Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

The Fall
A.D 489

The Fall

[Warning for sensitive readers]

The orchard stood in full bloom, grown to overflow the crest of the immense hill southwest of Ludwell. The red, pink and white silhouette was visible for miles in the afternoon sun, a ubiquitous mark of the Anarawd in hillfort.

Gamond strode up the hillside and stepped into the sun-dappled shade beneath the boughs, breath calming as his mind and olfactory senses were eased by the elusive scent of the flowers. Beside him, Prince Meliodas drew a deep breath and sighed.

It is wondrous Sir Ludwell. A remarkable place. That scent, it is unfamiliar. Not something from the trees of Lyonesse or Cornwall I take it?

Gamond smiled, nodding “ Thank you your highness. I don’t think so, Gusg could explain it, I think. It has something to do with the wild trees planted in the heart of the orchard.

" Just Sir Meliodas, please. I should very much like to see them

They walked in silence, undisturbed along natural pathways among the trees, worn by peasant feet during ever more plentiful harvests. Gamond, as always, found solace here, and though he was usually alone during these walks he found that the Prince of Lyonesse was one whose company he did not mind. Eventually, the red heart of the orchard emerged, surrounded to the east by white, and to the west by reddish to pale pink. Meliodas cast his eye all around as they walked deeper, stopping several times to touch the bark and smell the flowers.

No fruit yet ” said Gamond, a mix of disappointment and tension making gravel of his voice. A dead tree stood deeper in, rotting from the inside. It would be replaced come autumn, fresh shoots from the grove within Modron placed in its stead in forest earth.

These trees show great promise for something so wild, they will provide

I hope so. ” Gamond paused, weighing his next words carefully. He had rehearsed what to say ever since the prince appeared at Tisbury, yet now he did not know how to express his meaning. It was always so. Frustrated, he decided to simply speak plain.

Sir Meliodas. My son, I would very much like to see him grow up with you and yours ”.

The princes’ eyebrows turned a V of surprise. “ Sir Ludwell, that is… very irregular. I cannot…
I know it is. Your highness, sir, Sir Meliodas. I am not a good man. ”

Now surely Lord Ludwell you cannot say…

Gamond gave the visibly discomfited prince a long, flat stare. “ Please, listen.

As afternoon wore towards evening, Gamond spoke and the prince listened. A story sometimes livid and lifelike, sometimes told in brief statements burdened by emotion and meaning, and full of oppressive silences. Of a blade bound to the heart of the Anarawd, of fell betrayal and the unforgivable crime of a murdered sister, of the loss of a father. Of a destiny turned dark, the blade a lodestone drawing what was once good inexorably toward evil.

… the blade must be reclaimed, turned back to good. To save my family. I know this, and I know I am not the man to do it. But my son, my son could be. He needs to be raised by a good, true man. You, Sir, are closest to the heart of the Anarawd that I have known ”.

The sun had sunk beneath the crest of the hill in the west, and the evening slowly grew chill.

Meliodas, touched by the tale and caught in his modestly, eventually replied. His own private anguish turned his voice sour “ I am not so good. Many days… many days are bitter. My peers are often bad men who are cheered for their whims, celebrated for vanity and casual cruelty.” The moment passed, and Meliodas sighed, his expression softening. “And yet, I am who I am ”.

" _ Regardless of your personal opinion, Meliodas, it is that perseverance and the values of your kin and family in Lyonesse that I admire_. ”

Meliodas said nothing for a while. “ I must think of this, Gamond. I cannot answer you now.

it is good enough.

Summer had been good. He had several new scars, round arrow spots, but pain and injury was nothing new. He floated on his back in the river, in his favourite spot. Late summer heat shimmered above the surface. A fawn looked up as he lazily drifted past, ears clipping. Calm. The animal did not even bolt.

Anwyn hadn’t shot him. She had him in her sight, her brothers’ life at stake, and she had not let the arrow fly. She loved him. Gamonds heart beat warm and slow, soft with uncommon emotion. He would argue her case if any was made against her, argue with the only language he knew well, the iron word. Her brother was a thorny problem, but one that would be solved the same way. He would make the final argument of blood and settle it, one way or another.

He closed his eyes, thoughts content and fuzzy. Anwyn was pregnant. She had said she could not be, that she had taken precautions, and yet it was so. More than ever, he was happy for the news. A son of her blood and his would be a strong, fierce warrior. His line would continue, no matter Meliodas eventual decision. He knew it would be a son, of course it would be, and he would finally be the father who loved, and was loved in turn. Perhaps that hideous pull the blade of hate had on his family had finally abated.

