toll on Maelgwyn’s land since that historically was paid directly to the lord of the manor. That errand was handed over to Sheriff Bedwor.

Gamond’s stepbrother brought to the court an accusation of Gamond’s neglect of his father Bodwyn of Ludwell. According to him Bodwyn had not been treated with respect since the steward post had been handed to another. Gamond refused to listen to these accusations and in the end Maelgwyn invited their stepbrother and stepfather to stay at Chillmark.

Cadry also opened a case against Gamond, since Gamond had been hunting a dangerous man on Tisbury grounds. The case was settled between them with a simple compensation of 3 libra. The sheriff however summoned Gamond to his court for a serious overstepping of boundaries (literally).

After the court Cadry, Maelgwyn, Gammond and Melkin all sat talking to their close neighbours. The knights discussed the legal cases, their trust in count Roderick and lady Ellen and much more. At one point Gorfydd accused the group for creating too many disturbing rumors about women and promptly told Melkin to get married. The men also discussed the raids in Hillfort and how to they could deal with these bandits. During these discussions it dawned on our heroes that the only area that had not been raided as of yet was Ludwell.

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Family life
Year 485

mothers

A wedding

The wedding felt grand, and Melkin could only compare it to Maelgwyn’s wedding two years earlier. But then again the bride then had been the older sister of lady Mairwen, Melkin’s newly wedded wife. Thankful that he had met (or at least seen) many of his wife’s relatives Melkin actually remembered many of their names, and felt that he was doing a good job greeting them. He drank with moderation, stole glances at the young woman next to him and smiled at jeers from fellow knights and his friends.

His wife spent many hours in deep conversation with her sister lady Sian and the two women giggled sometimes glancing at him. Melkin did ask once what they were laughing about but didn’t receive any coherent answer. He looked at Maelgwyn, who shrugged at their wives’ strange behaviour. Releasing the thought Melkin instead amused himself by imagining his wife undressed in his bed.

A disturbance in the hall caught his attention, as two men arguing loudly suddenly stood up. He recognised sir Edyin and rose slowly. The other man was a distant relative to Melkin in his own age, Tiberius, he thought vaguely. They were shouting now drawing the attention of everyone around them. Some were rooting them on.

“Friends,” called Melkin managing to catch the two men’s attention with the anger in his voice, “surely you do not intend to fight in my hall on this special day.” He put his knuckles on the table before him. “I would consider it a breach of hospitality.”

The commotion died down then, but Melkin saw how sir Edyin glared at the other man with vengeance in his eyes. He didn’t have time to think of it any further, because then two seats from him lady Sian suddenly fainted.

An escapade

Lady Mairwyn had been distraught for months, and Melkin was at a loss as to what to do. Lady Sîans death after the wedding, and possibly the pregnancy was making Mairwyn overly sensitive, and she would start crying sometimes even from laughing. In the end Melkin asked his mother to talk to the poor girl while he went to Sarum on business.

He saw the other girl as he entered the castle. Blond, curly hair and piercing blue eyes as of those of a cat made her instantly stand out in the crowd, and her figure made him cock his head intrigued. During his visit he looked for the woman, but didn’t find her alone until a couple of days later.

“Should a young maid like you really be wondering off alone in these parts of the castle,” he asked trying to sound confident.

She snorted at him.

“You’re not that old yourself, knight,” she added with a bit of acid to the word.

“And feisty,” Melkin added piqued, “are you avoiding your duties? Maybe looking for adventure?”

“If I were,” she said and raised one eyebrow, “ you would be the last person at this castle I would tell, sir Hindon.”

Slightly taken aback that she knew his name, Melkin tried to get back into whatever game they were playing.

“If it’s adventure you’re looking for,” he smiled. “I know many secret places within the castle.” He thought of his and Cadry’s hidden space in one of the pantries where they had had many secret discussions. “Would you like to see my hidden compartment?”

As he uttered the words a knight rounded the corner catching sight of them, and Melkin realised that he had been close enough to catch what he’d just said.

What is going on here?!” barked the man who bore a disturbingly close resemblance to the young woman.

Nerving himself, Melkin managed somehow to smile.

“I was just telling your sister about the hidden compartment me and my brother used to sneak off to when we where squires. I did it more often you see,” he continued turning to the young woman once more. “After a peculiar feast four years ago the steward took a liking to me and laid all spare chores in my lap.”

The knight suddenly looked unsure, the girl looked bored, and Melkin felt sweat dripping down his back.

“Are you sir Melkin,” said the knight looking at the scar on Melkin’s neck seeming to forget about his suspicion.

“Sir boring, is what he is,” stated the girl, but her brother ignored her.

“Sir, I was looking for you, I have grave news! A cousin of yours has been killed!”

Killed?! Who?”

“ I think his name was Tiberius…?”

Melkin did neither feel angry, nor sorrow. He felt numb.

“Not again,” was the only thing that he managed to say.

A “dialogue”

The mother was sleeping, and the babe was lying in her arms. Mairwyn would not let any other woman feed him or tend to him. She was spellbound by little Brynach in a way that Melkin had a hard time to understand. She loved their boy dearly, and so did he, but Brynach seemed to be saving Mairwyn from her grief somehow.

He picked up the child, and managed it without waking the exhausted mother. Stepping outside into the night he looked upon the boy’s face in the light of the full moon.

“Well aren’t you peaceful,” he said conversationally to the child. “You wouldn’t believe it during the day. You have lungs that makes your father proud, you know.”

He fell silent and eyed the babe sceptically.

“Will you grow strong though, or sickly?” he chuckled. ”Or will you take as heavy a beating as your father does in battle? Ah, I know, I try to be cautious, but I can be quite rash.”

