Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

Do you have the Stones?
Year 482

stones

The Stone

The Forest was getting closer and so was home. Admittedly the Forest Was Home, at least to Cadry’s thinking. He had spent more nights sleeping out among the trees than he ever spent sleeping under the ancient roof of the longhouse at Tisbury.

The days traveling from Stonehenge to Tisbury had been unnaturally drawn out even accounting for the slow pace set by the commoners who were dragging and pushing the giant stone monolith. Even accounting for the rituals and spells that the ovate Athanwyr had to perform in order to ensure that no gods were angered and to make sure that the magic of the large stone did not spill out into the surroundings and causing some unnatural event. And finally even accounting for the fact that the weather had turned unusually strange just two days away from Stonehenge itself.

Cadry’s mind was at rest though, despite these delays and complications. The Count himself had asked for Cadry to travel to the wise druids at Stonehenge and assist them with a important task. Druids being the mysterious group that they are didn’t explain much but simply told Cadry that one of the stones from the circle at Stonehenge had been "borrowed" once upon a time from the stone circle in the forest near Tisbury and that now it needed to be returned. Without further ado the young knight was sent away in the company of an ovate, a large stone, several peasants and a couple of large oxen.

When the bad weather had appeared a few days into the journey, Athanwyr had told Cadry in strict confidence that it was no natural weather but rather something conjured up by some manner of malign force. Whether it was some mortal agency or some type of spirit or faerie he could not say but he took steps to ward of any curses or ill luck that might befall the company. This in turn had required Cadry’s aid at several junctures with retrieving some strange items and at one time even demanded that the young knight stand watch over the ovate as he slipped into a trance. Several strange things happened during this vigil that conspired to draw Cadry away from his ward but at the back of his head he kept Sir Amigs words "Fulfill your duty" as a shield against the distractions. The hardest to resist proved to be when Cadry could swear that he heard Brangwens voice and caught a glimpse of her red hair among the trees surrounding the clearing where the ovate lay. At the last moment Cadry reminded himself that Brangwen wasn’t here but rather waited at the end of the journey and thus held fast.

When Athanwyr’s trance was over and he was told what had happened he seemed to look at Cadry with different eyes and told the young knight that he had done well to resist the temptation. The ovate also seemed to open up a bit more during the rest of the journey and told a bit about his own past. He also told some of the things that he studied and demonstrated his great lore of the gods, at least the parts that weren’t secret and hidden.

Having found an eager listener in Cadry, Athanwyr also started asking about the life as a warrior and if Cadry ever had heard the call of any of the gods. When Cadry told of the times that he had seen Ol’Tiss on Tisseberrie and the histories that surrounded the old guardian of the hill Athanwyr turned intrigued since he claimed that it was seldom that the gods choose to walk clad in a form that could be seen by mortals.

The ovate continued to study Cadry during the rest of the trek across Salisbury and when they finally arrived at the forest of gloom Athanwyr seemed to have reached a decision. He proclaimed that he would like to further Cadry’s education in the lore of the gods and that by doing this Athanwyr himself might gain the answers to a conundrum that he been plaguing him for several years. Feeling honored by the offer, Cadry gladly accepted with the reservation that he still had to serve at Count Rodericks pleasure since he was still a household knight. Thus a new and strange friendship began with one man living in this world and one living mostly in the other.

Once the stone had been returned to its original resting place something odd came over the glade where the stone circle stood. It was as if some power that had been dormant once again woke up and Cadry could swear that he felt unseen eyes staring at him. "The gods are present young knight_" Athanwyrs words rang out in the glade "_and they are listening. They will hear you if you speak here and now". Looking uncertain, Cadry looked at the stone on which he had almost died and where the priestess Meleri had given her life to protect his. He could feel an unbalance that had been present his entire life but not until this moment had he understood what caused the feeling.

Athanwyr stepped closer and held forth a simple leather flask. "Drink this and you will open yourself up to the voices of the gods and maybe you will catch a glimpse of what they have in store for you". Taking the flask and gazing at it before drinking his fill of the foul tasting liquid, Cadry felt a certainty that he would indeed see something of what was to come. The gods had already taken a hand on that fateful day when his father died and he fully intended to face his destiny. He would also balance the scales by giving service to the gods to repay the blood that been shed in his name.

The visions

Oak

Returning from the place where he had walked with the gods Cadry rose from the grass where he had lain. Feeling utterly exhausted, thirsty and nauseous he faltered and had to take a few steps and brace himself against the newly settled stone in the stone ring. Feeling like the fading daylight were stinging his eyes he looked around to locate Athanwyr. At first he didn’t see the ovate but when he focused his gaze on a dark spot over by one of the stones the rake thin man with his shaved head almost seemed to fade into view. Without looking up Athanwyr asked "So, what did you see young Cellydon?" and reached down into his sack and brought forth a new flask. The ovate took a swing from the bottle and handed it over to Cadry. Answering Cadry’s unasked question he said "Just water this time". The young knight sat down by the thin man and drank from the leather flask and tried to collect his scattered thoughts.

"I saw many strange things and lived many lives while I was walking with the gods." Cadry began hesitantly. Athanwyr just regarded him silently and let the young knight speak on his own terms. "My journey began here and it took me to distant lands but always there was one thing that was familiar: The Oak. It was the oak that stands at home near our house. In all the places that I saw it was always present. In some of the places it looked younger and in some it bore acorns." Cadry turned to Athanwyr with questions in his eyes.

The ovate’s gaze seemed distant but suddenly he spoke in a strange voice.

"The oak, quick moving,
Before him, tremble heaven and earth.
A valiant door-keeper against an enemy,
His name is considered."

"What you saw was in all likelihood a few of the places where Cad Goddeu – The Battle of the Trees happened. The mighty Gwydion woke the trees and bade them to march on his enemies in order for Gwydion to help his nephew Lleu Llaw Gyffes and his brother Amaethon. The enemies they were fighting were the forces of Annwn, beings from the otherlands. Gwydion and his relatives won in the end even though it was said that any man who fought on the side Arawn, the king of Annwn was invincible. It is said that Gwydion knew a secret that unbound the spells of the king of Annwn and that was how they could win in the end." Seeming to consider the meaning of the words Cadry had uttered, Athanwyr seemed expectant to see what the young knight would make of his vision.

"So my family is somehow connected to these battles or to these persons?" Cadry seemed to consider something and then quickly spoke again "I do know for a fact that my father carried a lock of hair that is said to be from Gwydion himself. Maybe me or one of my ancestors were Gwydion or one of his relatives in a former life? Maybe it means that the oak remembers the one who once upon a time woke it from its long slumber?"

Athanwyr smiled an enigmatic smile and said "It seems to me that my gut feelings about you might have been right. You can see connections that few others would have or for that matter believed in. I can’t say for certain if what you are saying is the entire story but your family’s ties to the trees and the oak in particular is undeniable."