The cold stung his face, leaving some of every breath frozen in his beard. The two torches set in sconces on the wall and two candles burning on the altar cast the chapel in fay flickering light.

Still, he felt warm, wrapped in heavy furs and dreams of the future. A future where the Saxons were no more, driven into the sea. Holy father, let it be so. A future with family, his family. Strong sons and daughters with Anwyns eyes, the envy of maidens across the land. Oh lord, hear my prayer. He would marry her; he had known it in his heart since autumn. It would be his gift to her once the judicial nonsense was taken care of. They would be together.

He sighed, snuggled deeper into the furs, He had retreated to the chapel once Anwyns time was upon her, his presence had helped neither of his two former wives after all. This battle was one women had to fight alone, and his was a strong, strong woman, best his ungainly bulk was elsewhere.

Time passed by, soft treads through meditative silence. The candles burned low as the lord of Ludwell sat alone with his thoughts.

Steps, feet in the snow. Gamond rose, and his heart rose with him. Was it a son? It must be. Berth, his young tutor, dragged the protesting door – heavy with snow – open and and stepped inside. He was pale, wide eyed. He was afraid. “ Gamond… I.. I… ”.

His heart beat, hard, a hammer blow against his ribs. The world faded to white, then back with that beat. He stared into Berths eyes, bulging with stark terror. The young priest clawed desperately at the one slab of a hand curled around his throat, holding him three feet above the ground against the wall. “ What. Did. You. Do. ” His voice sounded strange, far away. Berth shook his head frantically, trying to speak.

His heart beat. Blotting out the world. White. Then red. Red everywhere. The bed was soaked, the floor… he held her close to him. She was in his arms, blinking slowly. So pale. Some odd sound bothered him, shaking his head did not make it go away. A deep sobbing, broken keening, distant. Rising, falling with the uneven rhythm of her chest. But her mouth was closed. He could warm her, keep her here, if only he held on hard enough. Would that damned wailing stop?

She was so still; her hand had fallen from his arm. He kissed her, breathed his life into her lungs. Sudden silence. Live. Stay. Please. One odd eye slid to his, and faded. As her spark flickered out his heart burnt out of his chest, leaving an empty sucking hole. The sound was back, a wordless howl. And hate, hate flooded in.

His head throbbed with the beat of his heart. White. There in his hand, that pale snake. That murderous thing. That disgusting, treacherous piece of himself. It had killed all that he had loved. Never again. He raised the dagger.

Traditions, traditions, traditions
Spring 489

Traditions, traditions, traditions

As the hooves of my charger slowly trudge along the muddy path leading through Hillside the commoners line up along the road. Some of them bow and remove their caps with grubby hands while others simply nod and lower their gazes. I don’t think any of them really knows me. This is of course nothing strange but I sometimes wonder what it would be to be more like the Anarawds or Cellydons; living closer to my people and sharing a deeper bond. I’ve always tried to be a good lord to my people and I’ve seldom heard them complain or grumble. They seem happy, or at least content, most of the time but I know they can be a fickle bunch. They’re as prone to passions and outbursts as any knight. This year their mood has swung from exalted reverie at the news of the defeated bandits to grumbling malcontent at the harvest and back to celebration when the first snow came unseasonably late. But they are right to complain, my choices and my life affect them more then I sometimes care to admit.

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed

Musing on the words of the Corinthinan letters I leave the village… surely I can sow ever greater fields with my deeds.

Chillmark has grown further during my leave to count Rodericks court. The manorial stone hall is finally finished leaving only a few shed and outbuilding as reminders of the past. In with the new and out with the old or, as in the case with Sewels newly built lodging: In with the old in the new. As my squire, Devin, dismounts and takes my reins the household slowly gathers around to greet me; the washers and bakers, the grooms and cooks all lined up with bowed heads and stern faces. For us Tarren this is a solemn tradition; welcoming the warriors back from battle or service. It is not a joyous occasion, at least not the first greeting, for they know that one day I will not return. I will have joined another household far greater than this. I hand my sword over to Devin and grasp my shield with both hands raising it above my head. I walk along the double line of servants proudly displaying my family’s colours. When I reach the steps leading up Chillmark I turn around and raise my voice:

‘’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’’ mutter the servants in response. Some servants cheer meekly in the cold wind and some of the more eager men and women start sidling towards the door to the great hall. As I lower my shield and enter the warm confines of my newly built home the servants mill around me and past me; eager to find good seating for the small feast.

