Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

This was a really bad idea Meliodas
year 500

All my life I’ve been told that I am a reckless man. I am the man who will jump down a hole not knowing how deep it is, if the urgency seems grave enough. I am the type of man who will take risks to save my friends myself, instead of taking the time to go for extra support. “Fortune favours the bold” are the words that I live by. With that said however, it is no exaggeration that my uncle makes me look like the careful monk in comparison.

Let me tell you about the other day when we rode out to see if we could find the pack of wolves that has been troubling the sheep at Hindon. Sir Victus, rode ahead of me, scouting, despite being 20 years my senior. The man can sure handle a horse despite only having one leg but, with the stories he has to tell, I still don’t see how he has managed to keep alive to the age of 70.

“I’ve learned that two knights should always ride a bit aside like this,” he said smiling broadly as we came up a hill. “I remember the time when I and Meliodas killed a fachan in Summerland. If I hadn’t rode ahead he wouldn’t have spotted the creature. Came at me from the side, all invisible, but Melidas saw it coming”

“Uncle slow down, what is a fachan?” I asked following in his tracks.

My uncle turned his horse around laughing heartily.

“I tell you nephew, it’s the strangest thing. A single leg supports a torso with a single arm and hand protruding from the centre of its chest, and a single eye protrudes from the centre of the fachan’s forehead. It’s invisible if you look at it from the side too. That’s why I couldn’t see it when it attacked, but Meliodas told me where to swing my sword and I cut the thing in its single eye.” He chuckled. “I’ve always been pretty lucky with those things.”

“Like when you fought the hell hounds?” I asked riding up beside him looking out over the farm land below.

“As I told you before, we picked up our lances and decided that we would try to spear the hounds all the way through to see who killed the most.” Victus motioned with an invisible spear towards the ground. “I always seem to lose count of my kills and so Meliodas wanted to know who of us would actually slay the most. ‘Let’s pick them up like wild berries on a grass straw’, he said.”

I laugh as I write this tale down. Having actually fought hell hounds myself I know that they are nothing like wild berries, and the image is just too absurd.

“Then,” continued my uncle. “We rode out together like you and I are now and started to pick them off,” he made a face, “only the damned things are slippery when you run them through. To make them stay on that bloody spear was nearly impossible. And also, they didn’t die from a single attack now did they? One attacked me while hanging from the spear in its neck. Bit my leg off my leg too,” he grinned and added, “but it was only the wooden leg. You should have seen the confusion on its face. It even cocked its head like a puppy.”

I am not surprised if you shake your head. I shook my head too. Sir Victus stories would seem unbelievable to any man but I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was being truthful, believe it or not…

“Meliodas always seems to come up with the most stupid ideas,” Victus added. “Did I tell that I once dressed up like a large chicken to lure a dragon out? In truth I was supposed to look like a hippogriff riding on my horse, but I mostly looked like a chicken in armour on a very confused horse.”

At this point I had completely forgotten about the wolves we were looking for.

“Dragon?” I said in disbelief. “The one that killed sir Segurant the Brown?”

“The very one,” Victus confirmed grinning. “I rode out alone, a little bit like bait…”

“Or very much like bait,” I filled in.

“Yes well, it was Meliodas idea,” Victus said with a slight hint off shame to his voice, “and I strutted around like Hippogriffs do. The trouble was that dragons must prefer knights in feathers to any food because it came flying breathing fire like no man would believe. When I finally was side by side with the others again I told him, I told him many times: This was a really bad idea Meliodas.”

I guess it’s not to your surprise, dear reader, that we didn’t find the wolves that day. Who can focus on such a dull task while being in the company of the one-legged-knight?

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The Brown Knight
year 500

With my promise to assist him in finding a new lord to serve I left the workshop of Amandeus puzzled yet elated. In my sabretache I carried proof that Urien had been a fine warrior before he came to be my teacher and even against the monks counsel I still yearned to find out more about him. He was a friend turned into an enigma.
“How can people live like this?” my squire inquired over the din in the tightly pressed street.
“I wondered the same when I first came here… It doesn’t seem natural does it?”
“Is it true they grow their food indoors and upon their roofs?” I stifled a laugh and put my hand around the young man’s shoulders.
“Of course not!”
“Then how do they get food?”
“They… well… We will get lost if you keep distracting me like this.” Nodding my squire turned his eyes toward the busy streets. Standing in my saddle I craned my neck to catch glimpses through windows and over rooftops. But if there were such fields as my squire spoke of they remained hidden to me.