Cadry nodded to himself with a feeling of pride welling up in his chest and he forged ahead with his retelling "The other part that I can remember with clarity is also more mysterious. In the first part I was a sword in the hand of a warrior, his hand was cold and otherworldly. It might have been Ol’Tiss that wielded the blade but that was just a feeling that had. In the second part I was a shield carried by a man defending his family. His hand was hot with rage and a fierce love for the ones he defended. Somehow I think he was my father Cadwallon or it at least reminded me of him." Cadry stopped to wipe away tears from his eyes, overcome with a feeling sorrow and longing for a man that he almost couldn’t remember.
When he had collected himself Cadry kept speaking "In the last part I was the strings of a harp vibrating with a music more wonderful that I have ever heard. The one who played the harp was old and at the end of her life. The music she played told of a long life of peace and all that she had wrought. At the same time I think she was eternal, I think it was Don herself playing the harp." Staring emptily ahead of himself the young knight seemed to have been struck by fey mood and he could almost hear the music once again but somehow his mind wasn’t large enough to encompass it in its entirety.

In the silence Athanwyr spoke in his strange voice as if reciting an old truth

"Who can find you clear springs of waters, but I can!
Who can tell you the age of the moon, but I can!
Who can call the fish from the depths of the sea, yes I can!
Who can change the shapes of the hills and the headlands, I can!
I have been a sword in the hand,
I have been a shield in a fight,
I have been the string of a harp,
I can shift my shape like a god."

In his normal speaking voice the ovate carefully continued "I think the lessons of these vision are more evident. They speak of the important things in your life to come. Firstly to act with purpose whether it be a divine purpose or mortal. The gods have taken note of you and will put challenges in your way. Make the most of them. The only things that the gods truly hate is a man who will not act when given the opportunity. The gods watch and wishes to see lives lived to the fullest."
Drinking some more from the water flask Athanwyr drew a breath "I’m given to understand that your father sacrificed himself for you and several others. Protect what is important and when it really comes down to such a decision put everything else aside. But be also aware that your actions will have repercussions. Your fathers decision have brought a debt on your bloodline that the gods will sooner or later ask that it be repaid. "

Cadry seemed to listen intently and it was something almost hypnotizing in the way the ovate spoke "Lastly a reminder that love is what underlies everything. The gods put us into this world because they love us and the great mother wanted to give her children what was most precious to her: this world. Try to remember all these things when you gaze towards the future and hopefully it will be bright."

Getting ready to ask more questions Cadry opened his mouth but Athanwyr interrupted him "I will answer your questions tomorrow but now dark has fallen and there are things in these forests that should not hear of what we have to speak."

The knight and the ovate left the glade with the stone circle that seemed to give of a new sense of mystery.

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Alliance
Summer 482

alliance

The summer had been busy but pleasant so far. Melkin was standing by the old ruins on his grounds looking at a stone that he had turned over. He couldn’t read the words that were written on the white smooth surface, but he looked at them none the less. What was this fallen building? Why had it been built? And why had it fallen into ruin? He did not know the answers to these questions, but he would surely like to. Maybe, there were cellars below the white stones as below the Rock? Maybe there were more words, some explanation to the why the stones had been brought here in the first place?

Looking out over his land a pride filled Melkin’s chest. He could still wake in the morning wondering if he had dreamt the knighting ceremony and that his name had been called by duke Roderik. But it had, no matter the order, no matter what had happened before it, his name had been called and he had truly been blessed. Touching the amulet around his neck he mumbled a quick prayer to Saint Alban for his help.

The horses neighed and Melkin turned his head to see the heard of horses gallop around the paddock. He gave the smooth stone a last stroke before steering his steps towards the stables where his new squire Deian was saddling the horses. Even though Melkin wanted nothing else more than to ride his new charger from Brittany, he had forced himself to let the stallion remain with the heard. He knew his father’s mistake with the warhorse Mountain all to well to let the horse go to waste, and the act had also smoothed the situation with parts of his family somewhat since the herd would grow stronger.

“Where are we going,” asked Deian as they rode out, a faint tremble to his voice.

“Are you afraid welp?” asked Melkin as managed to somewhat mimic lord Amig’s general tone when he spoke.

“No,” lied the boy, “but Victus has said that the roads aren’t safe anymore. Not since the bandits started come down from the hills and out from the forests.”

“It is because of their strength that we’re riding out,” answered Melkin and thought back to something Elad had taught him. “We all need to prepare if they would come to Hillfort, and it helps to be somewhat proactive with your battle plans.”

As they rode onto Sutton grounds they were met by sir Gorfydd himself. He gave them a suspicious look but greeted them when he recognised Melkin.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” said Gorfydd after formalities had been exchanged, “what brings you here sir Melkin?”

Gorfydd’s directness was not to be unexpected. Knowing the man from his childhood, Melkin gave his best to answer in the same straightforward manner: “To discuss defence strategies for Hillfort,” he said with the same voice he would normally use to Cadry. “With the bandits roaming Salisbury and Saxons having been at our doorstep, I thought it a necessity to suggest a common plan of action should any of us be attacked”.

Gorfydd seemed to evaluate him for a moment as Melkin climbed down from his horse. “And why would you come here?” he asked unable to completely let go of his customary distrust.

“Because strategically Sutton might be the first place where the enemy might be spotted,” said Melkin and pointed towards Nadar River and the road beyond it.

The strategic plan was quite simple. Both Hindon and Sutton were two of the outer manors which might be the first places to be hit by unseen raids. The most obvious way to hit Hindon would be through an attack from the forest, which aid from Sutton could easily flank. In the opposite situation Melkin would cut off the escape route, not by coming over the bridge from the north, but from the west by crossing a shallow part of the river close to Tisbury grounds that he knew very well.

As they walked the Sutton grounds and discussed defensive positions or possible adjustments that could be made to the near vicinity, Melkin felt that he did understand Gorfydd better than he had expected to. He didn’t know Gorfydd very well, but the fact that Gorfydd was an outspoken pagan made it quite easy for Melkin to honestly proclaim his own thoughts and concerns. Though Gorfydd had a suspicious trait, Melkin did feel that he himself could trust the frank knight.

As they had stood on the bridge for a while pointing and talking Gorfydd nodded and said:

“Very well, I can see your points lord Hindon.” He stretched out his hand. “As long as robbers and Saxons threaten our lands I will honour a defensive alliance between our manors.”

Melkin took his hand very surprised that he had gotten such a good response on his proposal. Maybe it was because sir Gorfydd was more suspicious towards the bandits than towards Melkin himself.

“May neither Sutton nor Hindon ever burn again,” he said as firmly as he could.

On they way home Melkin took the way through the forest to show his new squire the shallow waters close to Tisbury. The following days they rode the barely visible path every day, before starting to walk it during the night. Melkin eventually let Deian lay out a trail of white stones and then they rode it in darkness.

“My lord,” began the boy thoughtfully during the second week, “why is it important to memorise the road this thoroughly?”

“When riding for help, you want to make sure to know more then one way to your goal.” Melkin thought of Cadry and the disastrous feast. “You never know who might be guarding the roads during an attack. Do you think you know it well enough now to ride fast and in darkness?”