After the Feast

‘’Content Cynsten, I feel content.’’

‘’Well you know what they say: never to late to try something new.’’ Cynstens eyes sparkle from mirth and wine as he reaches for the last chicken on the serving tray. As the large man starts dismembering the poor bird with the efficiency and grace of a pack of wild dogs Meical sullenly sighs and lowers his raised knife.

’’I’m happy to hear that, my lord. Any news of lady Marion?’’ Cynsten interrupts his poultry massacre and shoots the chaplain a sharp look.

‘’She is doing fine, Meical. She seems a bit… meek though.’’

‘’The meek shall inheri…’’ Before Meical has time to finish his automated response to every time he hears the word ‘meek’ Cynsten grumbles and speaks.

‘’Yes, yes, inherit the world… Is she as beautiful as they say, my lord’’ Meical annoyance from being interrupted immediately turn into curiosity when another of his favourite topics is mentioned: beautiful young women.

‘’I did not look, Cynsten…. That would certainly not be proper.’’ Meical can hardly contain his glee as he feverishly nods in agreement to my comment but more so to my reprimanding of Cynsten.

’’I’m sure the young maid will make a wonderful wife. But the more I learn of her past the more worried I become. She seems to have powerful enemies… So powerful that Maid Marion and Sir Leo advised me to keep the wedding small; almost so small it would be secret. She will have to be guarded well when she lives here.’’
Both men quietly nod in agreement, their brotherly fighting and teasing gone; replaced by duty and determination.

‘’I shall see what I can find out from the farmers my lord. If any strange men or women are sighted near the manor close to the wedding.’’

‘’And I shall see to it that the footmen and archers are ready to receive any unwelcome visitors.’’

‘’Thank you friends. Let anyone who come here with ill intent know that the Tarren are more then happy to welcome them!’’
As we raise our cups I feel more then content: I feel hopeful.

See no evil
Spring 489

See no evil

Examining him closely, Melkin watched as Deian rode past him and turned the horse sharply around a post coming back up the hill. “Not too bad,” Melkin commented. “Remember what I told you about leaning forward more and to tug the rains less when you turn. Shift your weight to show the horse and he will know where you’re headed. Go again”.

Panting, Deian nodded, and rode off towards the post again. He made a slightly worse turn this time, and Melkin concluded that they were done for the day. Deian was getting tired and after that point he would only perform worse for each drill he was put through. Melkin knew the boy all too well now to make him go an extra turn. It was as if Deian put all his energy into training during the first forty minutes, so that after that he couldn’t keep his concentration. Some of it was part of a will to master the drill perfectly, and some was more connected to the wish not to make a fool of himself. When he got tired he played it safer, and thus continuous training would only set him back into the habits that Melkin was trying to change.

“Take the horses to the stable and head for supper,” Melkin said as Deian rode up to him. “We can work more on this tomorrow, when the…”

A shout from the manor made them both turn. Riding swiftly they both arrived as two men led a man seemingly covered in blood into the courtyard. It took Melkin a second to realise that it was Doged that they were helping. He jumped out of his saddle and ran across to his old chaplain.

“My god,” he cried out as he saw Doged’s face. “Deian! Prepare clean cloth and hot water! Hurry!” Melkin took his old friend and teacher into his arms. The old man shook, as if he would fall any second. His eyes had been carved out and he was bleeding from the mouth.

Melkin did what he could for Doged before turning to the men who had brought the old chaplain. They explained that they had met the old man on the road to Saint Evasius’ monastery, wandering blindly on the road. Melkin knew that Doged had visited the monks at the abbey that day to check in on their work and ask how they had reinstituted the artefact that they had regained last summer. Melkin demanded to know what had happened, but the men only shook their heads answering that they did not know.

“It was a knight”. Doged’s voice was broken and the words a bit unclear from the split tongue he had been dealt, but Melkin heard it load and clear. “He had a black shield with bones on it”.

Doged had been Melkin’s chaplain since childhood. The man had been kind to him, uncomfortable around women, which had led to a lot of incidents on Melkin’s own part, but he knew that Doged had loved him for all of Melkin’s own faults, as he loved Doged. It was painful to watch the wounds lead to one infection after the other, as the old man tossed and turned in fever. Melkin would sit and hold his hand and talk until the venerable monk fell asleep during the evenings. It hadn’t been long though before Doged passed away.

Deian had asked if Melkin thought this to be some sort of revenge by the Knight of Ribs, a revenge for killing off the bandits last year. Melkin said that he wasn’t sure, but he recognised the injuries and he didn’t doubt the cruelty of the Knight of Ribs. In fact, Melkin was quite sure that this was his work.