The square around the cathedral was a welcome oasis in the bustling city. Resting in the shadow of the great steeple we watched the murmuring and swelling crowd around the legendary sword.
“So whoever draws the sword from the stone becomes the new High King?”
“That’s right lad.”
“Who decided that?”
‘’Well…You see….’’ The burning eyes of my squire pierced my sweating brow as I tried to save face.
‘’Consider the wise words of Solomon: It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable.’’ My squire remained silent for a while studying the laboring knight and men around the sturdy anvil.
‘’But what does that mean?’’
‘’If you listen to the teachers you will one day know.’’ I found it hard to determine if my answer had satisfied the young man but it comforted me a great deal. The old hermits had spoken of the hidden meanings and messages in the Good Book at great lengths and I felt certain that I had now found one.
‘’Excuse me, sir, aren’t you Sir Maelgwyn of Chillmark?’’ His voice sounded muffled as he spoke from behind his veil of chainmail.
“Yes I am sir. But I’m afraid I do not know how to address you good sir.” A glint in the rugged man’s eyes suggested he was smiling towards me.
“They call me theBrown Knight of the Wilds, but I understand if my rather unconventional heraldry confounded you, sir.” As he spoke he lightly touched the branch fastened to his unpainted shield. His voice was young and melodious not seeming to quite fit his rugged appearance.
“Well that certainly is a strange name, sir, but in times like this little surprise me.” I must admit that I rather admired how the strange man spoke and handled himself. There was a calmness and grace surrounding his demeanor I’ve never witnessed before, not even among the blessed clergy.
“Are you going to try, sir?” he said pointing to the sword and anvil.
“Ah, no. That sword was not meant for me, sir.”
“How can you be so sure, sir, if I may ask?”
“The Lord rewards contentment and humility: Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.”
“But what if it’s in the Lord’s divine plan for you to become High King, sir?”
“Ha! You surely jest sir! There is no royal blood in my line, however long it may be. Besides how do you know you’re not the one our Lord has chosen?”
The brown knight fell silent and for a while we stood watching as a large beast of a peasant cursed and groaned over the immovable hilt.
“You are of course right, sir Maelgwyn! Such a thing no man can know with certainty. Both of us might be unworthy yet one of us might be! Let us settle this!”
“What?”
“I challenge you to duel me, sir. Whomever wins shall attempt to draw the sword from the stone!”

As the afternoon sun started sinking behind towards the horizon the Brown Knight held up his hand. I slowly straightened myself and hang over my sword panting.
“The… day seems to… be coming to a… end sir” He said as he tried, best he could, to dab the sweat from his brow.
“You have fought well, sir!” I said and straightened up, ready again to attack him with my blunted blade.
“But shall we perhaps call it a draw sir?” Never before had it occurred to me that such an outcome was possible in a duel. For a few moments I thought of my honor and indeed of the sanctity of all duels, then my aching body and numb arms spoke louder.
“We shall sir.”
“Good! Then we shall settle this next time sir.”

Night had fallen as I parted ways with the strange knight, waving him off as he rode out the western gate. He was last to leave before the drum sounded for the gates to rumble shut for the night, sealing us and myriads of others in the safety of the great walls.
“He is a strange one isn’t he sir?”
“The strangest, lad”
We turned our backs to the gate and slowly made our way towards our quarters. Slowly the city became peaceful and as I gazed towards the sky the stars slowly showed their glory.
“I think I did something bad sir “Even in the darkness of the resting street he must have seen my stern gaze for he continued without me answering.
“His squire asked me of the Loathly Lady sir… and I told him sir Cadry might assist them” It was more due to my lapsing judgement than the boy’s lack of sense that made me sigh deeply.
“If that man wished to find the Lady he would have, no matter what. But that doesn’t excuse you… That demon in the swamps should not be trifled with…”
“I’m sorry sir. I just thought…”
His voice trailed off and became a murmur. I thought of Sian. I thought of the flower that took her from me and I thought of home. It had been almost two years since I felt Marion’s arms around me. Almost two years since I saw my sons and daughters. In that moment nothing seemed sweeter than the stone hall upon the hill and Gwynns thatch of red hair. It was time to head home and to make haste. The safest and fastest route would be through Rhydychan.