“I think so…”

Melkin stopped and looked at his squire.
“Who do you think will ride for help if needed be? Make sure you know it by heart”.

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A history of Anarawd, excerpt Cynyr
Year 460-482

Excerpt 'Cynyr'

Tudwalls’ “A history of the Anarawd”, Excerpt ‘Cynyr’

The records of the Anarawd called Cynyr are scarce, early accounts mention him as “ap Edern”, others assign no such honorific. Possibly this is a title taken by Cynyr himself in some instances. All are agreed that Cynyr was a bastard Spurious, fathered by Edern two years before his death during the night of long knives.

As is sometimes the case with bastards who are nonetheless taken into the family, Cynyr was immediately moved to kin within the extended line, his foster father a Sergeant serving the lord of Elmham Manor in Streamfield Hundred, County of Caercolun.

Those who have spoken as to his motivations all agree that he felt an outcast from his earliest years, and no amount of inclusion into his foster family would change that. He wanted, above all, to become part of the true Anarawd family and openly recognized as a son to Edern.

What then prompts the inclusion of a bastard, seemingly of little note, into these annals? In 881, as King Uther of Logres rode to war against the then Kingdom of Bedegrain, Cynyr took his first step out of obscurity. Days after the army had passed he took his fathers’ arms, armour, and horse and rode after, hoping to somehow reverse his fortunes. Accounts differ on the modus of acquisition, but most conjecture points to illness. With his father bedridden for the summer, Cynyr saw his chance.

Having gotten sidetracked and lost in the wilderness on the way to Bedegraine, Cynyr arrived just in time to see the battle of Bedegraine, where King Uther later personally bested the king of bedegraine in personal combat, joined in earnest. One can imagine a young man, unused to war, confronting such a spectacle and trying to make sense of it, hesitating before overcoming fear and charging in. He must have sought the only banners he knew, riding through the fighting to reach Baron Thornbrushs unit. He had no business being there, and was surely possessed of immense luck, for upon arriving he charged into the enemy, confronting and slaying the notable lord Hyn before the Lord of Elmham Manors eyes. In the face of such valour, Cynyr was squired by that lord on the spot.

His squirehood would be remarkably short. Having trained well under his father for many years, Cynyr knew his craft quite passably. The following year, Lord Elmham was sent to confront brigands plaguing the hundred Streamfield. Though most knights scoff at the notion, even ill-kempt knifemen pose a danger when outnumbering knights several times over. Seeing his lord dragged out of his saddle and beset by several foes, Cynyr rode in and scattered them using his horse as a buttress. He dragged the knight onto his horse, sustaining several knife wounds, and brought him back to the nearby Manor. For his service he was recommended for knighthood, and raised to that high honour that very year by Lord Elmham. Elmham asked Baron Thornbrush to take him into his household, and that great lord of Logres agreed. Cynyr would serve close to home in Salisbury, Lluds manor, the kings treasury. The bastard son was one step closer to his goal, and to meeting his half-brother for the first time.

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Hate and Love
Winter 481

Hate and Love

Winter wasn’t so bad. Not with Anwyn in Ludwell village. He’d spent his first day back at her caretakers house, she had laughed, said her name meant “Very fair” and called her parents liars. He didn’t agree, to his mind her parents had been damned near clairvoyant.

As he bulled through the snow choking the path to the house he saw them, both on their way back from the forest, bundles of evergreens and gnarled roots in their hands. How did they walk mostly on top of the snow like that, hardly seeming bothered? It didn’t seem fair.

Anwyn gave him that half smile of hers, lips drawn to cover her teeth. They were a little crooked, and she didn’t like that. He was never sure if she was mocking him or happy to see him.

“If you didn’t choose to go in the deepest places just to have something to fight you wouldn’t have to work so hard!”

Gamond steamed, he didn’t do it on purpose! The snow was just always in his way. She always got to him, making him mad one moment and completely at ease the next. He just couldn’t figure anything out with her around, somehow he didn’t mind much.

He made himself big and scary, adopting a monstrous leer “Thems fightin’ words little girl, and there’s a price to pay!”

He shovelled up great scoops of snow and threw them at her, and she – shrieking – dropped her bundles and ran. The old woman just watched, hiding a smile as laughter and mock fighting livened the morning.

Much later they were sitting in the cramped space between the old womans’ four walls. It was cozy in there though, furs and rough furniture, the smell of herbs and roots that hung from the ceiling. The old woman was respected and wise, and not close to as near sighted as she let on. She was always watching, like a hawk.

It was only appropriate; he didn’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t been there. He didn’t even dare think about it. Well, he did, and guiltily, but he was grateful for her presence nonetheless. Anwyn was showing him how well her wound had healed, no modesty in her, and apparently none required by old Nesta either. It definitely wasn’t fair. They were colluding, that was one of Cadrys fancy words – he thought it meant working together, maybe – playing games with him. Why didn’t he mind? He definitely should.

It had healed beautifully, only a long white line now through the network of tattoos crawling up her ribs. It had taken time though, nearly half a year before she was out of bed, and another half to gain her strength. He pulled his eyes and mind away from her, shook his head, fumbled for something to say.

“You… never told me how you got it”.

She was quiet a long time. Staring at the fire, flames dancing in her odd eyes.

“I’m from Regnenses.”

Gamond went cold. All heat in his body drawing inwards to form a molten core of anger in the pit of his stomach.

“Seven years ago the Saxons came across the border, many of them, more than ever before. They burned our lands, our villages. My father was a Sargeant under Lord Kamerland, off defending the castle of Narendswall. When the Saxons came some surrounded the castle and the rest simply moved on. There was noone to defend us. My younger brother was taken, carried off somewhere. Our village was burned. My mother and I, my sisters… we… “

She couldn’t say it. But he knew. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t move for fear of breaking this house full of precious things.

“Bredna was taken too. We were left. When father returned to find his only son gone something broke in him. He became determined that we’d never be left defenceless again, taught my sisters and me to use a spear, shield and a bow. It didn’t help. We trained when we could, but when they came back three years later most of us died fighting. We weren’t going to be taken, I was old enough then.”

Gamond stared into her eyes through the smoke and saw a kindred soul. His hate met hers and entwined like lovers among the cinders drifting in the updraft between them.

“I’m a brigand Gamond. When Aurelius acknowledged Aelle as a rightful king he also condemned all of us who has nothing left but to fight back as outlaws. Once we were many, but a lot of us have died. We split up and fled north after that last summer fighting, I don’t know where the nine I was with are now, they left me in that grove when I couldn’t go on. I won’t stop fighting, I’ll go looking for them in spring”.

Gamond said nothing. Knew physical gestures would be meaningless. He stood up.

“A spear is a bad weapon. Come, I’ll teach you how to use a sword.”

He gave her his fathers’ old sword, and his heart, when she left that spring.

