Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

A history of Anarawd, excerpt Cynyr
Year 460-482

Excerpt 'Cynyr'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hate and Love
Winter 481

Hate and Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You… never told me how you got it”.

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

“I’m from Regnenses.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New bloom
Autumn 480

New bloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”So what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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The Belt of Agenor
Summer 481

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did we win?

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

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

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

Our Heritage Obliges

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

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

‘’I did thank the Lord, teacher.’’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The dead do not rest easy
Year 481

Brother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The mysterious oil lamp
Year 481

fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gamond nodded, stared at his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We need to get the horses out!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting there
Year 481

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On the road

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

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

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

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

“A better team than you and Cadry?”

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

Amig waited for a second before calmly continuing:

“And what about yourself?”

A bit uneasy Melkin tried to sound confident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?” said Melkin unable to believe it.

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

“What advice, my lord?”

“Know when to walk away.”

The one legged man

wounded_leg.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amig looked at him for a long moment and sighed.

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

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

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

Melkin met his lords stern look and said hesitantly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fealty lord: +1
First aid: +1

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Some more words between brothers
Year 481

Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A word between brothers
Year 481

Brothers

Up on the wall…

… the night was calm. There was no wind and on the horizon rays of the sun coloured the clouds with ember. Melkin stood on the wall of Sarum and looked out with a bitter expression on his face, feeling conflicted and angry.

When he had grown up he had never had the same confidence as his older stepbrother Cadry. The many times he had been sick as a child, had often left him with a feeling of being left out from all the excitement Cadry, Maelgwyn and Content Not Found: gammond got to experience. He had always tried to come with them when he had been well, but being smaller, less strong and less experienced than the other boys he sometimes had gotten himself into situations that he couldn’t handle. Reckless as he was Melkin once fell out of the old oak on the Tisbury grounds when he tried to follow Cadry to the top of the impressive tree. He had broken his arm and missed out on riding, swimming and hunting that summer as he had the summer before.

Today he was left with the same lonely frustrating feeling as he had felt many a time both before and after that summer when he broke his arm, the feeling of being useless.

When he had scowled at the young pages for being afraid of rats he had had no idea of their size or ferocity. They had been rats, and he hadn’t been afraid. Yet he had been unable to defend himself against the vile vermin that had jumped him and Gamond in the cellar. As one of the dog-sized creatures tore a huge piece of flesh out of his neck Melkin almost fainted from the sheer pain and blood loss. Gamond had been forced to drag him out of the room.

The first feeling that hit Melkin when he realised that this was a severe wound, was not fear but shame. What type of squire let rats defeat him? He had been armed hadn’t he? As a result of his injury he had not been able to help Gamond and Cadry in either killing the very rats that had wounded him nor in riding towards Ambrius Abby in search of the important wine. Instead he was stuck picking flowers, and to top it off he had almost lost them to four men trying to rob him on the way back to Sarum.

Sitting on the wall Melkin thought back on the situation and of how scared he had been, knowing that he would not have been able to defend himself against the robbers. Did that mean that he was a coward? The words Amig had told him when arriving at Sarum still rang in his head.

“You are going to be a knight soon, straighten your back and speak up.”

Looking out north towards the barely visible Stonehenge Melkin couldn’t help but wonder if he would be able to become a knight together with Maelgwyn, Gamond and Cadry. Stretching his neck to see the sacred place the pain grew so intense that he had to sit down. His back to the wall he breathed heavily for a few seconds. A noise made him turn his head as Cadry climbed up the ladder looking around.

“There you are little brother,” Cadry said as he saw Melkin. “What are you doing, sitting here by yourself?” Cadry went over to his brother’s side and sat down.

Looking at the younger boy, he could tell that Melkin had turned his thoughts inward once again. The fact that Melkin often had been sick as a young boy had made him into a gloomy youth who for some reason always deprecated himself and considered himself less that his older brother or for that matter their two friends Maelgwyn and Gamond. Cadry had many times tried to break his brothers propensity for being maudlin and self-pitying but most of the times he thought he had managed to reach him, Melkin’s chaplain would be there and once again try to break him down and make him think less of himself.

Not waiting for a proper answer Cadry carefully put his arm around the smaller mans shoulders to reassure him and to share some of the affection he felt for his brother.