Pausing Melkin watched as the child moved a little.

“And now the lady of crows has called,” Melkin sighed but smiled, “I don’t know what that means, but I’ll tell you all about it when I return from it. However,” he paused again, “I do wish I hadn’t given away saint Alban’s fingerbone. ”

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Love and Loneliness
Winter 484

Love and Loneliness

For months the wooden halls bustled with frenzied activity and slowly the feast that was to become one of the largest weddings Hillfort had seen took form. Lord Morien had made it clear that even though the lands were troubled and struggling his beloved daughter would have the wedding he had promised her, with Maelgwyn following in suit. He didn’t want to anger his new bride or her family and he would rather overspend than risk the ire of Sir Dynbals prickled pride. So it was that even though the winter winds howled and the snow lay heavy on the thatched roof of Chillmark a grand feast was prepared: cart after cart of wine and beer was heaved into the overflowing cellars, butchers and bakers worked until their hands were numb and nimble messengers plowed through the snow to deliver invitations and orders.

‘’A bear perhaps?’’ Maelgwyn furrowed his brow and gazed inquiringly at his young Chaplain. Uriens son lacked the fierceness of his father and in times like these, when Maelgwyn yearned for wise and direct counsel, the young man seemed desperately inept.

‘’Are you suggesting we have a bear baiting in the great hall… next to the noble ladies and lord Morien?’’ Meical squirmed away his lord’s gaze and started stuttering as his cheeks turned crimson.

‘’Perhaps not… I was… It was… The entertainment…’’ With a heavy sight Maelgwyn remembered his oath to count Roderick, binding his tongue and sparing his words.

‘’For another feast it’s a splendid idea.’’ Meical blinked and uncurled his back, like a dog expecting a firm kick but realizing that it had nothing to fear from its new master. They both fell silent and contemplated their entertainment conundrum. They had already procured a skilled harpist and a beggar boy who some said could make any man roar with laughter using only grimaces and burps but for the high table nobler performances was in order; at least until the wine had done its duty.

‘’Perhaps Monmouth?’’ The name rang unfamiliar with Maelgwyn and with a raised eyebrow he begged his chaplain to continue.

‘’He’s a poet my lord. Residing in Sarum at the moment… he was sometimes brought to the cloister as a teacher when brothers fell ill.’’ Meical studied the lord’s face as he contemplated the advice and as Maelgwyn’s thin lips spread into a warm smile he dared himself to smile back.

‘’That’s an excellent idea Meical! An homage to my beloved wife and both our families would be in apt order for the wedding, send for him.’’ Meical scampered to his quarters to looking for ink and quill; satisfied that he had helped his lord but also that he would, hopefully, soon see Monmouth busty daughter again.

The Poem

As fires roared and toasts rang across the crowded hall the high tables attention rested on Monmouth. He was by all account not a beautiful man, his face like a narrow pale egg on which his features seemed to have fought an uneven battle against each other for room. His ears were laughably large, his teeth crooked and his nose seemed to have been pinched by the encroaching eyes. But as he spoke a deep voice rung across the hall; a serene yet lugubrious sound that captured the hearts and minds of the seated nobles. Never was a face so belied by its voice. The poet recited newly written verses and stanzas as well as the old hero legends of ancient Greece and Rome; feeding the pride of the Tarren’s and assuring the Morien’s that only good could come from this costly union. Those nobles with baser sense of humor or those more afflicted by the pleasures of wine had excused themselves so that they could instead watch the beggar boy burp out his crude rhymes while some others simply sought company less enthralled.

‘’The last piece I have prepared is one I have not completed. Embarking upon the road of poetry is a perilous affair, at time plagued by uneven footing or dreary stretches with nothing of note. Only at the end does one know if the first step was worth it. But I felt compelled to present this piece to Lord Tarren this night; for I feel that it might let him relive the glory of a recent victory. For now it has no name but one will come to me eventually, such is the thing with great deeds: they are hard to fathom and even harder to pen down.’’ Maelgwyn looked over at his, by now, quite inebriated bodyguard. They had become close friends in the last months, sharing a bond only those who have fought together know. Cynsten raised his mug and smiled towards his lord, Maelgwyn returning the gesture. Cynsten had emerged suddenly into Maelgwyns world but in that brief time he had cemented his position as the lords close companion. A marriage to one of the Tarren cousins had elevated the lowborn warrior into a comfortable life with luxuries he had seldom dreamt of. Could he really be blamed for enjoying the food and wine he had thirsted for his entire life? Monmouth cleared his thin throat and spoke:

‘’It begins in the darkness of the night, as King Uther speaks to his weary knights:

The King of Brittons in a loud voice has called:
  ‘Barons and Counts, good vassals are ye all,
  Ye in the field have fought so great combats;
  See the pagans; they’re felons and cowards,
  No pennyworth is there in all their laws.
  Though they’ve great hosts, my lords, what matters that?
  Let him go hence, who’ld fail me in the attack."
  Next with both spurs he’s gored his horse’s flanks,
  And his mighty steed has made four bounds thereat.
  Then say the Knights: ‘This King’s a good vassal.
  Canter, brave lord, for none of us holds back.’
Clear is the night, and the moon radiant;
  The hosts are fair, the companies are grand.
  The first columns are come now hand to hand.
  The count Eldol and the count Roderick
  Let fall the reins on their swift horses’ backs,
  Spurring in haste; then on rush all the Brittons,
  And go to strike, each with his trenchant lance.’’

