Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

A last conversation between brothers
495

A last conversation between brothers

“By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb;
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath taken thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes,
But lo! These gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell,
Take them, all drenched with a brother’s tears,
And brother, for all time, hail and farewell.”

Dark is the day and dark is the mind. Dark is the future and without leaders we stand blind. Here I sit on a lonely graveside staring through the rain that falls on my brothers grave.
Gone is the sad, pale boy that so dearly want to follow his older brother out into the woods.
Gone is the shy, young man who stared at the painted and masked girls on Beltaine, even though his chaplain tried to beat into him that it was a sin.
Gone is the squire who tried pleasing everybody even at the cost of himself.
Gone is the knight who found his courage and became one of the bravest men that walked this earth.
Gone is the lord with dreams of a grand roman heritage for his descendants.
Gone is my brother and my dearest friend!

I miss you so much my little brother, my baby brother. I tried as best as I could to keep you safe from the evils of this world. I promised mother that I would. Our father made no such request but I think he knew what awaited both you and me the day we were sent off to become squires. I think he knew that we would in all likelihood die on a battlefield somewhere just like our fathers before us. And now you rest here beside your father and mother and brothers. I hope that you are at peace no matter where you have ended up. I dearly hope that your Saint Alban has seen you safe to a good afterlife whether it be in the land of the young or up in the heavens. If he hasn’t, him and I will have words when it is my time to go, and he will have to talk fast.

All my close kin are now dead. In a way I am glad that mother died last year, I don’t think her heart would have borne it if she had to put you in a grave while she still lived. I wouldn’t have been able to explain how we could win the day at St Albans with you at the helm carrying us through one of the harshest battles I have ever witnessed, yet we lost at the end of the day because we didn’t expect the treachery of the saxons even though they have proven what they are capable of again and again.

If I still had my favor from Merlin I would have called him then and there and I would have asked him to spare you above all others. Before Kings, dukes, counts and barons. I would have gladly ignored them all even if it was in my power to spare them if it had meant that I could save you.

I fear that grief would have struck me mad if it were not for Brangwen’s soft voice telling me to grieve and let it all out. She tells me that it is what I must do and then I must don my blade once again and I must be strong for Salisbury now stands weak and excepting Lord Amig and Sir Maelgwyn, no strong men remain in the service of our beloved homeland.

Brangwen is wise in a way that is beyond many other, be they lords or commoners. She is right. I will leave my tears here in your keeping brother, that and a part of my heart. Maybe one day I will come back and retrieve them. Remember me in another life beloved brother for I will not see you again in this one.

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May it be like a cloak wrapped about him
year 494

Saint_Alban_s_cloak.png

Not knowing what to else do Melkin held her. The night surrounded them, but Melkin knew that Nest was awake. She was still shaking. Melkin thought he had known, truly known, that childbirth wasn’t an easy task, but had he really? After experiencing his first wife dying in labour, he had learned to dread it. After lady Nest’s many births of their daughters, he had learned to love it. Tonight he had learned to mourn it.

They had been outside. The children had been playing whilst lady Nest were sewing in the late summer sun. Melkin had been training with his new squire, a younger relative to him that someday wished to become a knight. The day had been beautiful and Melkin had been feeling better even though the scar from the hillman’s axe was still an angry read line across his back. Having been so close to death this year Melkin had really been appreciating being back home at Hindon.

Melkin had been in the middle of explaining to Mendred the proper use of the boy’s shield when lady Nest screamed. Turning to her, Melkin had only seen the blood-filled water that had covered lady Nest’s dress. She had only been in her fifth month.

Now, Melkin hugged her and tried not to think about the unnamed girl who had been born. It had been so very small, and there had been nothing to do for it. Nest was clearly not feeling well, hugging her abdomen and shaking silently. Then, she suddenly loosened his hands around her and moved away from him.

“Won’t you let me help carry your pain?” Melkin asked, feeling the rejection.