“I’m doing nothing really,” answered Melkin feeling stupid. “I needed to think. It’s been a long day, but even so I’m not tired, just… exhausted.”

“In that case, you are made of sterner stuff then I am. I am tired, exhausted, still feel dirty, cold and confounded.” Having said as much, Cadry yawned and stared out into the night. “What are you thinking of?”

“I was scared today” Melkin admitted after a short silence. “I couldn’t… I didn’t…” His voice broke and he bit his lip angrily.

Raising his eyebrows slightly, Cadry glanced at his brother in the weak torchlight. “Well, that’s not so strange. I was frightened too. Especially when that stranger just rode up to me when I was already wet, tired and injured and asked my name, and when I gave it he just attacked me. I really thought I was going to die.”

Slumping down a bit where he sat, Cadry had trouble concentrating on anything other than wanting to just curl up and sleep, but something in his brother’s voice forced him to focus.

“I think that everybody is scared from time to time and that it’s the brave man who can push through that and just keep going. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I stood before four armed ruffians intent on robbing me, but you did. That’s both brave and very clever.”

“Brave?” Melkin almost laughed. “You dueled a knight! By yourself! I… didn’t feel brave. I just felt scared, and I got myself injured by a rat, a damned rat, and because of that I couldn’t help with anything and I wasn’t there when that knight attacked you.” Melkin drew breath slowly. He was shaking now out of frustration. “I couldn’t even kill the rat that injured me, so useless…”

“Well, that stupid rat bit right through my armour and shield and got past my guard even though I was prepared for it, so you are hardly alone.”

Thinking back, Cadry tried to remember the entire day in the right order but the memories blurred together.

“You helped a lot so don’t go telling yourself anything else. If you had ridden with me and Gamond, my horse would still have misstepped and I would still have insisted that you and Gamond should keep on riding for the Abbey. And thus I would still have had to face that blackguard by myself.” Adjusting his seating slightly and turning towards Melkin, Cadry’s gaze suddenly turned a bit harder.

“So what if this one situation turned out a bit worse for you than me or Gamond? You can’t always blame yourself. You can only square your shoulders and be all the more determined to face the next challenge!”

Melkin met Cadry’s stern look and all the frustration seemed to wash off him. “I know…” he said looking defeated. “I tried. I… just don’t want to be left behind. I want to be a knight too, and… I don’t know… I can’t think…” The wound was throbbing again and Melkin put a hand over his neck.

“Left behind? You are not getting left behind.” Sighing a bit and carefully taking hold of the smaller mans arm, Cadry tried to somehow transfer his own certainty just by touch. “Next year they will make us knights and then we can really start making our mark on the world.”

Melkin just nodded and gave Cadry a tired smile. He wanted to believe his brother, but as of this moment he had a hard time doing it.

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The Guarded Bride
Year 480

Caravan.png

As the first sunrays touched the rolling hills of Salisbury a band of travelers emerged from Vagon. It was a rather odd group of traveler; a large wagon flanked by two marching foot soldiers, idly chatting with each other and the monk that rode next to them. Ahead of them rode a young lady, her head fixed on the road underneath her horse’s hooves, and what seemed to be her handmaiden. They were also flanked by two footmen whom out of respect were being quite at the moment. Ahead of the motley crew, on a horse a few grooms short of a stable, rode a nervous young boy who cursed his friends libido.

Maelgwyn quickly glanced backwards on the rest of the troupe and counted them; they were all still there, good. He mustered up a stern look when one of the foot soldiers squinted towards him in the rising sun and as he turned back to face the road he prayed that this would soon be over. But of course it wouldn’t. Lord Elad and Amig had both agreed that the journey to Ambrius’ Abbey would take at least a week with this many travelers, especially with a wagon. Why did they have to bring so much food? Because they had so many guards. Why so many guards? Because of Aneria. Why bring Aneria? Because Melkin just HAD to flirt with her! But Maelgwyn also cursed himself. It was his large mouth that had alerted Lord Elad that he wished to visit Ambrius’ Abbey in the coming years. So there he was: a young man with far too much responsibility and a sour mood, grumbling his way towards Dove’s Fields.

‘’bloody idiot… should guard his own damn girl…’’

‘’Did you say somethin’ me’ lord?’’ Maelgwyn looked down on the panting foot soldier that had suddenly appeared next to his sourly mount.