The poet’s voice fell and rose like the mighty waves of the open sea and soon the entire hall had fallen quiet harkening to words unknown to most of them yet still heavy with meaning. The poet spared no time, even though he excused the rapid pace of the poem several times, arriving at the battle. Those well-versed in poetry nodded and recognized the techniques and tropes but were all equally amazed at the finesse and potency the words carried. The thundering of the hooves, the screams of the routing Saxons; everything retold with such emotion that even hardened veterans gasped.

‘’A great warrior was Cynsten, of Chillmark
But the pagan lords no fear nor caution knew.
Those swords they had, bare from their sheaths they drew;
Many great blows on ’s shield each gave and took;
The leather pierced, and doubled core of wood;
Down fell the nails, the buckles brake in two;
Still they struck on, bare in their sarks they stood.
From their bright helms the light shone forth anew.
Finish nor fail that battle never could
But one of them must in the wrong be proved.’’

And then silence, for the poem is yet to be finished.

Too much for one night

The cool air filled Maelgwyns lungs as he stumbled out of the crowded hall, pressed on each side by smiling well-wishers and drunken congratulations. Briskly he walked through the wet grass and dirt, avoiding those seated outside the warm hall. Too many. Just too many. By the far northern rampart Maelgwyn finally found peace, and as he sat down he overlooked the smell of urine and vomit that reeked from the outhouses. He just wanted to be alone. Out here, in the starry night, the clamor and shouts of the great hall could clearly be heard but it felt eerily distant. Like a dream half remembered.

‘’Had too much to drink my lord? Can’t rightly blame you, this wine is treacherous!’’ Cynsten emerged from the twilight, wineskin in hand and a happy smile on his face. Maelgwyn grabbed the wineskin and drank deeply before answering.

‘’It’s not the wine Cynsten… I just wanted to be alone.’’

‘’Well then it’s too bad you made me swear those oaths my lord… The whole ‘follow like a shadow’ bit might have sounded nice but it doesn’t give room for much privacy.’’ The large man seated himself next to Maelgwyn and grabbed the wineskin. As he drank Maelgwyns loneliness grew. His bodyguard was a good man but not his equal, and as he gazed up into the firmament he felt even smaller.

‘’I thought this would make me happy Cynsten. But it didn’t. I still miss him.’’ Cynsten followed his lord’s gaze into the incalculable night knowing his lord was, for now, beyond his reach.

‘’People can’t make you happy my lord. I’ve lost one wives and two children to the winter cold and yet I feel happy.’’ The older man was smiling faintly, remembering laughter and the smell of freshly baked bread.

‘’People can help you get happier, sure, but you gotta want it yerself. If you surround yerself with people who won’t make you happy you have yerself to blame… with all due respect my lord.’’ Cynsten had led a simple life, a life far removed from the troubles of lords but with its unique and unknown woes. Every human seemed to have its own definition of what it meant to suffer. For Maelgwyn the suffering came from some sort of wanting, that he knew. A want to be loved and respected, to be surrounded by companions yet alone and unbothered. At times like this, when the halls bustled with life and the very woodwork shook with merriment he wanted nothing more than solitude but when solitude came he longed for nothing more than the closeness of others.

’’And if you’re not happy… then there’s always more wine.’’ Maelgwyn smiled meekly and got to his feet.

‘’And some well written verses.’’

‘’Aye it was good. Couldn’t make sense of half of it but that man got a voice that could make stones cry.’’ Maelgwyn put his arm around his bodyguard and started to walk towards the feast. With a friend, and wine, by his side he would endure this feast and anticipate the tranquility of the coming months. Little did he know what rumors were spread about a lord that enjoyed wine, poetry and the company of men.

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The stone tablet
Spring 485 (log from year 484)

The stone tablet

Despite the chill Melkin felt sweat running down his back as he lifted the heavy stone. The Roman Villa on his manor posed many questions that he wanted answers to, and one of the riddles was the broken stone tablet. He had come upon a piece of a text two years ago, and the thought had struck him this morning that he might have some time for a bit of a treasure hunt. Now Melkin was out of breath and he felt a stab in his right shoulder that made him wince. Pulling at his tunic he stole a look at the scar left by a saxon from the ambush last year. The spear had gone right through him and punctured his lung, only hindering Melkin’s suffocation by breaking from the impact and thankfully blocking the two holes in his body. Holes that now were scars thanks to Merlin.

Vivid memories of how his squire Deian had managed to kill the saxon and of lady Ellen’s terrified face as she burned Melkin’s wound with a lamp, came to his mind. Melkin shook his head trying not to recall the pain he had felt at the hands of the lady’s care or afterward when Brangwen had done her best to keep his fever down.

He stood abruptly. The injury might make him wheeze and steal some of his strength in his right shoulder, but he hadn’t lived through the Hillfort cough thrice for naught. Stubbornly he started to clear away the stones once more. At least these were scars he could carry with pride, earned leading their unit defending Count Roderick’s wife.

Suddenly, he caught glance of it; the other piece of the white stone with the ancient beautiful inscription on it. Melkin pulled the rock above it aside and stared. The letters almost seemed to gleam like gold in the early morning sun. He reached for them, but upon touching the smooth white surface the stone sang. It was an ear-splitting shrill sound that seemed to make the earth shake and the sun dim.
Melkin stood up, his heart pounding. He was standing in something that resembled the Roman Villa that he knew, only it was whole, in its pride and dark. The murky halls were filled with a fluttering sound, and Melkin began to follow it hesitantly. The corridors became darker and darker. Then as the labyrinth seemed impossible to solve, as Melkin walked the maze, a word here and there lit up like gold leading him on his way, pulling him back to a path.