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Two young idiots
year 500

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Vagon was not all that Brynach had imagined it to be. The stories he had heard of the place seemed more grand and mysterious than the worn down Motte and Bailey that met his eye when riding towards the castle behind his lord. But, this was where his father had spent most of his time as a squire and if it had been good enough for Melkin, it was good enough for him too, Brynach decided.

Squire Yraen was walking around the parapet to inspect all the sites that Sir Amig had told him to. The castle’s walls had begun sagging in places. Fortunately lumber was not in short supply in Salisbury, the manpower and silver it would take was however. Renovations couldn’t begin this year, but as Sir Amig had explained it, they would need to prepare anyway so that when funds became available they could begin immediately.

A suspicious guard peered down at them and called out. “Who goes there?” “Sir Deian the Dark,” answered his lord, but the guard stared blankly at them; “Who? I don’t know of any sir Deian.”

Hearing the shouts below, Yraen leaned out to have a closer look. Beneath, in front of the gate, he saw the man who had served as a squire to his “uncle” several years ago and behind him, on a thin nag, rode yet another familiar figure.
“That is Sir Deian of Mayfair, lord to Stag’s home. You should probably open the gate for him,” the young squire suggested.
The guard, being a surly man in the manner of guards found guarding gates everywhere from Hantonne in the south to the Orkney islands in the furthest north, glared at the young squire. For a moment he seemed to consider not opening, but then maybe remembering the previous year and what had happened to Sir Garin. “Alright, alright, hold your horses Sir,” he called down and motioned for the gate to be opened.

His lord got off his horse and turned towards the castle as two figures appeared. Lord Amig, Brynach knew by sight, but the other man he could not recognize. By all logic it should be lord Elad, but the man seemed to small, too frail and too old to be the fierce knight he remembered from his childhood. He looked around and his gaze caught Yraen who was climbing down from the parapet.

With a small uncertain smile, Yraen waved to his opposites as their lords met and spoke with each other. After exchanging pleasantries, the lords told their squires to take care of the horses and to make sure that they were watered and fed. Yraen and Brynach walked towards the stables, leading two horses each. A small silence hung between the boys who hadn’t seen each other for quite some time. Both had grown and started changing into the men that they would one day become. Deciding that it befell him to start a conversation, being the elder by a whole year, Yraen asked “How are your sisters doing? And your family?” One of Brynach’s younger sisters was pretty indeed and Yraen had harbored a boyish infatuation with her for the last few years.

Brynach shrugged, and gave Yraen a half smile. “Ceri’s fine if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Smiling, but unable to act as embarrassed as he perhaps should, Yraen replied ”Well her, but the others too.”

Brynach raised an eyebrow but accepted Yraen’s question. “Mother’s fine, worried about sir Ennis I suppose, but well. The twins are good though Camilnne had the hillfort cough last year. Aquilina is growing fast and Placus too. Always in high spirits those two.” Brynach paused. “Ceri told me your mother died, I’m sorry to hear that, and even more so is she. Ceri loved Brangwen like her own mother.”

Looking haunted for a moment at the mention of the passing of his mother, Yraen became quiet. After a few minutes silence however he turned to Brynach “We all miss mother, both me, my brother and most of all father, I think.” Sighing he continued ”I hope father is doing better when he returns from the fighting in Jagent”.

“Grief is painful fire that we try our best to smother. When father died I think I felt like sir Cadry, or as you do now.”

Nodding mutely, Yraen proceeded to rub down the last of the horses and then sat down on a bale of hay and just stared at Brynach as the younger squire finished up his part of work.

”What is it?” asked Brynach after a while, taking his time to make sure sir Deian’s charger was content. He turned and faced Yraen.

“Do you think the times will ever be good again?” Looking worried and distraught Yraen thought about all the times he had stood quietly behind Sir Amig as councils of war were held in Sarum castle.

Brynach gave Yraen a long look. “You have changed,” he commented. “Worry has always seemed to been the least of your troubles.” He picked up an empty bucket under his arm. “Yes,” he said then as he headed for the well.

“Yes to what?” Losing track of Brynach’s answers, Yraen rose from his seat and followed the younger man.

“Yes, times will get better. Yes, the grief will get better, and yes we will be able to do something about all the mess,” continued Brynach while getting the water.

Changing track completely, as if the previous subject bothered him, Yraen asked “Is Deian treating you well?”