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New bloom
Autumn 480

New bloom

Late autumn lay like a wet grey woollen blanket over hillfort hundred and Ludwell. Being home was awkward somehow, each year the presence of his father and the Anarawd legacy faded a little more, replaced by something else. In any case, Gamond wasn’t quite sure what the Anarawd were supposed to be, or whether he cared. The Saxons had surely killed it along with his father. For all he knew they had taken the heartblade as well, after the night of long knives the heirloom had passed from knowing. What good were old legends anyway?

As was often the case when he stayed at Ludwell, Gamond strayed. The river was tempting, but too cold and strident by far this time of year. Modrons forest was a poor substitute, unlike his friend Cadry he’d never been much for hunting or running around among the trees. Under the boughs and in the shadows lurked things from the past best buried deep.

Nevertheless, into Modron is where his wanderings took him, feet moving on their own as his thoughts scattered through past and future. This year had been a strange one. He hadn’t really been scared when they fought the Imber bear, even though it had been huge and lethal, but when Melkin and Maelgwyn fell into the river he thought his heart would leap out of his throat. In many ways, his three friends were his real family.

The battle of Menevia was something else again, nothing at all like the songs and stories told around the fires and by the bards. In the songs battle was always glorious, great warriors exclamating lofty goals and destinies while beset by enemies and emerging victorious or falling tragically to trechery or foul fate. Gamond remembered only chaos, screaming men and horses, the hideous smell of blood and death and his own great disorientation. When Maelgwyn had gotten lost in the din he hadn’t time to think, just acted on instinct, riding after to get him out alive. Even the dreadful shock of that spear piercing his armpit had been swallowed by great confusion and the roaring of blood in his ears. It wasn’t really until he had found himself utterly alone, surrounded by the Irish that he had felt scared. Maelgwyn appearing to help had been among the single best moments of his life so far. Dour and contrary as his friend could sometimes be, he did love the man as a brother.

Gamond was unceremoniously drawn from his thoughts as he walked face first into low hanging branches. Swearing and angry he grabbed his dagger and hacked the branch down. Suddenly exhausted he stared around, where in all the hells had he gone off to? The area didn’t look familiar. Blood welled into his mouth from a split lip. The trees bowed towards him, shadows stretching long. He was suddenly bathed in cold sweat, heart hammering frantically against his ribcage. He could smell the blood,so much of it, and that awfully familiar reek of torchsmoke. He had to run. They were all going to die.

Fighting against the rising panic and the white blinding noise that threatened to drown all thought, Gamond went to all fours, digging his fingers into the dirt. Digging meant safety, dig and hide, be part of the roots. The deep shelter of the earth.

By degrees, handful by handful of rich earth, he dug himself back to the present. Soon the whispering of branches in the wind and distant song of birds reminded him of now, and left then behind.
There were other sounds on the breeze, now that he was calm enough to listen. Faint noises of someone in pain, a woman? Cautiously Gamond followed, minding his step. Moving in the forest had become harder than ever of late, his great height and long limbs finding all manner of snares and foliage. At length he breached the forest, finding an opening into a grove set in an overgrown glen. Scraggly shrubs and thornvine choked the space, making access difficult. Sitting on a stone, back propped against a tree, trying to bind a wound in her side sat a girl the wound went almost unnoticed, for she was naked from the waist up, and Gamonds young blood ran hot through his body, a little like a fever. Something deep in his heart turned, and twisted tight.

”Are you going to keep staring, or are you going to help?”

Oh god, she was looking right at him. Her eyes were off, one metal grey and one a sharp blue. Why was he thinking of her eyes?

The girl sighed ”just my luck, on the off chance someone found me it would be the village idiot”

He felt his cheeks run hot, and a flash of anger was his only response to shame.

”I’m not an idiot!” Oh god, why was he shouting? That wasn’t supposed to come out as a shout. She was looking at him again, eyebrows raised.

”The pup has some fire in him at least.”

Gamond fumbled to find his composure, but found no purchase. He didn’t even know where to look, was her eyes appropriate? Certainly not further down. Maybe on her hair? It was very nice hair. Brown, but like a golden halo where the sun shone through behind her.

”Look, if you’re not going to help, could you go get someone?”

”I’m going to be a lord you know, you should mind your tone and not be so … so”

”So what?”

”Um.” He was looking at her again. He should stop that. Definitely stop that.

”Um, is it? Look, I really need help. Could you get over yourself and please come here?”

There was something in her voice, a sudden weakness beneath the bravado that twisted like a knife in his gut. He finally looked down, looked close. Her side was covered in blood. Suddenly all his anger was gone, fear a distant memory. He didn’t quite know how he got over to her through the thorns and twisted growth, he took her in his arms and lifted her like a child. She suddenly seemed much younger than before, his own age even.

”I know a woman in the village, she will help you. She will do as she is told.” The girl had lost her strength along with her heartsblood and did not answer.

As Gamond ran to Ludwell village the sun broke through the clouds over the grove. Where sunlight danced on wet pools of blood small white flowers opened their petals among the dead brambles.

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The Belt of Agenor
Summer 481

Battle_forest.png
’’So lad… Tell me what happened’’ Urien had been silently watching Maelgwyn fill up his tutors watercup; his eyes resting on the fresh linen bandage that adorned the squires chest. Maelgwyn sighted and sat down next to the broken man who barely contained his gloating when he heard Maelgwyn wince from the wound.

‘’Lord Elad decided that I should accompany him when he patrolled the western border.’’

‘’Why only you? Why didn’t he bring that little pale pup as well?’’ Urien spat out the last words. The only thing he loathed more than those stronger than him were those weaker.

‘’Lord Elad argued that since I had been sick during the feast I should help out more.’’

‘’Is that so? Who wouldn’t like to have that thin rascal by his side?’’ Maelgwyn sighted and ignored his tutors malicious glee.

‘’We were setting up camp when they fell upon us.’’

Did we win?

The water ran cool and clear over Maelgwyns chaffed hands as he filled the water skins. A few paces downstream the horses eagerly drank and Maelgwyn felt sympathy towards their thirst. Lord Elad had not deemed it necessary to take any longer breaks under the summer sun and as they entered the glade both men and horses were drawn to the water like bees to honey. To Maelgwyn it somehow felt strikingly communal: the entire party gathered around the flowing water, all equal in their thirst. There was of course still some hierarchy to the line of thirsty men and beast. First came a few squires, filling their water skins for the waiting knights, then a lines of soldiers and sergeants slobbering over the water like thirsty dogs and furthest downstream stood the panting horses who probably, mused Maelgwyn, had their own pecking order. But there was still something beautiful in the simple sight of all these men sharing water.