Following a staircase Melkin stepped out into an old forest as dusky as the building he had left. Then, a black bird lifted from a branch next to him swiftly flying away. Running as fast as he could Melkin followed it panting. The forest grew colder as he ran, and he could soon feel the frost fill his lungs and see the white of his breath. Looking ahead he realised where he and the crow were going and decelerated. He was greeted by a pond in the midst of the woods, frozen, perfectly round like the moon in the sky and in each quarter of it lay a huge black rune stone. The bird was gone.

Under the ice though, something moved. Breathing heavily, clutching the injured shoulder Melkin looked down and felt his heart stop. He threw himself on the mirrored surface. Shouting and hammering with both hands until his knuckles bled. Ultimately the ice broke and the frigid water took him finally.

It was cold, but at least Melkin didn’t feel lost anymore. Just as he felt like darkness was going to take him, a pair of strong hands reached down and seized Melkin’s own and pulled. Sunshine met his face then, and a tall figure in a druid’s cloak, pagan tattoos covering his arms hauled Melkin above the water.

“Search here,” said the tall figure holding Melkin above the surface on which he seemed to be standing with ease.

Looking upon the man’s kind but intense face, Melkin was filled with relief. As utter peace spread through his frozen body Melkin got the strong feeling that this was a holy man, someone who knew both god and Melkin well. It could be no one but Saint Alban himself.

“I will,” he promised. “I shall come here.”

The man smiled and stroked Melkin’s wet hair.

“Bring courage,” he advised, “and remember their names.” The crow was sitting on saint Alban’s shoulder.

Melkin jerked awake. Realising that he was in the ruin of the Roman Villa once more he stared around and his gaze fell upon the stone before him. The two parts of the white engraved stone had been joined, completed as if it had never been cracked. Melkin was shaking uncontrollably, and it took some time for him to comprehend why. He was soaked to the bone in ice cold water and blood still dripped from his bruised knuckles.

Doged said that maybe he had fallen into the creek close to the Roman Villa and hurt his hands in the fall. Maybe he had been hallucinating from the fever that hit Melkin the next couple of days.

“Saint Alban wouldn’t show himself as a pagan druid,” concluded Doged finally, but the chaplain didn’t sound too sure about the statement himself.

And Melkin, Melkin didn’t know what to believe, but he stole many glances at the white stone with the engraved message that not even Doged could read.

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Heart and Family
Autumn and Winter 484

Heart and Family

Bern, Gamonds new young squire, misjudged a parry and barely caught Anwyns downstroke on his shield.

“KICK!” Gamond barked, and Anwyn delivered. Berns’s shield shook under the impact and slipped, opening him to a quick stab. For a moment it looked like Anwyns practice ladle would strike home, but a savage twist and slam with the shield pushed her off balance.

“The kill is Berns”. Said Gamond in the tone of a tutor at funeral. Anwyn looked down at the blunt end of the squires practice sword, set against her hip. She grunted and swore. Practice between the two of them had become a constant thing, whether riding, swordplay or care for equipment. The near constant raining of mid-autumn proved no respite. Anwyn lost more than she won, no matter the subject matter, and was getting decidedly annoyed. Mostly, these days, they practiced in the clearing near the grove, a large space had been cleared during the year to bring earth to the orchard. It was also a good place to keep curious eyes and ears at bay.

“Well done Bern. Take a moment to rest”. Bern, a youth with the ungainly proportions of youth and the son of a wealthy esquire, grinned and took water. Gamond crossed to Anwyn, hugged her, and smiled. She always smelled good, even after practice, he had no idea how. She was tense though, and in no mood for hugging. “The only way to get better is to train, love. Losing is part of training”. She grimaced and relaxed, slowly. “I don’t care about losing, it just feels like you’re punishing me for something”.

“No, I just want you to be as fit and skilled as possible, just the same as I require of myself. I respect your wish to decide for yourself when and whom to fight, I just hope that practice like this will give you valuable skill and a good base for measuring the opposition you pit yourself against”

Anwyn looked up at him, her dark eyes inscrutable, then she smiled and punched him playfully in the ribs. “You bastard. You mean that I can’t even beat your wet behind the ears squire most of the time, so I should know to stay away from hardened Saxon warriors.”

Gamond did his best to look entirely innocent, with modest success.

“Nice way to put it though, how long did you have to think on it?”

“A week or so” he grunted. Smiling back.


It was strange indeed that such a small thing could inspire such dread. It lay, barely visible, swaddled in linens and furs. His son. Its needs kept his wife up at night and its demands were constant. The conception had been… very difficult. At length he’d had to consult the old lady where Anwyn now lived, she’d found herbs that helped. That had been immensely humiliating, especially considering Anwyns teasing. Of course the old lady and she shared everything. At least his wife no longer cried, she seemed somehow content with the babe at her breast, having found a place of comfort and power as well as responsibility.

The bundle in the crib represented the hope and future of the Anarawd, and the very essence of a large part of the expectations placed upon both himself and his wife. In this, in the babes unfathomable frailty, and in the fierce love that slowly grew in his own heart lay that awful fear. The fear off loss and failure.

The stream of visiting kin had been near constant these past months, distant relatives of both his wife and himself braving the autumn and the rain to bring their best wishes and gifts to the Anarawd lord. Some had behaved strangely, Meneris’ parents and close kin in particular, delivering a large gift wreathed in pointed expectation and reproach. In truth, he cared naught for neither their demands nor their whispers, nor for the gossip at court. Let them speak of him as they would, words were nothing unless aimed at greater things than himself. Anwyn, his family, his wife, his friends, his lord. All these things mattered more than him.