For the first time since the boys had met again Brynach gave a laugh. He held up the bucket and poured the water over himself. “Yes he is,” he said laughing. “Lord Deian is a fine lord, who tells me all about how my father made him run all the strangest errands, from riding through strange paths outside of Tisbury, to hunting bandits in Modron’s forest. How’s lord Amig?”

Thoughtfully, Yraen answered “He is harsh but a good teacher and master. He is getting old though and I get the feeling that he would prefer to be without all the responsibility that he has shouldered.” Leaning against the well he beheld Brynach pouring another bucket of water over himself. “But something changed when Lord Elad came back. Father always spoke of how close Sir Amig was to Sir Elad. Maybe he will quicken once again thanks to Sir Elad’s return.”

“I doubt men like them could give up even if they wanted to. I think that we are all stronger than we know.” Brynach raised his arms yet again. “Heads up,” he said and poured its content over Yraen.

Sputtering from the surprise as much as the cold, he didn’t hesitate but dove straightly for Brynach’s waist and bore him to the ground. “You little fiend, I’ll teach not to sucker punch me while I help you with your work.” Saying so, he threw a punch towards Brynach’s stomach.

“Good help you were,” Brynach groaned and locked his feet around Yraen’s waist, throwing them around in the mud. “What are you? A cat? Afraid of some water?”

A glass later, both boys were standing in front of their masters, several bruises richer and with their clothes covered in mud and hay. They had both received severe reprimands and Lord Amig had assigned a whole heap of menial shores to the two miscreants that would take well into the night to complete as befitted the two young idiots.

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Sir Cadry, the greatest "swordfighter" in Salisbury and Dorsette.
Autumn 500

Three gossiping ladies sits by the hearth in Sarum Castle a late autumn evening.

Anne: ”My dears, did you see the knights riding home from the fighting in Jagent? Weren’t they a sight to see?”

Marigold: “They were indeed. The seems to have covered themselves in glory and spoils. Did you see the magnificent stallion that Sir Cadry rode in on? It must be worth a prince’s ransom. They say that the horse belonged to Prince Mark himself!”

Harley: “And covered in jewellery too. Roman jewellery at that. It seems like him and a few of the other men stayed in Dorchester on their way home. You mark my words nothing good will come of it. That pagan will lead our men to their deaths with his vainglorious actions.”

Marigold: “Oh come now Harley, no one can deny what a splendid and handsome warrior he is. They say that he himself killed five enemy knights in the fighting during this autumn. I say that no man is his equal with a sword.”

Anne: “Both on the battlefield and in bed, or so I have heard. Did you hear about the fighting that went on in the Praetor’s bed last year? I bet that was why he stopped by Dorsette on his way home. Just look at all the finery he is bedecked in riding home.“

Harley: “Maybe the strange pagan has taken a liking to men now that that witch of a wife of his is dead. I heard from old Ines that she died screaming and that the devil himself dragged her to hell for her sins.”

Marigold: “Oh, don’t be horrible Harley. Just because you envied her, there is no cause for speaking ill of the dead, pagan or christian. I am sure that Sir Cadry needs comfort after all the horrors that has befallen his family.”

Anne: “I am sure he does need comfort. Perhaps he just needs the company of a lady of breeding and some maturity.”

Harley: “As if an old bag like you would have a chance with that man. He probably would prefer mounting that new stallion of his to mounting you.”

Bickering ensues.

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Brangwen's last story
Winter 499

I have ridden as fast as I could towards Tisbury manor, outpacing even my master, Lord Amig. He gave me permission to hurry home after the messenger arrived in Sarum, telling that my mother, Lady Brangwen, had taken seriously ill as she gave birth to my newest little brother Brannoch. The birth seemed to have gone well but three days after a shadow fell across the manor and the messenger told me that Ol’ Tiss had been seen by many of manor servants. They claimed that he seemed wroth and that he had swept his blade towards the house.

Entering the courtyard of my home like the hounds of the wild hunt was behind me, I can sense that something is very wrong. I get of my horse and charge towards the manor house. I see many familiar faces standing around doing nothing except staring in fear at the house. From within I can hear screaming and crying. Guillaume, my father’s manservant, stops me by the door. Before I can push past the thin Aquitanian he says in his lightly accented voice “Your mother is very ill and only the priestess Bellyra is allowed inside per your mother’s orders”. I briefly stare at him and something in my gaze must be terrifying for he visibly pales and lets me pass by him.