‘’Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ’’

Perhaps that was the way to live. To simply put your trust in the Lord and let Him provide for you. The scream cut off Maelgwyns line of thought and threw his world into chaos. The arrow hit the boy next to him with such force that the boy fell forwards into the water. The squire emerged screaming, clutching his chest as the clear water around him turned crimson. More arrows pierced the drinking and resting men and as the unwounded rose, fumbling after their spears and shields, the glen was filled with Saxon war cries. Maelgwyn threw himself forward and tried to grab the screaming boy but when he finally grasped the slippery hand it had turned limp; he left the boy floating in the lazy river as the panicked horses threw up torrents of crimson water around the small body. The sergeants and veterans had been able to arm themselves, their notched weapons never far of, but the newer recruits ran as fast as they could toward the camp scrambling for armor and arms. Maelgwyn had his sword in hand and shield firmly grasped, for Elad had made it clear to him that a knight must be ever vigilant, when he rushed towards the sound of battle further into the glen. The knights had formed a tight circle as they thrust and cut their way through the Saxon raiders and even though they were hopelessly outnumbered the battle seemed to be even so far. Some of the Saxons turned as the footmen came into the glen and soon the peaceful forest was full of screams and clangs. Maelgwyn was able to spot his Lords colors as he ran through the clearing, his feet finding unsure tract in the bloodied grass, but as he was about to join the footmen in their counter charge he heard a sound that made his blood run cold: the hammering of hooves. But Maelgwyns blood ran even colder when one of the riders veered of and with eyes almost as crazed as his mount came charging towards him. He couldn’t run; not only was his Lord in danger but wherever he looked he saw British men clashing with the fur clad Saxons. Instincts ruled in Maelgwyns mind as he threw his sword to the ground and pulled a spear from a screaming Saxon at his feet. The screaming underfoot stopped as he dug in his heels and tucked the spear underneath his arm, his unpainted shield ready to receive the Saxon lance. As he stood there the noise of the battle around him grew dim and time seemed to slow down. In that moment there was only his shield and his spear; nothing else. The lance splintered, as did Maelgwyns shield, but it still tore up a gash in the squires armor. But there was no time for pain, for at that moment he felt like he lost footing but then something deep inside him moved his feet so that his spear found its target. The Saxon warrior flew of his horse as the couched spear broke his ribs and ripped his innards. As the corpse of the raider joined those already lying in the grass Maelgwyn looked around the battlefield . Saxons and brits lay amongst each other, some dead some dying, and as Maelgwyn ran towards his Lord he wondered whatever good could ever come from this.

Our Heritage Obliges

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‘’After that I don’t remember much… I was able to come to Lord Elads side and assist him as we fought of the last of the raiders. He was content with my services and he… well… he said he was pleased with how I handled the rider.’’ The old man had listened patiently to the story, only now and then interrupting to ask for more details or to curse the heathens.

‘’Of course you handled it well! Not any thanks to your skills though.’’ Maelgwyn looked at the tutor in disbelief. He was used to Urien talking to him, and everyone, like they were nothing but gravel under his foot but this time Maelgwyn felt a tinge of anger from his wounded pride.

‘’I did thank the Lord, teacher.’’

‘’Satans piss are you ignorant! This was not the Lord, welp! It was that belt of yours. Take it off!’’ Maelgwyn merely looked at Urien, lost for words, but when he finally determined that the man was serious he removed his heavy sword belt and put it on the table.

‘’The leather has been replaced but the buckle and rivets are the same…’’

For the first time in many years Maelgwyn actually looked at the sword belt his father had given him. He had carried it for so long he had almost forgotten about it even though it weighed down his every step. It was an ornate piece of family history, as heavy as it was decorated. The buckle was beaten copper and carried an ancient lambda.

‘’The buckle was forged in the fires of Troy before those heathen kings of Achaea burned it to the ground… But each rivet carries its own history.’’ This was what made the belt so heavy, every inch of the belt was covered with different shapes and forms of bronze and iron, some carrying crude portraits or symbols while other had simple letters engraved on them.

‘’Each wearer studs it after their first battle… this was your fathers.’’ Urien moved his crooked fingers over the rivets and indicated a round piece of silver situated near the sword hoop. The little disc carried the engraved silhouette of a scale.

‘’Your father considered himself a Just man and thought he could embellish his legacy further.’’ Urien snorted and shook his head.

‘’Little good that did him when the Saxons cut him down… But at least he never fell.’’ And then, for the first time in many years Uriens voice softened as he spoke about their family legacy:

‘’This belt is that of the true Spartan warriors. They would never flee from a battle but stood their ground.’’ He put his hand upon Maelgwyns chest, painfully close to the aching wound.

‘’The blood of Sparta is in your veins, however diluted it might have become from years of neglectful breeding, and as long as this belt is on your hip you will always stand firm. That is the fate of the Tarrens: to die standing.’’ Uriens hand moved over the rivets as if he was stroking the scales of some large exotic fish and stopped at engraved silver plate just beneath the lamba.

‘’Agathon fastened this one when he was only seventeen years old: Hereditas nostra obliges. Our Heritage Obliges… Your father didn’t live by those words. But he did die for them.’’

View
The dead do not rest easy
Year 481

Brother

"What happened during the winter at Tisbury ? Well… it is not an easy tale to tell Sir." Cadry seemed reluctant to speak up, which for him was highly uncharacteristic. He looked pleadingly at Lord Amig and also spared an glance for his young nephew, Llyr.

Amig gazed directly at his squire and seemed to consider the evasive behavior. Narrowing his eyes, he finally spoke "Your uncle riding off to find his dead brothers corpse after all this time certainly demands an explanation and I can guarantee that the Count will demand one as well. So speak and make this an elaborate retelling, I do not want to have to drag the words out of you like I have to do with Melkin."

Straightening up and seeming to focus, Cadry started retelling the events of the winter gone by.

"It began with something that happened at the feast held in the honor of the three maids that had come visiting. The harpist Airla, the woman from Brittany, she sang a song of a hero called Fur and in that song it was mentioned the way the hero was supposed to be buried depending on whether he fell on the battlefield of if he died at home. As you know my lord, my family have always had our own traditions in regards to times of war and times of peace and the keeping of the dead?" Waiting for a confirming nod from Lord Amig, Cadry proceeded with his tale.

"Something about the mentioning of the burial details stuck with me during the summer and autumn. I asked our priestess and she said that something from the past was throwing a veil over the present but that she couldn’t ascertain any more details. I tried to ask the Old Man under the hill but he gave no answer."

A brief shudder shook Cadry as he considered what had happened next. "Perhaps Llyr should go and help his younger brother with his shores, Sir?" he said hesitantly.

Amig looked at his young son, who had remained quiet so far, and replied "My son is a page now and will have to learn to face whatever may come. Besides, this concerns his own family through his mother and he should get more acquainted with the stranger aspects of this world and the next."

Nodding his understanding, Cadry forged ahead into the darker parts of the narrative. "Everything changed on Samhain eve. We celebrated as usual at Tisbury by dousing all the fires when night approached so the dead wouldn’t see the light and linger in our house. When it had grown dark outside we sat in the hall, remembering and telling tales about the ones who had gone before. There was something eerie over the whole proceeding and everyone was on edge. When the hour of the wolf approached we heard a loud voice outside shouting and screaming. Me and uncle Corwyn went outside but told the others to stay inside and to keep the door shut."