She lay quiet and unmoving, not answering. Melkin sighed and rolled over onto his back and gave out a muffled groan as he accidentally put pressure on the healing wound.

“She was my daughter too,” he said then, “and I know you think I do not care but I do.”

“You think you know the pain of having lost a child?” Nest said turning towards him. He could see her eyes in the dark. They almost seemed to be glowing.

“I have lost two,” he answered.

“_Indeg_ wasn’t yours,” she murmured about to turn away from him again.

“She was,” Melkin argued giving his wife a sidelong look. “As much as Cadry is my brother and Cerys is my mother. She might not had been mine alone, but she was my daughter.”

Nest’s eyes narrowed. For a moment Melkin was unsure what she was going to do. Her face looked determined in a way he had never seen it before. Then, she suddenly slid her arms onto his chest putting more pressure onto the newly healed wound. Melkin groaned again, feeling angry at this sudden behaviour.

“If that pain never leaves you,” said Nest and pushed harder. “Then you know mine.”

As much as anything it was a reflex, and Melkin put his arms around her and drew her full weight on top of him.

“Then lie here my lady,” he grunted pulling her firmly against him, “and let me know your pain.”

She struggled for half a moment, but Melkin saw the surprised look on her face. He held her in place, and she soon grew still, her head on his shoulder. It was a battle of wills but after about an hour her breath finally deepened and slowed.

There had been good moments between them, “hadn’t there?” Melkin thought as the pain in his back grew worse still. They had been married for eight years, almost as long as Cadry and Brangwen, and while Melkin didn’t love Nest in any way near as madly as Cadry loved Brangwen, he cared for his wife. Sometimes, he felt that maybe Nest’s happiest moments had been when she had been staying with the monks at Saint Evasius Abbey, away from Hindon, away from him. He knew he shouldn’t have asked her to kill him. It hadn’t been right, but Melkin had been sick and he had thought that she might actually do it. He had wronged her and it definitely hadn’t improved their marriage.

Melkin didn’t know when it had happened, but sometime amongst his thought, he must have fallen asleep. He heard his name being called from far away and he opened his eyes. The Roman Villa surrounded him, but somehow this wasn’t a surprise at all. Melkin found himself following he path that he had walked years before in another dream. A familiar staircase took him down in spirals and then out into the Perilous forest. There was no flutter of wings, no crow this time to lead the way, but Melkin knew where to go.

He walked slowly while his surroundings gradually changed from late summer to autumn. When he finally arrived at the round ominous lake the first snowflakes started to fall around him. There was no ice. The lake lay open as a round black mirror. The wounded back hurt worse in the cold and Melkin decided against going into the dark waters even though he felt drawn in that direction. There was no hurry. Instead he stood by the water edge, waiting.

No wind blew, all was quiet.

Then, a tall man appeared on the other side. He removed his shoes and as he took his first step out unto the unmoving water a soft light seemed to come of his body.

“Saint Alban”, Melkin thought as he kneeled before the other man. It had to be. He knew in it heart that it was so, and he felt safe. As safe as the last time they had met here by the murky waters.

“You called me,” Melkin said when the man had passed over to him.

“Yes,” said the other man in a warm and soft voice, “Years ago I asked you to come here, and you have fulfilled your promise to do so.” Gently the tall man loosened the fastener. “Now, hard times are afoot,” he continued while tenderly sliding his druid cloak around Melkin’s shoulders, “and therefore I will lend you this.”

As the cloak touched Melkin’s back he felt as if all his worries was lifted from his heart. His sorrows were lifted, his pain removed and his chest filled with purpose.

“Tell me Melkin,” said the tall man leaning down kissing Melkin on his forehead, “do you remember?”

“I do.” Melkin woke from his own voice uttering the words. He stared up into the roof above him. He did not, in fact, remember whatever it was that Saint Alban had asked him about, and he didn’t know why he had said that he did. Lying in the bed though, he felt light, as if some indefinable burden had been cut loose. He felt like a useful knife, or a good sword that had been sharpened.