‘’Nothing. Nothing… What is it?’’

‘’Well, me’ lord… It isn’t my place to plan the route and such… you young lord being the leader and all… But isn’t Doves’ Field that way?’’ Maelgwyn looked the way the bumbling man was pointing and noticed the rest of the group standing at the fork of the road he had just passed. He felt blood rush to his face when he saw the other foot soldiers whisper and snicker.

‘’I was just… I was just getting a better view of the landscape… It’s good to know what lies ahead.’’

‘’Isn’t that usually done by riding uphill me’ lord? Can’t rightly see much from down here…’’
Silently nodding Maelgwyn turned his horse and joined the others, his face burning crimson for the rest of the day.

Your Best Friends’ Girl

Aneria seemed to be a sweet girl. A bit to forward for Maelgwyn perhaps but lovely to chat with during the long summer days. He kept the conversations pleasant and the banter civil, avoiding those lingual traps that had snared Melkin.

‘’If I may say so Melkin is smarter then all of us but I’ve got a better hand with horses.’’

‘’And Cadry and Content Not Found: gammond?’’

‘’Well Cadry is a great hunter and during the evenings he can tell stories for hours and Gammond… he… he can swim!’’ Maelgwyn saw Aneria, polite as she was, pretend to cough to stop her snicker but he still heard the rumbling of the foot soldiers mirth near the other campfire.

‘’Some water Maid Aneria?’’ Maelgwyn tried to ignore the slight against his dear friend and quietly filled Aneria’s cup.

‘’So what do you think it will be like? Being locked up in that cloister?’’ Maelgwyn silently filled his own cup and contemplated his answer.

‘’I’m sure it will be fine… Change is always hard and so is leaving someone you lo… like’’ In the failing light of the sun and the flickering warmth of the flame Maelgwyn saw Aneria’s eyes cloud. Her delicate mouth opened and just as the first tear was about to roll down her cheek he spoke.
‘’And even though it might seem hard now it will get easier. Besides the bible is not just lessons and virtues, there’s love to.’’ Maelgwyn cleared his throat and spoke softly:

‘’ My dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
Catch for us the foxes,
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
our vineyards that are in bloom.’’

Even though Maelgwyn was not able to heal the aching heart of Aneris during their travel he felt sure he soothed it. And when the stern nuns at Ambrosius abbey escorted the young lady away he met her eyes and bowed. They were going to meet again, he was sure of it.

The Blind Monk

‘’I knew you father you know’’ Maelgwyn’s heart sank as the blind monk spoke.

‘’I was there the day he died and even though I didn’t see it myself I can swear no men have ever fought so bravely.’’

‘’Thank you, brother’’ It was now clear to Maelgwyn why the old monk had insisted on leading him to his temporary cell even though he himself needed guidance by the young acolyte at his side.

‘’Don’t thank me. Thank the Lord that gave the bannermen strength to protect both you and me.’’

‘’I thank him every day, brother.’’

‘’I hope so… Here we are.’’
The cell was as austere as Maelgwyn had anticipated. He would be spending just a few days here but he already felt the tranquility and calm of the cloister comfort his weary bones. The only sounds he heard were the calm and quite conversation between the monks and the chirping of the multitudes of birds in the orchards.

‘’I will speak to you later. The Sermon is at six and if you have any questions just ask for me.’’

‘’Thank you for your help, brother’’
When Maelgwyn lay down to rest that night he felt completely at ease. He had done his best to comfort Aneria and he had fulfilled his duty to Lord Elad and Amig, He fell asleep as only a young man with no worries can; unfortunately worries awaited him in his dreams.

The Dream and the Cave

dream

First came the sounds.
There was a crackling echo in the air, as if hundreds of pages of paper were being crumbled. And a low humming vibration, as if the very ears themselves produced the sound. It was a sound, not unlike that from an animal.

Then came the smells.
There was a dry, empty smell. And a smell of burning oil.

Then came the touch.
Foot on solid stone, cold and firm, like that of the ancient cave floor. It had been so long since anyone walked on it that any warmth had evaporated.

Only then, came vision.
A dark, somber room or cave, hundreds of relics, icons and holy items on the shelves, and they all felt like they were watching, judging, learning. There was many corridors, room and nooks. And whenever the eyes fell on one of them, another seemed to creep out of the field of vision. They stayed where they were supposed to be, only as long as they could be focused on. The second the eyes strayed, they were gone.