A large fire is burning in the hearth and the air inside smells of the usual herbs and plants but also of blood. My mother lies in her bed and she is screaming in agony unlike any I have ever heard, even when she gave birth to Gweneth. The young priestess Bellyra, no older than myself, looks terrified and she is crying. A sheep lies dead on the floor with its throat slit in a sacrificial circle. When I approach I can see that my mother’s face is paler than death itself and the lower parts of her dress is stained with a large amount of blood. Knowing hesitation and fear unlike any I have ever felt before I manage to croak out “Mother?”. Mother’s eyes open briefly and for an instance there is no recognition, only pain and distress and despair.

Suddenly a silence falls over the hall as mother stops screaming and Bellyra suddenly grows quiet. It is as if something has stolen all the sound in the world. Mother, still in pain, beckons me towards the bed, biting back her pain, lucid for a brief moment. She grabs my collar and pulls me closer and starts whispering in my ear. She whispers secrets long since hidden.
She tells me who her mother really is, she says it is the sorceress Nineveh.
She tells me that my father must seek her out, that she can help him find Gweneth and help him find out more about the daughters of the wolf.
She tells me that she is dying because the gods are angered by the sacrilege committed by the Fenrir, but the she has taken their punishment upon herself so that the family might be spared.
She tells me that she loves me and that I must tell my father that she loves him and that she will find him in the next life.
She cries as she says these last words and drags me close to herself like she did when I was a small boy. The pain is returning again and it is overwhelming her. She just screams and cries as it takes her and I stay by her bedside until dusk sets.
Finally, she becomes quiet as her spirit leaves her body and her tribulation is over. I sit by her side until morning comes and shines its meagre lights through the opened door. The rest of the household comes and take care of her remains.

I leave the house and walks up towards the old burial hill. I fall to my knees before the old oak and just start screaming out all my agony, all my sorrow and all my anger. I scream until my voice breaks and yet I persist until my breath is gone and I can do nothing but collapse upon the roots of the ancient tree. Sleep or unconsciousness claim me.

It isn’t until later during the afternoon when someone dares wake me. A gentle hand shakes me back to waking world. Above me stands the One-in-Three, the triplets, Ffinan, Fferyll, Fflergant. Distant cousins from the Jagent side of the Cellydons, they and their father fought like madmen in the battle of the two walls and helped take the second wall together with my father. For this bravery, count Tegfan made them knights after the battle. The triplets accompanied the Salisbury troops back home in order to be closer to the main branch of the family whilst their father stayed with Count Tegfan. The triplets have taken up service with Countess Ellen as household knights.
With their aid I return to the house once again to see my master Lord Amig, who has arrived during my sleep.

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Dealing with it
Year 499

Dealing_with_it.png

Grave injury is a pestis. I don’t understand how my brother could have carried all those scars that the tales tell of and still never have uttered a word of complaint. After that peasant stabbed me in the back I can no longer straighten my back to its full length. I look like an old man going around Hindon, but then again maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe people will finally start believing that I am how I say I am.

My sister has had a change of heart, at least to some extent. She invited me to her oldest daughter’s wedding this autumn. A grand festivity though the toll taken on even the Mayfair family showed on the feast table. The young couple looked happy though. Lady Eirwyn and sir Eltut seem fond of each other which I would consider a good sign. Supera tells me that my nephew has had a hand in marrying off his cousin to his lord’s youngest brother. If so lord Deian must be fond of the boy.

My sister and I did manage to talk things over a bit, and even though I can see her reluctance, I know that she no longer can ignore who I am. I think that both sir Leo and sir Cadry might have put in a good word here and there. I am glad that she is coming around even though she’s taken her good time to do it. Women can indeed be quite stubborn.

After that I spent a couple of weeks at Lady Ellen’s court. Engaging in speculations about philosophy and law. Lady Ellen asked me to recite some words on diplomacy and so I told her a quote of Cicero’s: “The rule of friendship means there should be mutual sympathy between them, each supplying what the other lacks and trying to benefit the other, always using friendly and sincere words.” I understand it struck a note with her, and I am all too glad too quote the great roman’s to complain.

Later, during the winter, one of Melkin’s twins took ill. I took some time to sit at her bedside. It seems to me like my wife is too lazy and lady Nest too unconcerned for the girl’s well being. However uncaring the two grown women in this family seem to be, the young Ennys is always at her twin’s side.