A mewling, reedy cry rose from the crib. He took the bundle in his arms. Meneri was at his side in an instant, hovering over his shoulder. Did she not think he could hold his own flesh and blood? He stared at her for several long moments. No, that was not it. Her hand at his shoulder and her patient eyes let him know she was simply there should he want her help, if his boy was hungry or his own patience short. Suddenly he was glad to have her, she was a good mother and a good woman. They sat together by the fire in the long hall, caring for the hope of tomorrow. A hope with Ederns dark eyes and a tuft of hair his fathers’ hue.


The forest was dark and the men’s torches did little to dispel the shroud of night. The snow helped, reflecting the flame and casting the circle of illumination wider around the three men and one woman. It was cold, damnably so, Gamond wiped frozen snot out of his beard.

“Where the devil is the bastard?” He did not yet know just how correct that statement would prove to be.
As the sun had sunk behind the dark shroud of Foreboding forest in the east, word had come from Forestwatch that a man, armed and armoured, had vanished into Modron near Ludwell. On approach he had shouted incomprehensibly and waved his sword so that none of the villagers had dared impede him. Gamond had set off at once, accompanied by his two footmen and Anwyn.

The trees seemed to go on forever, and soon shadows of the past danced in the blurred edge between firelight and forest gloom. Trees loomed weirdly and ghostly faces flickered between the branches. Faces half buried in the snow, staring bloody and eyeless at his passing. He enveloped Anwyns small hand in his, and for a moment the back of her head was wet with blood, bone splinters spreading like a flower from her skull. She made a sharp noise of displeasure as he nearly crushed the bones in her hand, and looked back with fire in her eyes. Whatever she saw in his face softened her instantly, and she stepped back to snuggle in close as they walked. Somehow that made it better. Bearable, almost.

He focused on her grip and warmth, and pushed on.

It did not get easier. Glimpses of fur covered shapes with shaggy beards haunted the distance and the dead were ever present. The trail they followed was eerily familiar, and when they reached the circle of stones deep in the woods Gamond knew. This was the place. Somewhere near here his father had died a second time. From just beyond a rise came the halting notes of an old song, notes an icicle in the pit of his stomach. He’d only heard it once, repeated by the Bard Airla at the disastrous feast at the rock.

“Wait here.” He strode towards the sound, barely keeping his feet. His legs felt like boiled turnips. He tripped, almost fell, and felt Anwyns strong shoulder prop him up. Together they crested the rise and stumbled into a depression in the woods, where bent an indistinct shape like a willow tree before a gale. It sang, each word a sound drawn from it on hooks of pain.

“Who goes there?” Cried Gamond, drawing his blade. For the shape had one as well, waving it tho and fro as if beset by enemies. “Drop your sword or be cut down!”

Receiving no response he stepped forward, and attacked. Blade rang against blade, and light bloomed upon the man standing by a huge angular rock, protruding from the side of the rise. It was his father. The sharp eyes and chiselled features he had heard described many times, the long hair streaked with grey. Gamond fell to his knees, the world swam and tilted drunkenly. All sound drowned in the roar of memory denied. Another sword parried the downstroke his father had aimed at his neck.

Several shapes barrelled onto his attacker, pushing him to the ground. He saw a blade raised to strike, “NO!”, and hesitate in the air.

He crawled forward. Suddenly, it was no longer his father. The face of stranger lay slack on the ground on top of twitching limbs. In fact, that face looked nothing like Edern. The man, now held down by both footmen and guarded by Anwyns sword, wore the colours of some lord or other.

“We’ll take him to forestwatch under guard, and ask the abbey for aid as soon as we can”.

Thus Gamond met Cynyr for the first time, and his bastard half-brother, in truth no brother to him at all, nonetheless became entwined in the fate of the Anarawd line.

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Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin
Autumn, Winter and spring of 484

Good TIdings

Autumn

In the forest there is only the sound of wind rustling the leaves. Everything is heading towards it’s death at the hands of winter. For now though, it looks like the trees have been set on fire with leaves of red, brown, yellow and greenish hue. The forest have always been my home and it is there that I go to think or just to be alone. Many times when I go out here it is because something is troubling me. Today is an exception to this rule. Today I am happy and I feel like I am near bursting with joy.

Things are finally going right. After the horrendous summer campaign up north against the saxons, where Melkin was gravely wounded, we traveled south again escorting our Lords wife lady Ellen and the two other ladies who had been cursed by eating faerie meat during the disastrous feast. I asked Brangwen to travel with the ladies and entertain them with her singing and storytelling. She apparently made a good impression and gained the favor of Lady Ellen. I believe it was mostly thanks to this fact, rather than my own actions, that made sure the Count Roderick allowed me to marry Brangwen despite the fact that she is a commoner and doesn’t even have a dowry worth mentioning.

We are to be wed in two weeks here at Tisbury, at Samhain when the boundaries between this world and the otherlands are thin. It is a strange old custom observed by our family since time immemorial. Our marriage is to be consummated up at Tisseberrie hill so that one of our ancestors can find his way into his new body and live life again in this world. Brangwen and me have had several practice runs in private so that we know that the carnal parts will work out well. It wouldn’t do to not be able to “perform” at such an important time.

The wedding is the reason why I am out here in the forest. We are having many guests, most of them from my family, and that means that there will have to be plenty to eat. I and the other hunters on Tisbury have been out here during most of the week to hunt deer, boars and hares and so far things have gone well. It will be table set with everything the woods have to offer.