Pausing and drink a little from his mug of beer, the young squire could see that his nephew was sitting on the edge of his seat with his eyes wide open. With a small sigh Cadry composed himself and continued "When we look up at the burial hill we could see two vague outlines of two men. They were giving of a faint light and they stood facing each other. Carefully walking closer, I could tell that one of the men was Ol’ Tiss himself and my uncle whispered that the other man was his brother. His dead brother, Garren. Uncle Garren was the only one speaking or rather shouting. He demanded that Ol’Tiss let him pass through the gate in the hill so he could go to the otherlands. The old man underneath the hill remained quiet however and just met the gaze of the spectre. Finally uncle Garren pulled his ghostly blade and swung at Ol’Tiss…"

Cadry looked Amig straight in the eyes and said "Sir, I am going to have to ask you to swear not reveal what I tell you to anyone outside of our family." Amig didn’t hesitate for a second "You have my word that I will not speak of what you tell next. Now go on."

"I can hardly believe what I saw, but the blade wounded Ol’Tiss, my lord! When seeing the wound on the old man something irrational came over me and uncle Corwin and we knew that we couldn’t allow this to happen. Without thinking we put ourselves between the two ghostly forms and I thought that uncle Corwin or myself would surely be struck down. Fortunately for us, uncle Garren stopped his blade mid stroke and seemed to recognize his brother. Seeing a chance to stop this madness, uncle Corwin told me to draw my blade and sprinkle some of my blood at the feet of the specter. That quick thinking on my uncle’s part proved to be a life saver for suddenly the ghost couldn’t move forward anymore and everything was deadly still."

Shuddering at the memory something haunted came over Cadry but he kept speaking nonetheless "Uncle Garren spoke in a hollow voice and said that he couldn’t rest for he was not buried properly and then he started fading away. Before he was completely gone however, uncle Corwin swore to him that he would find out what had happened to him and retrieve his remains so that Garren could rest. When I looked at Ol’Tiss I could see him nod as if to say that he had heard Corwins oath and that he approved. So what drove uncle Corwin to ride of was a Geas. He must find his brother or die trying or he will be cursed. He told me that I must somehow regain the right for our priests and priestesses to bury our dead in Tisseberrie hill while he is gone so that uncle Garren can rest with my father and our ancestors."

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The mysterious oil lamp
Year 481

fire

Early autumn wreathed Vagon castle in fog. Content Not Found: gammond stood the wall, staring into the obiquitous midnight murk. Sleep had, as was often the case, been rudely interrupted by intrusive memory and he had sought solitude. Such was not to be had however, as Melkin appeared on the wall beside him, announced at length by the sound of boot on stone.

“Another bad dream is it?” asked Melkin and sat down on the wall next to Gamond. “How are you feeling?”

Gamond rubbed his eyes and ground his teeth audibly, at length managing a curt “Mmh. I’m fine”

Melkin shook his head. “You’re not. Tell me about it.”

Gamond sighed. The usually timid Melkin could be surprisingly stubborn one on one.

“The usual. Just vague impressions, blood, death. Screams. And the smell of smoke everywhere. Smoke has been appearing more often lately, I think. I don’t know.”

Melkin studied his comrade for a short moment and then looked out over Vagon. “Your dreams has often been quite horrid,” he said and gave Gamond a well intentioned smile. “You were tossing and turning for quite some time before you woke, you know.”

Gamond looked vaguely guilty. “Didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“I don’t mind,” Melkin said laughing. “I just wanted to check on you.” Melkin himself rarely dreamt at all, and didn’t remember the night when their fathers had died which had spared him the nightmares.

Gamond nodded, stared at his hands.

“How can it feel so real when it’s that vague? I could almost smell burning.”

Melkin was about to answer him, but suddenly looked out towards the yard with an expression of alarm on his face. “Not just in your dream… something is burning,” he exclaimed. “There,” he shouted and pointed at the stables where light suddenly flared.

“Our lords’ horses!” Gamond stared down and jumped, hit the roof of a storehouse hard, scooted across, and dropped down into the yard heading for the well.

“Gamond, no! Use your cloak,” shouted Melkin and ran into the stables drenching the heavy cloth in the horses’ trough as he continued to shout: “Fire!”

Gamond stared wildly after his friend, a bucket in each hand. “Cloak?” Dropping the buckets, he sprinted cross the yard and skid to a halt next to the trough. Remembering himself, he bellowed “FIIIIRE” and bodily heaved the trough off the ground, carrying it inside.

High pitched screaming horses, black smoke and a fierce kicking rang through the stables as Gamond entered. Melkin was in the middle of the chaos snuffing out some of the spreading fire using his wet cloak a barrier towards the flames.

“We need to get the horses out!”

Gamond stared at the wet cloak on the ground, making a straight line across which the flames were slow to spread. Thankful for his friends’ quick thinking he set the trough on the stable floor and threw his own cloak and tunic into it, throwing them, wet and dripping, at Melkin.

The rest of Vagon was waking up but the shouts outside could rarely be heard over the roaring chaos. While Melkin fought the flames Gamond tried to think of a way to get the most important horses, the chargers, out. Forcing each enclosure separately would take too long.

On the very edge of the row, a thick pole supported the weight of the rest of the spars. That is what Gamond threw his size and strength upon, and the entire row toppled, crushing the back legs of one of the horses, but freeing the rest to stampede out the door.

Melkin just barely managed to jump out of the way of the panicking horses as they charged for the exit.He saw his own hourse run past him with it’s mane on fire, and felt the stench of burning flesh. The fire wasn’t spreading in their direction for now, but they needed to get out.

Almost realising the consequences of stampeding horses too late, Gamond hid behind the second row of boxes as the horses careened past. More people were now converging on the stables, entering as soon as the opening cleared to help get horses out and fight the fire. Gamond pulled Maelgwyn’s kicking and contrary rouncey out, barely avoiding its’ ire.

Thanks to the swift work of the assembling crowd the remaining horses were removed from the stables and the fire contained. Half of the stables brunt down before the fire was put out, but the majority of the horses were saved from the flames. Melkin and Gamond stood next to each other covered in soot as the first rays of the sun shed light on the blackened courtyard.

Gamonds horse had been found burnt to death near the back of the stables. “Lord chompy”, his childhood companion, was no more. Amig and Elad, having arrived some time earlier to oversee the proceedings, were not best pleased, a broken and twisted oil lamp had been found among the wet debris.

Gamond poked among the black muck. “We’re lucky it was autumn and damp, and not in summer.”

“Indeed,” said Melkin shivering while anxiously looking over at Amig and Elad. “I wonder why there would be an oil lamp in the stables in the middle of the night. We… didn’t leave one did we?”

They looked at each other, none of them could have been that careless, could they? But who, then? One of the other squires, or was something more nefarious afoot?