Looking at them, one sleeping anxiously, one huddled up by the side of the bed, I felt something stir inside me. And so, I started to remember. Piece by piece, bit by bit, I remembered an early spring years ago as two boys trained with too large armours and too long swords. I started to remember things stored away far in the back of my mind. Now the first time in 35 years I can recall the death of my own twin as he tossed and turned in agony as the fewer killed him. It is not a happy memory, but at least it is a memory.

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A delicious rabbit
499

A delicious rabbit

He rode south through Anna’s Water hundred. Behind him, the smoke of long siege still curled into the sky, a haze against the setting sun. It would be dark soon, but with luck he would reach the road to Levcomagus and Silchester before he could no longer see the ground under Handsomes’ hooves. The horse was hideous, and none too well fed, and as such the name fit well enough.

He had made camp by the road as full night crept up all around. A small fire danced inside a crude ring of stone, a rabbit skewed upon a rack of sticks. Cynyr felt numb, and not only from bone deep weariness. For seventeen years he had served the Lord of Llud’s hall. Some of those he did not remember, lost in a vague blur of emotion and impression, and the care of the monks at Ambrius abbey. Now that was done. Three long weeks of Siege, of waiting, of starving, of thirst and battle. Three times the invaders had stormed the walls, and three times he had stood to defend them. At the last they had been overrun, too weak with deprivation to drive the enemy off the ramparts. For a moment in the din of fighting he had seen a large man step onto the walls, towering above most who stood around him. For long heartbeats he had thought he had seen his Brother. But no, his brother was dead. The large man had thrown Kirn off the wall and run Makin through. Neither would play dice or laugh through long nights ever again.

The Rabbit smelled delicious, and either that or his fire drew attention. Someone was moving out there, in the dark. Cynyr took his sheathed sword and lay it in his lap, waiting. He had asked and received permission to travel Annas Water, but in these times one could never be too cautious.

Into the circle of light cast by his fire came faces more ragged and worn with loss than his own. Hunger gleamed in their eyes. A child hiding neath torn skirts gave a sound like a starving wolf, staring at the rabbit. Carefully he reached out, taking the stick with the meat. His stomach ached with hunger. Slowly, he bit into it, lips and tongue stung by heat and sizzling juices. Wiping the fat from his chin, he spoke “What do you want?”.

An elderly man, dressed in what had once been the fine clothes of a merchant emerged from the group “Good sir, please, do you have any food?

Cynyr hooked the nearby saddle and sack of provisions he had bought with his foot and drew them close. “I have nothing to give you”.

The man looked at his sack, then the rabbit, and finally at the sword across his thighs. “Where, good sir, are you heading?

East, through Silchester, then home to Caercoloun. What business is it of yours?

I have information sir, news you will have a use for. If but you had something to ease the little ones hunger…?

Cynyr thought for long moments, inwardly counting and measuring his provisions and what little coin he had left from seventeen years savings after aquiring horse and travelling gear. It had been his slim fortune that Sir Richard had been an uncommonly decent man, releasing all who served Sheriff Bedwor once that fateful duel was done. He had enough to last to Caercoloun, barely, with two loaves to spare.

Retrieving two small hard loaves of bread he tossed them to the small gathering. They were snatched, and devoured on the spot. The former merchant wanted one, wanted it badly, but did not partake. The children ate, and some of the women. The men stared at their feet.

Thank you good sir. Thank you.

You had information?

Yes Sir. Caercoloun has fallen. More Saxon came over the sea, it is overrun.

He felt like throwing up. First Lluds hall, now the only other family he had truly known. It was all gone. He forced words past teeth that would not unclench.

Thank you. A day or two ahorse down this road lies Sarum, and north of that on the road to the standing stones is Amesbury abbey. Perhaps one or the other will give you succor. You are welcome to camp nearby and accompany me to Sarum on the morning

Perhaps lady Ellen would have use for an experienced swordhand, or else sir Cador could use another man in his band. Good man or not, he could not stomach serving the man who had taken his Lords’ castle. There was nothing in the east for him now. Life had to go on. Despite all he had lost, the rabbit was still delicious.

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The child and the giant's promise
Winter 499

The unknown child and the giant's promise

Boat journeys always unsettle me. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no proper land underneath your feet. There is something decidedly wrong with sailors. No sane man would ever choose to live most of his presumably short life on the seas.