As I stalk through the woods follow the tracks made by a stag I get the feeling that something is near. I hunker down and gaze around to determine if there is any threats nearby and I almost flinch when I see something moving close by. It turns out to be someone rather than something and I recognize the cloak worn by the woman. That and the red hair poking out of the hood. My heart skip a beat but this time from joy rather than fear. She walks straight towards me despite the fact that I have made sure to cover my tracks as I travel through the forest. Sometimes I am inclined to believe that she is some manner of a witch when I see how unerringly she can find me. Those thoughts are washed away as I see her smile shining at me as she comes closer and I smile back.

“So, how goes it husband? Will our guests dine well?” She has taken to calling me husband as naturally as she does anything else and I love hearing those words come out of her mouth. There is an ever-present music in her voice that makes you listen to her every word. I could just listen to her talk or sing for hours without even once slipping out from under her spell.

“It goes well my beloved” I whisper to her. “There are tracks made by a large stag that I have followed since before noon and I do believe he is close” and when saying those words I feel my pulse increase in anticipation of the conclusion of the hunt.

Brangwen hunkers down right next to me and her leg brushes mine as she does so. She is carrying a bow and she has a quiver of arrows slung over her shoulders. She looks at me and says “You do not mind company on this hunt, do you?” I just mutely shake my head. I do not think I will ever mind her company and the fact that she is willing to get her hands dirty hunting for the food for our wedding feast makes me appreciate her even more. There are few women who would even consider something like this and much less actually do so.

Seeming to need to explain her presence out her she says "All the preparations back home are making my head hurt. There are so many things to do and hardly any that I am “allowed” to do"". She seems a bit frustrated but also nervous. Did she ever expect to be present at her own wedding one day and did she dare to dream that it would be to someone highborn? One can only speculate.

“Try to be patient with ”/characters/cerys" class=“wiki-content-link”>mother and the other women. They are only trying to help you fit into your new role as lady of the manor" I can understand her feelings. There have been a lot of times in my life where I haven’t acted according to my station or the way that society expects me to.

She looks me in the eyes with that striking emerald green gaze of hers and looks slightly guilty. " I may have shouted at your mother when she reprimanded me for giving one of the women help with the cleaning."

I smile slightly when I answer her “As long as you apologize when we get back I am sure she will forgive you. As for sneaking of to join me out on a hunt, that is probably something she expects from a woman who I have loved since I first saw her.”

She favors me with a warm smile and reaches over to lay her hand on my cheek and kisses me on the mouth. “Let’s find this stag the so that we can bring it down and bring it home.” She rises and starts to follow the deer tracks.

The thought strikes me that I am indeed a fortunate man that have been found by my strange wood nymph.

Winter

As I leave the great hall of Sarum castle I feel like slamming my fist into someone face. Once again I leave a feast early so that I will not start a brawl in my lords hall out of anger. The reason for my anger is the self-righteous ass Sir Leo. He keeps going on about his so called just and honorable conduct. He is a man that lives in some kind of fantasy and he is always trying to impose his own values on all and sundry. I am not one to take offense easily and I have had a lot of patience with his ramblings.

Until now that is. I sat and talked to Sir Jaradan of Dinton and we had just agreed on him taking on my young relative Nerthach as one of his squires. We were having a good time and I was telling him about the strange creatures living out in the swamps of Summerland that I saw during King Uthers conquest of that land.

As I told him of what had transpired during the campaign on our part, Sir Leo passed by and felt that he of course had to offer his opinion on the way a war “should be” conducted. He blathered something about how it was unjust for the strong to take from the weak and as knights we should instead protect the peasants and walk around and hold their hands or some such nonsense.

I gave him a piece of my mind and told him that it is our privilege to raid and plunder when we are at war. I may agree that it is highly wasteful to kill the small folk, especially when they haven’t done anything by themselves to merit punishment . I even told him that his way of thinking is outlandish and that if such paragons of knighthood such as prince Madoc himself says that the right way to act is for the strong to take what they want, when they want it, then who does he think he is to disagree. That was when he pointed out that bastards are always ill-favored and should certainly not be regarded as role-models.

At that point the whole conversations turned into a shouting match and Jaradan and a few other knights had to separate us before our lord noticed fight.

I really hope that that man can keep his big mouth shut in future or I won’t be held responsible for my actions. His moralizing grated on my nerves even as I was serving as Lord Amig‘s squire but back then I just had to grin and bear it. I thought that he would end his droning when I became a knight but nothing changed even though I politely told him that I didn’t share his opinions. This however seemed to egg him on.

Spring

I am holding a little bundle in my arms, a little red, crying bundle and from somewhere distant I hear my mother’s voice saying “You have a son Cadry”. I can’t seem to turn my gaze away from the little infant boy that is going to carry my family name. It is hard to tell if he takes after me or Brangwen but he certainly shares the green eyes that we both have.

How strange it is to look at something so small and to know that this might be the future. I wonder if my father ever held me and thought these same thoughts back in the year 460? My lips turns into a smile without me willing them to and finally some part of me returns to the reality that exist outside of my sons face.
I look over at my mother’s tattooed face and with trepidation I ask “What about Brangwen? Does she live? Is she well?” and I think I have never dreaded hearing an answer as much as this one.
Fortunately mother’s smile reassures me even before she has time to answer “She lives and she is fine. The birthing was long and took much out of her but she will recover. I am sure that she would like to see you at least for a little while before she needs to sleep.”

Even before the final words have left her mouth my legs are carrying me in through the door of the longhouse of my manor. In the gloom inside the warmth lies heavy and there is a smell of smoke, blood and sweat. Still clutching my son tight to me I walk over to the grand bed where the love of my life lies, still covered in sweat and seemingly exhausted unlike anything I have ever seen before.

As I carefully sit down on the edge of the soiled bed Brangwen opens her eyes and with some effort reaches out her hands to take hold of our son and to bring him up to her breast to nurse him and to calm him. As she does so she blearily looks up at me and ask “Does he please you my lord husband?”