Behind two brighter shelves, appeared a strange bright light.

First came the sounds.
“Ewch wedyn brawd. Yr ydych wedi gwasanaethu tir hwn. A phan y gynffon dreigiau yn dychwelyd i’r nefoedd, byddwch yn dychwelyd.”

Then came the smells.
There was a strong sharp aroma, like iron that spent too long time being damp or wet. A thick, damp smell, like old people before they die.

Then came the touch.
Wet, moldy dirt crept up between the toes. Like when you take your first steps in a soggy pond. The earth enveloped the feet, and it did not seem like they intended to let go.

Only then, came vision.
A man, or woman, it was hard to tell. It threw something against a shining surface. Just when the object is about to touch it, a bright flash of light, touch, smell and sound. Like glass shattering the entire dream,

And the dream ended.

Only the words echoed. And the young squire realised that hundreds of smells, memories and most of all IMPORTANT things were left in the dream. If only he could remember, but the more he thought about it. The more the dream ran away. The more he thought about it, the less it made sense.

Actually, he thought he had dreamt it before many times. But… this was the first time he remembered anything more than the empty feeling of not remembering.

Conversation in the orchard

framed_abbey

Maelgwyn pondered the dream as he walk through the blooming orchards, listening to the singing birds and the gravel crunching underfoot. It surely meant something, such dreams seldom came without meaning or hidden truths. An omen of things to come? Perhaps even a warning of approaching danger and strife? Under the gaze of the sun in the warm comfort of the orchard the dream seemed even more distant and with every step he felt like he forgot another detail, another vital clue to this omen.

’’What are you thinking of, squire?’’ The soft words startled Maelgwyn but his blood calmed when he saw the Blind Monk sitting in the shade of the old apple tree. At first Maelgwyn hesitated to answer him truthfully. Something in him wished to keep the dream a secret from the outside world, at least until he knew more about it. But to lie to a man of the cloth was a sin and lying to one within the walls of a cloister would be an especially heinous one. Uriel had drilled his lessons well into his mind.

’’I had a strange dream, brother… and I can’t seem to make any sense of it.’’

’’Perhaps it’s just a dream and nothing more then?’’ The Blind monk hade turned his hollow gaze towards Maelgwyn, his unseeing eyes fixing him in a strange glare.

’’No, brother. I wish it was just an idle dream but it seems full of… potency… ‘’

‘’Tell me about it.’’ Maelgwyn let out a long sigh and seated himself next to the monk that claimed to have known his father. There, amidst the green grass and the chirping song, Maelgwyn recounted his midnight qualms to the nodding brother.

Into the cave

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‘’As soon as I heard you mention the cave I knew it was more than just a dream. The description just fit to well.’’ It was late at night and the rest of the cloister was either sleeping or sequestered to their cells for prayer. The monk was leading Maelgwyn through the inner corridors and sanctums as deftly as any seeing man.
‘’I’ve never seen it myself mind you.’’ The monk chuckled drily and as they were about to round a corner he signed for Maelgwyn to stop.

‘’I shall have a word with the guards, you just stay here.’’ Maelgwyn heard the mumbling conversation further down the corridor and after a short while two pair of boots briskly walked away. Maelgwyn understood his cue and walked up to the monk who was fiddling with the lock to a large iron door.

‘’Normally only those who have sworn the Oath are allowed in here but I’m sure Dilwyn wouldn’t deny the son of one of the Bannermen entrance… especially not in such pressing matters.’’
The door swung open and a breath of cold air with the faint smell of myrrh lapsed around Maelgwyns face.

‘’I will stay here… The guards will not be back for a while. Take whatever time you need.’’

‘’Thank you, brother.’’

The cramped stairway only accentuated the splendor and beauty of the Cave of Icons. Maelgwyn fell to his knees in the middle of the candlelit room, is young hands clasped for prayer. From every wall, corner and alcove the eyes of saints, Multitudes and the Son stared at him.

Hours passed before Maelgwyn emerged from the holy cave; pale as a ghost and without a word for the waiting monk. He would tell of what he found down there later but not now. For now it would remain a secret between him and the Divine.

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