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Getting there
Year 481

Caravan.png

On the road

Melkin respected and revered lord Amig in many ways and had done so ever since he was very small. Amig was an excellent swordsman, a dutiful knight both prudent and trusting, qualities that Melkin wished to have for himself in the long run. Between him and his stepbrother, Cadry had always been closer to Amig than Melkin was. There were many reasons for this. They were both proud, they were both pagans and also Amig was married to Cadry’s sister which connected them by blood. Amig and Cadry did talk a lot and Melkin liked to listen in on their conversations, but did not contribute to their discussions very often. The fact that Melkin had been raised as a modest christen was probably why Amig over the years decided to go riding alone with Melkin from time to time, during which Melkin normally was more outspoken.

This was such an occasion, when Cadry had been given an assignment and Melkin got to accompany Amig alone.

“Tell me Melkin,” said Amig as they were riding slowly past a round hill, “what do you think about Gamond and Maelgwyn?”

“I would say that they complement each other,” Melkin answered slightly surprised by the question. “They are both motivated, but where Gamond is angry Maelgwyn is calm and they have different strengths that make them a good team.”

“A better team than you and Cadry?”

“That is fully possible, at least when Gamond isn’t too hungry or tired, but on the other hand Cadry could give them both a challenge having many strong qualities that both makes him an excellent fighter and a good hunter.”

Amig waited for a second before calmly continuing:

“And what about yourself?”

A bit uneasy Melkin tried to sound confident.

“Well, Cadry is my brother and I know how to work alongside of him. I… am more strategic than he is and… more remissive which is why we don’t fight so much and why it’s mostly me breaking up the fights between the others.”

“Yet you were fighting with Maelgwyn over a certain maid recently,” commented Amig and his voice had that certain tone of disappointment in it that only Amig could muster.

“I… we… didn’t fight my lord, over her… or at all really. We were mostly being… very confused about the situation.”

Melkin stuttered trying not to grow red. Amig had not let go of the sudden letter from lord Daleshome about of how both Melkin and Maelgwyn were supposedly courting his daughter. Even though Maelgwyn had managed to explain to lord Elad that Aneria seemed to have jumped to conclusions about whether Melkin and Maelgwyn were intent on marrying the girl, Melkin wasn’t as innocent as the fellow squire. Thus Amig made sure to remind Melkin about the situation which, every single time, embarrassed Melkin greatly.

“I wasn’t intent on courting her, my lord,” Melkin promised. “I just… tried to talk to her, with some confidence,” he added eventually.

“You are certainly awkward when you try. At your age you shouldn’t be this uncomfortable talking to women,” noted Amig and Melkin knew that his blush was showing… again.

“It’s just… I always seem to mess up around them.”

The comment actually made Amig laugh, but it wasn’t a laugh completely filled with distain. There was some part of amusement in it.

“That is a truth if I ever heard one. But,” continued Amig thoughtfully, ”you are not the first one with that problem. Mistakes have been made around women before your time even by me once or twice.”

“Really?” said Melkin unable to believe it.

“These are of course situations of which I won’t tell you,” Amig added seeing Melkin’s hopeful face. “But it can be tricky for a young man to interact with a young woman as you yourself have proven. I will now give you an important advice about talking to women that you should consider from now on.”

“What advice, my lord?”

“Know when to walk away.”

The one legged man

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“We are going to meet a kin of yours who fought in the battle of Bedegraine, and then escort him to Hindon,” said Amig when Melkin finally asked him where they were going.

Getting the feeling that this answer somehow was a test Melkin asked: “Has he been injured?”

“He has,” answered Amig and studied Melkin. “Much like yourself he now has a wound that restrains his movement.”

Melkin’s hand instinctively touched his wound. His neck movement had been reduced after the rat bite, and he could no longer turn his head as far to the left as before. He wondered what had happened to the man they were about to meet.

By noon that day they reached the camp where Victus, a cousin of Melkin’s father Bryn, was waiting for them. Seeing him Melkin realised that the man was old, probably in his 50s, and also why he hadn’t been moved earlier. Victus had lost a leg in the battle and with that his life as a household knight had ended.

“Come close boy so I can take a look at you,” said Victus and got up on one elbow despite the severe injury.

Melkin sat down on the edge of the bed next to the man.

“You have your fathers eyes,” noted Victus with a squint.

“So I’ve heard,” said Melkin. “How’s you leg?”

“Gone,” muttered the man, “but it didn’t take me with it and that is always something.”

During their journey to Hillfort Melkin tended to the old man’s injury. It was still a severe one and Melkin had to be very careful handling it. Even though Victus was in great pain he seemed to be rather positive for a man who recently lost his leg and source of earning. Melkin was impressed with the old man.

“How do you keep your spirit up,” he asked one night when Victus seemed to be in an especially good mood and Melkin was redressing the wound.

“Oh, you see my boy, when you’re as old as me you know that you might lose just about any part of your body if you’re not careful enough. And I was never a very careful man.” He chuckled at his own joke.

“But, you cannot fight any longer, does that not make you, well, sad?”

“It does,” Victus admitted, “but I’ve always been good with my hands so I’m glad I didn’t lose them, and I would like to be so bold as to say that my head is especially good, for me at least, and that I’m relieved I didn’t lose it either.”

The lesson

When they had left the old Victus in the hands of Doged at Hindon, Melkin was in deep thought. He knew that he probably would be the lord of the grounds soon enough, and then the old man would be his responsibility. He would have liked to talk more with Victus about the battles he had fought in, of his father and many other things, but Victus had needed his rest and had sometimes been unable to talk because of the pain.

“What do you think of sir Victus,” asked Amig who seemed to have observed Melkin for quite some time.

“He is a curious man,” said Melkin thoughtfully. “He seems to be content with his situation, even though he won’t be able to run or climb ever again.”

“Are you saying that he shouldn’t be?”

“Well, no, I just think he would be upset to be crippled that’s all.”

“Are you thinking that he is useless now when he can’t walk?”

“No, of course not!” answered Melkin taken aback by the question. “He said he was good with his hands, which is always useful, and he has a lot of knowledge about war, and fighting, which I certainly need more of. He will be a great asset to the household sharing his knowledge.”

Amig looked at him for a long moment and sighed.

“You do have a way of seeing the strengths in others while only your own weaknesses. One could say it is both a curse and a blessing, depending on the situation. Now, answer me this Melkin. If Victus, broken as his body is, isn’t useless why are you intent on thinking this about yourself?”

“I don’t think…” Melkin began fumbling with the words.

“Don’t even try it,” snapped Amig. “Answer me squire!”

Melkin met his lords stern look and said hesitantly:

“Honestly, I don’t know, my lord. I guess… it’s something that I‘ve taught myself.”

“Why?” Amig’s face was still hard, and Melkin felt defeated by the question. He shrugged.

“So I would work harder, I think. But I don’t really know anymore.”

Frowning, Amig rode up close to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Then stop it, you hear me? You put the blame of each situation mostly on yourself, even when that is not the case. You should be aware of your weaknesses but not focus on them. What you are is inexperienced, not weak. You need to speak up for yourself, I have told you this before.”