Tears well up in my eyes and I can hardly speak but I manage to squeeze out a simple “Yes”. I lean over and carefully kiss my wife on the forehead and mumble forth an incoherent “Thank you” and whether the thanks is aimed at my wife or at the Mother-goddess Don I simply don’t know.

Gaining some semblance of control I ask “What shall we name him? I haven’t dared to think of any.” Brangwen’s sparkling green eyes meet mine and with a certainty she replies “He has told me that he is called Yraen, my love, so that shall be his name.”
Feeling bewildered I open my mouth but I don’t say anything. I doesn’t do to question someone that speaks to the gods and my lady wife have always had her strange ways of knowing things. I look down on my son Yraen, who is now sleeping upon Brangwen’s breast and I think that if I were ever to feel a joy greater than this my heart would surely burst within my chest.

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The whispered name
Winter 484

One Legged Knight

Melkin had always been forgiving. Even as a child he had been quick to forget faults done to him and almost never held a grudge towards friends or family. His forgiving nature was however not widely known until the winter of 484 when Winnifred wed anew.

Count Roderick had agreed to Melkin’s request to let Winnifred marry one of his household knights. After the campaign the same year the count reasoned that more young squires and eventually knights were going to be needed sooner than later and accepted Melkin’s proposal. A wedding feast was thus planned and since Sir Edyin had promised to pay the dowry after the duel the year before, the festivities were going to be fairly grand. What surprised both family and other guests was that Melkin invited sir Edyin himself to the feast. The act led to many a speculation of the motive of this peculiar act, but Melkin put the rumours down.

“Since he is paying for the feast, it would only be right for him to attend,” Melkin answered when the guests’ curiosity grew too large. “The debt has been paid, generously at that, and as of such sir Edyin’s former crimes have been atoned for.”

During the feast there were glances towards sir Edyin but none spoke openly against him, for there was plenty of both food and drink, and people tend to get busy when supplied. Melkin also made the effort to thank sir Edyin for the charitable dowry in his short speech to the wedding couple. Sir Edyin did eye the other knight suspiciously, but did not protest.

As night fell the feast proceeded with growing smiles and hearty drinking. The newly wedded seemed cheerful enough and Melkin was pleased to see that sir Brian took time to talk to his new stepsons.

" Their grandfather taught them to look after the horses,” he told sir Brian later that evening when the oldest, Morgan a glow in his eyes, was talking vigorously about the foal that had been born last year, “and they do seem to have some knack for handling animals. Not only the horses but the dogs like them as well."

As the hour grew late Melkin went out to steal a bit of fresh air and to relieve himself. The feast was far from over and he had been ever caught in endless conversations the entire evening. A bit of solitude would do him good. As he passed the stable he heard some muttering from inside. Looking in through the door he caught eye of Victus saddling one of the horses. Surprised Melkin stopped and watched as the old man loaded the horse with a large bag.

“Where are you going?” he asked as the half drunken man tried to heave himself into the saddle.

Startled Victus sank back on the box that he was using as a stepping stone, and looked up.

“Sir Melkin,” he said smiling and red faced (doubtless from drinking), “I’m… to be frank I’m leaving,” he said honestly.

“Leaving?” Melkin felt his heart sink. “It’s your daughter’s wedding, why would you leave?”

“Well you see,” Victus scratched his beard. "I’ve been thinking about it since Corwyn left a couple years ago that maybe I’m not too old for a bit of adventuring after all."

“Too old!” Melkin stared at him. “You’re missing a leg remember?”

Waving a hand dismissively Victus smiled:

“After being horse master at Hindon for two years I’ve come to realise that as long as I am on a horse I can still move and fight quite well. These old bones were never meant for sitting still very long and now as my daughter and my grandsons will be leaving Hindon I thought there’d be some time for one last adventure."

Melkin looked at the horse. Time seemed to slow as he thought of the options he had this second. He could prevent the old man from leaving, proclaim him drunk, ask him to wait until morning, accuse him for stealing one of Melkin’s horses or…

He took a step forward and gave Victus a hand to get up.

“You have to make sure to get a good squire,” he said with a growing lump in his throat, “and maybe you should make sure to tie yourself to the saddle so you don’t fall off in battle”, he suggested concerned.

Victus looked down at Melkin from his saddle smiling broadly.

“You know,” he said, "this wedding reminds me of my own. It was less expensive though, a smaller wedding, between a household knight and a woman that looked a lot like my daughter does today, but it felt as grand, and your father arranged it.”

“I know he did.” Melkin’s own voice sounded hollow to his ears.

“It has made an old man glad to see his daughter’s future secured once more,” continued Victus. “You did good my boy."

“Think nothing of it.”

“I’ll thank you none the less,” continued Victus. “Not because I’m drunk, well I am quite drunk but that is not the point… I’ll thank you because you were good to us.” Victus gave Melkin a long stare only swaying a little as if he suddenly reached some sobriety. “You have your father’s eyes,” he said finally, smacked his tongue and rode off into the night.

Melkin leaned towards the stable door watching as the dark figure rode out and disappeared. Merlin had been right he thought. Some men were sure ready to do all matters of dangerous things despite serious injuries. Age did not necessarily make these men less daring or more wise. It wasn’t until Deian came out looking for him that Melkin wiped his eyes.

“Sir Melkin what are you doing out here?” asked the squire perplexed. “And…” he looked around, “…where is my horse?”

A saddened laugh then escaped Melkin and he clapped Deian on his arm.

“I’ll get you a new one,” he said simply.