His gaze dropped to his wife who still sleeping on his shoulder.

“If that pain never leaves you…” he murmured. At least her shaking had stopped.

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The Crow and the Raven
Winter 494

raven

Down below, upon meadow and hill, wood, fen and marsh, the Saxon came. Beneath their feet, the land writhed. He smashed into them, charger snorting and kicking. Turning a spear thrust on his shield, hacking down to part arm from torso. And again, and again. At his side, Maelgwyn fought like a man possessed. Between them, the dead made the ground trecherous. Ahead, a bannerman, howling wordless hate and hoisting tattered standard. He cut both down. From upon the pole, a raven flew, circling up. It would never be enough. The ground grew dim, and was swallowed by a rising tide.

For one who had inspired such dread, his remains were pitiful. Rusted and torn chainmail, dented shield and withered man beneath. Gamond paid the corpse no mind, It was calling. In his chest, the empty sucking hole left by Anwyns passing sang in tune with the siren call of the black blade, Heartless.

He was lost, lost in mist and elusive shadow. Ahead, somewhere down a winding path, stood he himself. Bent over a broken shape, reaching. The crow crowed, warbling, sharp. It flew. The mist shifted with it, flowed ahead.

He knelt before a young man with solemn eyes, clad in ochre and blue. Around his own shoulders, a cloak of Anarawd red bisected by the same stripe pattern as the young mans badge. He rose, turned, and walked into the circle left by his peers. His sword, plain, old and worn by use rasped free of its scabbard. He would speak with the champion there, until that champion could speak no more.

A harsh caw, muted by fog. The Raven lurked. His overhand stroke, caught by an upturned shield that gleamed metal and colour far away to the side was lost to his eye in the murk.

He strode down a path wreathed in fire. On either side, houses stood alight. Fallen bodies on the ground, bearded and savage. Ahead, the weeping of women and children, and a desperate last stand by old men. He smiled, showing red stained teeth. Where he and Heartless sang as one, death followed.

Cawing, like laughter. The raven lifted off a carcass nailed to the wall of Ludwell, fleeing the thick smoke of burning houses. Were they saxon, or Cymric? Did it matter? He smiled, showing red stained teeth.

The crow struck, black feathers flying, savage beaks stabbing. The Raven brought down and both swallowed by the grey sea. He himself, standing among the ashes of the Anarawd, laughing at the death of legacy, swallowed with them. Lost to sight.

He did not know where to go. All around rose shapes of men and circumstance, isles of meaning in this labyrinth of possibility. In all of them, death lingered. Brave Tarquin, snared in fae lands, slowly losing himself. There Gamond strode bold, carrying the boy onto forlorn shore. Here he left his squire to languish, pleased to hoist his own fate upon another. He reached for the bolder path, and it slipped as smoke through his fingers.

The crow perched over the raven, matted blood in its feathers, wing askew. The raven weakly flapping, dying. And laughing. Cawing, now all around. In shadow the deeper black of Ravens’ eyes gleamed. Thousands, the beat of their wings stirring the mist.

He woke, and burned. The fever stole most of the winter.

For all the misfortune of that year, one achievment brought the Lord of Ludwell solace. That autumn he had ridden to Sutton, and had spoken long as a guest to the lord of that manor. Gorfydd was a man possessed of many qualities Gamond lacked, and had agreed to ride with him to kill the Saxons in autumn. No longer alone, this could be the first step toward achieving a long held ambition.

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The Death of Innocence
Winter 494

Nightmares.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

whisper.png

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

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

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Mending the cracks in the ice
Winter 493

ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A fools errand
493

A fools errand

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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The Great Hunt
493

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

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

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

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

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

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

A record of Gamond, father of Cyn

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

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

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

In the year of our lord 492, Berth

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would kill thousands to keep you safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.

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The architect and the cook
Winter 492

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Decay and renewal
492

Decay and renewal

Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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