During the burial of Doged quite a few people were gathered. More than expected had arrived from the Roman part of Melkin’s family. After hearing about the cruel murder, they had decided that it was time for six lineage men to move in at Hindon to help out at the manor, all capable fighters if need arose. Melkin was surprised and taken aback by this gesture; naturally it was a generous offer, but also one that made it seem like he couldn’t defend his own people. On the other hand, he hadn’t. It made Melkin feel ashamed; to have let his chaplain get into a situation that had led to torture and death.

Another guest at the burial that was unexpected was lord Elad. He was resolute, and only watched silently as the burial took place. They exchanged a couple of brief pleasantries and then lord Elad left before the feast even had started.

Born at one birth
Spring 489

Born at one birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Strong, my lord?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making knights out of boys

Making knights out of boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lingering traces of faerie

The lingering traces of faerie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The severed heads
Winter 487

The severed heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pieces of silver
Autum 487

Pieces of silver

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

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

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

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

The remark made Deian laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sir?” Deian looked at Surefoot.

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

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

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

Year 486


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

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

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

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

“Mlord, t’treeman wants ya”

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

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


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

“Has the heart of the orchard borne fruit?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No m’lord”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family and quarrels
Year 485

Family and quarrels

Autumn had begun to shorten the days and temper the heat of late summer. Gamond sat in his fathers’ old ornate chair, watching the group of elders gathered in his hall. They were many, and his new bailiff – Bodwyns son and his own brother in law – had informed him that the new arrivals had thronged into forestwatch so that it was fairly bursting at the seams.

He hoped that he looked like he was listening seriously to the old man hemming and hawing his way through the tale of their trials and tribulations. In truth, he felt a little lost. His wife and would be son had both died in bed a week past, and their absence cut unexpectedly. Though he had not loved her, he now missed her shrewd advice and calm support.

“… Saxons burned t’ville o’er them hills n…” he’d heard it all before. The old mans’ tale was as common as grass. Saxons. Scourges from hell. Burning, pillaging, raping. Taking all that was good and decent out of the world. The soil they trod on soured as god himself withdrew his hand from their lands. The elders before him were all distant kin, with families who all shared his blood. He’d never quite understood it before, just how far and wide that tie of blood among the Anarawd sprawled.

They wanted his help and support. It would be trouble. What would his father have done? He closed his eyes and tried to imagine it. All that came to him were stories, stories that really said nothing about who his father had truly been.

Fuck what his father would have done. What would HE HIMSELF do? Let that guide him, not the spectre of an imagined past.

He stood up, dwarfing everyone around him, and help up a hand.

“I hear you… “ he cast around for the old codgers name for a moment “… Kunn. You have all suffered at the hand of the Saxon, and blood to blood, you are all welcome to settle here.”

Cynsten watched the two lords seated at the table in the long hall of Chillmark. They very much looked like two young men trying their very best to get just drunk enough to bridge the awkward silences and stilted pleasantries that lay between them.

Sir Gamond had ridden up the path to the gate in full war-gear, coolly requesting Sir Maelgwyns hospitality. The footmen had nearly shat themselves and had sent for the lord directly without opening the gate. Cynsten understood them, something about the man made the hairs on his neck stand up, he smelled cold and hard, like a naked drawn blade. He was also fucking huge. His Lord was as fine a physical example as could be found anywhere in Logres, and taller than most men, but Sir Gamond still topped him by a head. There was also something else, something divorced from the purely physical, something that made the Lord of Ludwell loom. “Lord Ludwell” Maelgwyn had said, to which Gamond had replied “No need for that, I’m your peer, not your better”.

Now the two had sat in the hall for nearly an hour and a man could easily think neither enjoyed the fine wine, impossible as that seemed.

“I’ve come to ask your forgiveness, for threatening your life. It was rash, and ill done”.

“Forgiveness granted, brother”. Maelgwyn didn’t sound as If he really meant it.

“You talk a lot Maelgwyn, careless words that often hurt when I don’t think you mean them to.” The large man spoke slowly, measuring each word with great care.

“Maybe” conceded his Lord “You take offense easily, you’re thin skinned when it comes to that woman.” The lord of Chillmark didn’t like the bandit wench. that Cynsten knew.

“You demean something I treasure, our passions are what makes us men Maelgwyn”
“And what makes us weak!”