Unfortunately, there is no Merlin around to send me back from Eire this time around. On the other hand, I lost almost half a year the last time that happened. Would have been worth it though to not have to get on a boat for the second time in two months. Oceans are even worse during winter time too. Hopefully I will never have to return to the green isle in this life. Too bad the romans didn’t build a bridge. Would have been a lot better to ride there.

At least not everything was bad in Eire. The king of Lein wasn’t at home. Apparently, he had taken our advice and had gone raiding in Cornwall. His queen welcomed me and I spent a few nights at their home, trying to find a guide to help me locate Himlingslevah, the giant. The last night I spent in the king’s home one of his younger daughters sought me out. I had been sleepless for several nights and something had seemed wrong. Her name was Brigid and unlike he sisters, she was a wild thing that made up her own mind and didn’t respect her parent’s wishes and god. She spoke sweet things to me in the night and she lay with me. She said that she wanted to make her own way in this world. She left me before the sun rose and I didn’t see her before I left later during that day.

Eire is a strange place. I never thought I would have a remotely peaceful conversation with a giant even once, much less twice. I returned the giant blade to him and he walked down to the ocean and threw it in. I could swear that I saw a hand reach up from the waves and catch the sword. The giant said that allies of the giant king would bring it back to where it belongs. Part of me is glad to be rid of the blade, getting rid of the weight. Somehow the blade has seemed heavier on the journey to the giant. Another part of me however mostly feels glee at the prospect that the sword is out of reach of Saexwolf forever.

The giant offered me a reward for the return of the blade. Many things crawled through my mind, trying to get my attention; send the giant to kill and eat the fenris, send him to rescue my daughter, giving me a fortune. All these things seemed like good things to ask for but suddenly something came over me. Some other voice spoke through my mouth. The voice asked for a weapon in return for the blade that was given. A blade that would be the bane of my family’s enemies. Something told me that my descendants would need it in the future. The giant questioned if I was strong and worthy enough to wield a weapon forged in Jotunheim. I ascertain that I was and he told me that when I or one of my descendants had found out the truth of the Iron Crown and understood my family’s legacy I should seek out the halls of the giant king but not before. On that day, I will wield a weapon such as has never been carried by any of my ancestors.

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Lord Gwynn
499

Lord Gwynn

‘’Even though it grieves us to loose such a close kin I believe Wyned died as all Tarrens wish to die: Serving their lord.’’

Padger’s voice rang loudly among the gathered men and women yet I know he’s barely keeping his eyes dry. Now and then his voice grows thick and his eyes glaze over. They all loved the little bastard, some even say my own father saw him more like a son than a ward. In my mind he was as far removed from me as the beast are from men. Whatever Tarren blood had ran in the veins of the little runt must have been diluted to nothingness. Whenever he saw a naked blade he would flinch or edge away like some cowardly animal and the time he scraped up his knee on the rocks in the river he had almost fainted at the sight of his own blood. Never have I met a boy so close to tears and fright in my entire life. Padger speaks the final words of the sentimental eulogy and with solemn movements the assembled knights lift the boy’s body unto the Aegis. My blood boil. Such an honour bestowed upon that foolish bastard! Such insolence towards my absent father! That this weak thing is bestown the same honour as my ancestors just because he died sobbing in battle. When my day come there will be changes; order and dignity once more.

Standing by the opened crypt of my forefathers I turn my gaze toward my brothers and sisters as the lineage men carry the bastard towards his final resting place. Athena and Ariana squeeze each other’s hands as they clumsily try to hide their crimson cheeks and red rimmed eyes, whispering half-heard condolences to each other. Mair is clutching on to Sister Abigail whose dull eyes seems to have ran out of tears. The others are too young to understand what is happening but the infants feel that there’s something wrong today, writhing and crying in the arms of their wet nurses and caretakers. Breichan is the only one who composes himself with any dignity. Hands clutched by his sides and his eyes thousands of miles away. He remains my only rival. Years of running and playing with his other half has turned him brawny and after the loss of Bradwen his brow has become inquisitive. A dangerous rival perhaps. Alone among my siblings he carries the crown I perceive atop my father’s head. A crown invisible to every eye but that can be seen even by the blind; the crown beyond price that speak of manifest destiny and that makes weak men brave. He will have to be dealt with. Perhaps Dion will carry the same crown but by the time he is old enough to hold a sword I should have no reason to fear him.