The lecture was both unexpected and unusual. Melkin’s thoughts went back to Maelgwyn’s discussion with Elad about Aneria. If Maelgwyn hadn’t spoken up about her Melkin himself would have been in an even worse situation by now. He was truly thankful that Maelgwyn had done what he himself couldn’t. At the same time he felt a stab for telling lord Amig about Brangwen and Cadry’s feelings for her. It surely was a mess altogether, all because he hadn’t told lord Amig about the misunderstanding right away. Realising that this also was putting the blame mostly on himself again Melkin met his lord’s gaze.

“I will speak up, my lord,” he promised with determination. “I cannot let my own silence stain the honour of my friends, family or lord any longer. I will mend my ways.”

Lord Amig’s grip on Melkin’s shoulder tightened.

“Of Elad’s squires and mine you are the one who have grown the most over the past years,” he said looking serious. “I am confident that the training I have given you has made you strong, and that you can use that head of yours to become a capable knight, once you actually start using it.”

A compliment from Amig was rare and Melkin felt pride grow in his chest from the praise. The last journey was easy and as they rode into the grounds of Castle Boarders Melkin felt himself riding with a bit more of a straightened back.

Fealty lord: +1
First aid: +1

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Some more words between brothers
Year 481

Brothers

A few days had passed since the grand feast at the Rock and things had settled down a bit. The life of a squire was never easy but often dull and today was certainly that. Lord Amig had left early the same morning bringing one of his other squires with him, which had left Cadry to his own devices during the evening after having attended to his shores. Lately Cadry had been in a introspective and distant mood which for him was a completely new experience. Many of his thoughts were focused on the future: becoming a knight, being lord of a manor, earning fame and fortune and most of all the thoughts of marrying. This last thought was also the most perplexing since before last year no woman ever caught Cadry’s fancy for long and were soon forgotten. Brangwen had however proved quite different. It was not just that she was more beautiful to his eyes than any other woman but also the fact that she was a mystery and always made sure that every encounter happened on her terms.

Ponderings these thoughts, Cadry had slipped off to a secluded spot in one of the pantries to avoid being forced to do more boring shores. No one really knew about the loose shelves that could be pushed to the sides except for him and his little brother.

“I thought I’d find you here,” said Melkin as he pulled the shelves close behind him smiling. “How long have you been slacking off for?”

Caught off guard, Cadry jumped to his feet and banged his head on the shelf right above him. “Ow!” Glaring at his little brother he replied: “Who’s slacking? I have already done all I was supposed to. When did you get done or are you the one sneaking off dodging the Steward?”

Melkin made a face. “He seems to think that I work for him now ever since I served that wine at the feast. I look forward to going to Castle Borders again.”

“I mostly look forward to going home to Tisbury for my part.” Sighing a bit Cadry moved over to make room for Melkin. “I miss the forest” he said with a wistful look in his eyes.

“The forest,” said Melkin and studied his brother’s face carefully, “or her?”

Looking a bit annoyed and embarrassed over the fact that he apparently wore his feelings and thoughts on his face. “Well, I am complex and can miss many things at the same time. Missing ones home and missing a pretty woman are one and the same to many men”.

“True,” said Melkin, “if they are married, but you don’t seem to get this woman out of your head. I dare say you have fallen so hard for her that you’ve hit your head on the ground and lost your wits.”

“O ho, I think me that my brother sharpened his tongue on a whetstone this morning, for his words cut straight to the heart of the matter.” Looking a bit unhappy, Cadry sighed and leaned back. “You are of course correct. That woman has taken my heart into her keeping and she did it merely with a glance, a smile and a song. If I didn’t know better I would say that she was a faerie or an enchantress.” Scratching his head he continued, “I do know better fortunately but that doesn’t change how I feel”.

Melkin sat down next to his brother and looked at him. “She sure seems to have put a spell on you, but why not just tell her how you feel then? I mean it’s hardly like she’d say no, now is it? You are used to women, of course she will like you.”

Cadry looked exasperated and quickly retorted " I have told her but she merely smiles at me and then deflect the conversation to other matters. I don’t even know where she is from, not even that does she tell me. It’s infuriating and frustrating and annoying…." Cadry’s sentence faded out into nothing but he seemed feeling something rather different that what he had claimed.

“… and you like it,” concluded Melkin. “I see. Well, in that case you will have to win her heart. Sing her a song, read her a poem or bring her flowers, girls like flowers right?”

“Normally I would agree but in this case I feel like I know nothing. I feel like all my certainty is gone which I must say is a novel feeling. Is this how you usually feel around girls?”

Melkin cleared his throat and gave his brother a sideway look. “Yes, welcome to my world, you big handsome jackass. That is exactly how I feel around girls and,” he added, “probably how they feel around you except for this one.”

A slight glimmer of understanding flashed in Cadry’s eyes but quickly died again. “Well that must be exhausting” he said showing some sympathy but little true understanding. “It really should be easier: you meet someone, you love someone and then you make a life with someone.” Gathering up his thoughts he pressed on to a different subject to leave the one that made him uncomfortable behind. “There is something else I have been thinking about”, he said solemnly.

“You’re being exhausting,” muttered Melkin to himself and then added: “How’s your head doing?”

Missing the hidden barb directed at him, Cadry kept going: " My head is doing fine but that wasn’t what I meant. I was thinking about the day of the feast." Looking slightly ashamed he stroked his beard and glanced over at his brother. “We should have stuck together like we always do. Maybe things would have turned out differently” he said and looked at the still healing wound on Melkin’s neck. "I should also have turned around during the horserace last year instead of just staring forward and trying to win. If Gamond hadn’t been there you might have died in that damn cursed river. I just can’t seem to have the same overview or perspective that you and Amig seem to have. " Lowering his head Cadry for once looked truly ashamed and dejected.

Looking at his brother with a surprised expression on his face Melkin felt he had to object: “It wasn’t your fault,” he said loudly. “I fell into the water trying to ride after you, and the rat…” he touched his healing wound. “That was just me making a fool out of myself. If you cannot trust me to kill a rat even with Gamond, then I’m really no good at all.”

Looking unconvinced, Cadry looked straight at his brother and seemed to consider his words. “Be that as it may, but we are supposed to take care of each other and you seem to be the one who does most of that work. I just run ahead and forget that others depend on me just as much as I depend on them. If you and Maelgwyn and Gamond hadn’t been there for me then where would I be by now? Probably dead is where I would be.” Breathing in he kept going “We are going to be knights soon and if we can’t keep an eye on each other we are going to get killed because some lousy saxon manages to sneak up behind us and stab us in the back with a dagger or spear or something else.”

Melkin knew when his brother was serious. It wasn’t all too often but when Cadry really meant something he would prove it in blood if needed be. The passion in Cadry’s eyes almost always filled Melkin with the same feelings of unity and so he was swept away by his brother’s words. “We will not let any saxon cut us down!” he said fiercely. “Together we are strong, and if keep together we will only get stronger. We will do things that would have made our fathers proud, and we too will be remembered!”

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