As the word got out about the successful feast, the rumour of Melkin’s forgiveness spread beyond the normal small folk gossip, and a name began to be whispered with the rumour. Thus it was through the tale of Winnifred’s winter wedding that “Melkin the magnanimous” started to gain weight. But also another name was whispered with the story. The One-Legged-Knight, would soon appear on more important lips than the small folk’s.

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A mothers care
Autumn 483

A mother's care

In the dark there is only a faint tapping of a hammer on a needle. That and pain in my left hand, the one that my mother is tattooing. As I open my eyes and look at her patient work I can see that the years have taken some toll on her. Maybe it was her husband, my uncle, leaving two years back to go look for his dead brother? Or perhaps the fact that she has never had any children of her own? She has only had me, my sisters and my foster brother to raise. She has never seemed dissatisfied with her lot though. I wonder how strange her life must have been when she was young. She was only married to my real father for a year and a half before he, like so many others, died during the night of long knives. She was also raised as a Christian but as the years went by and she married my uncle Corwyn, she came to embrace the gods of her new family and nowadays she celebrates imbolc, beltaine and the rest of the important days with the rest of us.

The scars on my hand are almost covered by blue tattoos depicting talons of crow. I have been told that one should remember the lessons that life tries to teach you and therefore I asked mother to cover my hands in tattoos. That, and also the fact that the scars look ugly and despite what I tell others, I am vain. Few men can rival my appearance and that is just one more sign that the gods have chosen me for something special. My father made many dear sacrifices before he was granted me as an heir. My older brother died before he had lived through a year and my younger brother died with my mother when he was being born. These things make me special but it also ensures that I have a lot of expectations to live up to. My ascent has barely just begun. I managed to secure funds enough from Duke Eldol during spring to pay of the taxes for my inheritance of Tisbury manor, my family’s ancestral home.

Previously mother and I spoke about a young boy by the name of Dylan who is a second cousin of mine. He has turned thirteen this summer and is eager to become a squire. Most other men have told me that he is too young but I can understand the desire burning in his chest and besides, he is tall for his age. To me it was intolerable to wait an entire year just so that the other three crows could catch up to me in age and size. I have made enquiries into who would accept him despite his youth and most have said me nay. Finally, Sir Lycus acquiesced and said that he would take him on as a squire but promised that he would not go easy on the boy because of his youth but rather the opposite. Dylan would have to prove that he was worth the consideration. Knowing Sir Lycus I have a feeling that the boy will be in for several hard years but if he makes it through them he will be a dangerous and hard knight indeed.

My train of thought gets interrupted when someone speaks my name. It is mother who has spoken to me. I ask her “What did you say?”

“You must marry my son. You must father heirs.” That’s my dear mother in a nutshell: direct and well-intentioned. I meet her green eyes with mine and smile slightly.

“Of course I will mother. I have as you already know been given the right to look for a wife by the good Count.” That he probably expects me to find some other knights daughter to wed is a bit problematic though. I have already met the woman that will the mother to my children and that I want to share my life with. The problem though is that she is a commoner.

Mother can see through my words though and keep prodding me ”That he has and now that you are the lord of the manor there are many good prospects out there. Yet you have hardly looked at any of them. Why is that?” As always a look of concern passes over he face as she keeps tapping away with her hammer on the small needle working over my knuckles.

I briefly consider telling her that she is wrong and that I have met several nice maids at court but it won’t do to lie to mother. “I haven’t looked at other women at court because none of them hold any interest to me mother. The only thing any of them have that hold any interest to me is possibly their dowry. I wouldn’t make any of them a good husband because I would always yearn for another.”

Mothers eyes never leaves my hand but I swear that I can still feel her gaze fall on me. She gives of a little sigh “You still have not forgotten Brangwen, have you my son?

I simply shook my head and then replied “No”. How could I forget Brangwen? Why should I put her out of my mind when more than mere happenstance had put her in my path? If I am going to promise myself to any woman I am going to do so honourably. I will not wed myself to one woman but truly yearn for another.

“You do realize the complications that comes with loving her? That your lord is unlikely to grant your wish to marry her?”

Mothers concern moves me deeply but something deep in my chest still hammers away every time I think of Brangwen. There is something in there that makes my blood rise and I have to constrain myself to not shout at my mother.

My voice still comes out harsher than she deserves “I know that. Mark my words though, I would rather live my life without a proper wife and have her share my bed and only father bastards if that is what it takes to have her by my side.”

I breathe deeply to regain some composure before I continue, “Besides, my lord has given me and the other crows a quest to break a curse resting upon the counts new wife. If we can accomplish this then the count can finally share his wife’s bed and sire an heir. When having done so I am sure that he will be amendable to grant my wish to take Brangwen for my wife even though she is common born and doesn’t have a grand dowry to her name.”

Cerys have always been able to weather my moods like she does this time and waits until I have calmed down before saying “I hope you are right my son, otherwise you will have to work even harder and gain even further favour if this is truly what you wish. Search your feelings and be absolutely positive that there is no room for doubt in your mind.”

Mother puts aside her tools having finished the last of the tattoos and puts her hands at the sides of my face. “You must do what is right for both you and for your family my son. You must have heirs to your land and not just for the peoples sake. You know that there are older oaths that hold sway over these lands and that they must be kept.”

I feel the urge to turn away my face in shame but I squash that impulse before my body has time to act upon it. “I will father sons and daughters. I will fulfil my oaths. I intend to make my line strong and I believe that there is no other woman more suited to stand at my side or to carry my children than Brangwen.” Something burns within me now and I can see in my mother’s eyes the reflection of my own and there is something feverish, almost mad, in them.

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