Sweating and grumbling from the weight the lineage men labour until the boulder finally rolls into place with an earthshaking thud. In the dark, nestled close to forefathers he never knew, Wyned finally finds peace. Family and friends gather in the stone hall of Chillmark to toast and remember a fallen boy who died far from home for a cause he hardly knew or understood. Sitting among others, yet in solitude, a proud young boy dreams about glory and power.

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The Fall of Llud's Hall
499

The Fall of Llud's Hall

And so comes a dull dawn, a stifling late summers morning, red as blood, warm as hate, with a sad drizzle, as if the world made ready to wash away the sins that are soon to be committed. “Thou shall not slay”, sayeth the Bible, but in the trenches around Llud’s Hall the knights and men-at-arms are all ready to break the commandments of God, most of them for gold, but one of them for the love of a father.

A brazen trumpet blares in the leaden silence, and then they are off, crawling over the no-mans-land like armoured ants, rushing over the flotslam and jetslam of the previous two assaults: broken ladders, broken arrows, broken bodies. It is nothing to them, their blood is up, Sir Richard has promised them gold and riches if the castle falls, and fall it must: a simple Sheriff cannot stand against the might of Sir Richard and Duke Ulfius forever, and that Countess of Salisbury has not stirred to stop them. This time, surely, Sheriff Bedwor will give up the castle.

Arrows. No, he will not. Javelins, no, he is brave, foolhardy, that Sheriff. And men fall, hope flounders in the mud, but the fire is not as hot as the last time: the well has been sabotaged by some strange cunning or devilish magic of the Duke, and the men on the parapet have been drinking rain water and animal blood for days. They are weak.

The iron tide reaches the wall, scaling ladders rise, the ants start their climb as Sir Rirchard’s archers give them covering fire form their mobile walls. The first one goes down, the second goes down, and then there are men on the ramparts, a large knight with a puce shield foremost amongst them, clearing a space for more ladders. The defenders buckle, breaks. Those that have a ransom to their names surrender, the rest flee or dies. Llud’s Castle is cracked open at last.

But they cannot take the inner bailey. The Duke is furious, bellows left and right, Sir Richard is grim, gives calm orders: no plunder, no rape, you will all be rewarded, put out that fire. Then he takes them by utter suprise, Lord Bedwor. A duel! He challenges Sir Richard on a duel. His life and the gold if he wins? The men are laughing at such sentimentality, but not Sir Richard. He has been an Uther fan-boy all his life. “Yes, I accept your terms.”

The men are extatic, who could have hoped for that? Their battle is over. Instead of another costly assault, they can stand back and watch the old goats bleed. (Not the Duke, of course, he would never indulge in this way). They know each other well, these two, whom both has served good King Uther all their adult life. They have fought each other before, more than once, and the knights and soldiers try to reminisce: which of them won, which lost?

Sir Richard is the older, but haler and sharper; he soon has Sir Bedwor on the ground, bleeding profusely from a wound in his right arm. The sheriff yields! And Sir Richard nods, and helps Sir Bedwor to his feet. There are over a hundred knights here, and most of them are in awe of Sir Richard who has proved that he is both strong and honorable. The gold is his – and the castle, they say, shall go to the damn Duke, who always gets what he wants in the end.

Sir Richard is enjoying himself enormously; he knows that what he has done here today in front of hundreds of warriors will be retold countless times in these lands from now til long after he is dead. In the midst of all this celebration, the crowd around him splits up and out in front of him comes a large knight spattered in blood-with a puce cloth over his face. He is dragging a stinking old man in rags with him.

The two of them, Sir Richard and The Puce Knight, eyes each other warily for two or three heartbeats. Then speaks the one with a cloth over his face: “This is my man, Sir! This is my price.” He almost lifts his prize of the ground to make his point. Sir Richard looks at the old wreck; there are remains of muscles here and there, and white scars show through the rags. He may be beaten now, but once this was a warrior. Who is it? No matter! He has promised the knight in disguise the right to take one man from the pens as thanks for his service in the storming, and he is an honorable man. “You can take you price and leave, my good Sir.” The good Sir nods, and then he is off with his prisoner, who seems resigned to his fate.

Later, he asks the Duke. The Duke has spies everywhere, and he can tell that the old man was one Tudwal, once a knight out of Hillsfort hundred, accused of forging the King’s Seal. And The Puce Knight? A relative, surley, who else would serve three weeks in a seige for an usless old man? Sir Richard agrees, yes, that must be it. Such a strange tale. Oh well, he has coins to count.

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