Cynsten just watched, thinking. His loyalty to the lord of Chillmark was the very core of him, driving out all other concern. It was that which had driven him to reckless heroics, again and again, and had given him his current privilege. A great and defining strength, but yes, also a weakness that could be exploited. One that would shatter him should Maelgwyn ever die.

From there argument blossomed. Some things, thought Lord Ludwell, was important enough to kill for. Anwyn, Family, Lord, Duty. Maelgwyn thought he should restrain his love, that it hurt his family and risked his status, but Gamond said he couldn’t, wouldn’t. His lord was suspicious, thinking that woman had probably stolen something. Hard to think she wasn’t connected to the bandits and hadn’t been one herself. At this the taciturn giant grew less apologetic, but at least both agreed that drawn blades should be a last resort, though some respect nothing less.

When Maelgwyn began to speak in metaphors involving Lord Ludwells orchard in that long winded and roundabout way of his Cynstens’ thoughts wandered. Lord Ludwell, with characteristic bluntness, eventually cut him off and said he didn’t understand whatever he was trying to say. Sourly Maelgwyn summarized; “If you can’t change you will die”.

After more wine and a heavy silence Gamond took up the thread again, asking Maelgwyn to apologize to Anwyn if he wanted to make things right between them. Lord Chillmark flatly refused. At least then, said Gamond, they should respect each other’s truths and be mindful of that?

Cynsten had to give it to the man, he was trying. He nearly groaned aloud when Maelgwyn simply refuted any such compromise, he himself spoke the truth of god, and Gamond was a foolish and unwise man. More arguments strained the peace of the house, arguments of pride, fearies and oaths, of repeated warnings and sermons of how Gamond would bring his house to ruin. Of cutting down the orchards in Ludwell and tricking the inhuman monsters from the fay lands. Gamond refused to do so. He had given his word, and would go his way as he pleased.

That did seem foolhardy and needlessly stubborn to Cynsten, what was so important about some trees anyway?

The sergeant was drawn from daydreaming of good wine and sleep by the sharp, strained silence in the room. Eventually, Gamond ground out, exasperation and a note of pleading in his voice; “What has changed so these past years Maelgwyn? We used to be close. Then I left you alone with that tutor, pouring self-loathing and poison in your ear”.

The rebuttal was instant “Only knowledge and humility! You’re on a dangerous path Gamond, don’t go further! Look at me, right now I’m living rich, taking care of my family, building my farms. My wife is healthy and pregnant. That’s what my tutor gave me, what have your choices given you?!”

The sound of iron crumpling and shattering cut the tirade short. Gamond slowly stood, gingerly untangling his hand from the ruined mess of his goblet. Cynsten found his own hand on the hilt of his sword, a sense of overwhelming violence choking his breath. For three long heartbeats he could have sworn Lord Ludwells eyes shone queerly white, then they were simply the dark brown of any man. “My wife died a month past, childbirth. My stepfather is now steward. I think you will soon find that we are not much different after all, you and I. I must get back to Ludwell”.

Melgwyn spoke to his back “You’re excused”.

That winter, Maelgwyns first wife died pregnant, and her child with her.

The road had not taken him to Ludwell. A deep anger in his heart would not let him return to comfort. He rode past the manor, taking on provisions and sending for his squire. Steering southeast and skirting past Charlton, through the stretch of desolate lands and on into the Kings’ hundred Chalkhill and Badger forest. The woodland to the east was much different than brooding Modron in the west, Badger forest was incredibly dense, but green and vibrant in summer and bequeathed with more evergreen than he was used to. Even this late in autumn the woods were mostly green.

The most important difference though was the lack of haunting memories. Though tense at first, gradually Gamond began to relax and enjoy the ride. Badger forest sported plenty of game, but mindful of the kings law both he and his squire kept to their rations.

Trails were few and far between in that place, but there was one to Hillfarm, Duhe rope with which they had been pulling themselves across had been cut by three swarthy brigands upon the bank, who now had much merriment at their expense. Gamond cut their merrymaking short with lance and sword and then proceeded to strip his armour. Grabbing a new rope, winding it about a tree, and swimming out to the ferry proved a fairly easy task for one accustomed to fast flowing rivers, and soon the kings men could step safely onto the bank with their armour and horses intact. Sir Caroc and Sir Heliandor de la montagne introduced themselves and sat a spell to eat of Gamonds replenished stores. They had come from the south, carrying important news for the king, and had been caught out by the bandits. They could not say their news or business, but had gotten lost on the wrong side of the river and faced the prospect of battling a roaming monster or crossing. Gamond wished them the best of luck, and buoyed by their thanks set home to Ludwell.


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