Campaign of the Month: August 2016

Oath of Crows

Prelude
Before the the Legend of King Arthur

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Silence lies in an old ancient abbey. Nothing but the scribbling sound of a feather-pen against old paper can be heard.

It's a great room, the walls covered with shelves of hundreds of old books and scrolls, more than the young scholar had seen in his entire life… more than he thought existed. The young boys eye fell on the old man writing, he made no sound apart from the moving pen. It was almost spooky, and the young boy dared not even breathe, for fear of interrupting the old fellow. He came here sometimes, in search of stories. Most nights, the old man said nothing. But at times, old stories came from him. Tonight was such a night. The old man spoke.

"Do you know of Valour boy?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I don't think anyone does anymore…"

The monk looked at the boy, his old eyes piercing through the darkness.

"They say that a true leader is not he who acts first, but the first person to follow him. It takes courage to follow, when no one else does. To act alone is pride, but to have the courage to first follow what is right, when no one else does. That is valour."

The old man waited for the younger boy to react, but after some time went by, he gave a huge sigh. He knew he would never get the reaction he so missed. The reaction he himself would have given as boy. Such children did not exist anymore. Still… a story could not hurt. He spoke again.

"What most people do not realise, is that the legend of King Arthur was forged by his followers, not himself. I'll tell you boy… to understand who Arthur really was, I need to tell you of his followers."

The old man fell silent, and for a moment the young boy thought the old man could fall over dead. He was more afraid of not hearing the rest of the story, than the man's soul. But then suddenly, the old man moved again. As if he changed his mind, his story took new vigour.

"To really UNDERSTAND we must begin all the way back in ancient time. Before the SWORD OF VICTORY…"

The old man's hand suddenly drew a fictitious sword from a stone, and the young boy almost fell out of his chair. But the old man didn't stop for a second.

"…was first drawn, and before its magic had enchanted Britain. This was a time where the evil King Vortigern still ruled the land, and every decision he took brought doom upon the Islands. This was long before Pax Arthuria. It was a time of old. Where the law of the land was that the strong ruled the weak, and a knight was nothing more than a man with armour and a horse. I'll tell you the story of four brave warriors of Belgae and Durotriges. This story takes place in 460."

The man settled down again, and sat down on his chair. His eyes looked dreamy, almost as if had been in those ages himself.

"It was a few years after the Battle of Kent, where king Vortigern had sent his troupes to aid the Saxon King Hengest to retake Kent from the rebels of the Cantaii Tribe. The tribe was defeated, and many of them ran for the harbours to travel to Brittany, where they had been promise refuge by King Bans father. "

The monk went over to a shelf of books, and picked out an ancient looking tome. He put it on a table, opened it and then pointed at a paragraph.

"Our story begins in spring, when four famous warriors gather for Easter in Sarum Rock, in those day called Sorviodunum. This was the year, when they all learned the lesson of Hospitality. And the price or rewards it could hold upon them. "

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Bryn
Year 460-461

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Summer solo (Enemy)

During the summer Bryn and Edern were out patrolling, when they happened upon a group of foreign travellers who had been attacked by a group of bandits. Not knowing the customs of these people Bryn started helping a well dressed women, who was in need of aid. Not only was the women low born but also the property of the lord in the travelling party. Bryn had thus succeeded in offering help in the wrong hierarchical order (which was a great offence) and touching another lords property which was seen as a relentless challenge.

The winter

During the winter Bryn started off the season by getting a cold that grew worse each day. It was a busy winter because of the wedding of Bryns cousin Victus, which Bryn helped plan. Ignoring the cold he travelled, had meetings and made sure that the wedding was honourably executed. Just after the winter solstice the cough seemed to have burrowed its way into Bryns very bones, and slowly turned into pneumonia. Falling dreadfully ill Bryn coughed so hard that eventually a couple of his ribs broke and weekend his breathing. Not until the first flower had grown outside the door he started to recover. Weakened, short of breath and with dark circles below his eyes he eventually got back on his feet, just as his wife gave birth to their forth son Melkin. The child also in poor health seemed to illustrate a strangely accurate reflection of Bryn himself.

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Cadwallon
Year 460

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Summer solo (Enemy)

The summer of 460 turned out to be a slow and frustrating season for the aging Cadwallon. Sharing the castle DuPlain with the dark haired beauty that had so mysteriously shown up on the road when she was sorely needed, became a sore trial for the lusty pagan. Always the lady would tease and hint at carnal promises but never would she even come close to consummating any kind of relationship. Missing his wife who he had left at home he turned to one of the washer girls who was comely enough. They carried on a secret affair, never being seen in public but rather met out in the country where they wouldn’t attract unwanted attention. Alas it was not meant to last.

The winter

During this winter things turned complicated when the father (Tidwall) of the washer girl (Mira) finally found out. The reason for him finding out turned out to be the fact that the girl was pregnant. When confronted by her father the girl shamefully confessed who the father was and then fled during the night. Thanks to this debacle Tidwall turned to the hundred court and asked for justice and re-compensation. The court found in the favor of the father and ordered Cadwallon to pay a fine of two pounds to the bereaved father. Even though the matter was settled in court, Tidwall still harbors a grudge against his lord but lacks any means of acting against him.
In better news for Cadwallon, his uncle Cadlew died during the winter and left him goodly amount of trade goods to the sum of six pounds which certainly helped restore the strained finances of Tisbury manner after court mandated fine. Cadlew was sent of to the other side with all respect owed to an honored kin and was buried with his father and brothers on Tisbury hill. The family held a remembrance feast in honor of a life well lived. Some say that they heard a quiet voice from under the hill during the night of the burial, that welcomed Cadlew home.
As if nature abhors an imbalance, on the day after his uncle was buried, Nia gave birth to a son during the coldest winter day. Cadwallon was beside himself with joy and swore that he would make a proper sacrifice the the one under the hill and to the gods for finally having lifted their curse on him.

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Conversations in front of the fire
Winter 460

By the fire

Winter smothered Ludwell such that neither man nor beast would venture outside other than in the direst of circumstances. In all the long hall, only a handful of servants and two men were awake. One, old, sat entombed in furs upon a large chair in front of the fire. The other, young, sat bored and restless tossing pine cones upon the flames.

A bout of coughing, merciless as had been all winter, racked the pile of furs at length.

“Ye god, take this cough to the devil” muttered Edern, long since out of patience with his own weakness. He eyed the sullen young man opposite, and weighed what to say next with care. Good sense rarely penetrates the stubbornness of the young with ease, and it was moreso with this one than most.

“Young Elad, why do you think it is that I am held in such regard by my betters and peers?”

Elad ground his teeth, sensing a trap, yet unable to fathom a way other than to blunder into it.

“You’ve killed many men Lord Ludwell, great men, and fought in many battles.”

Edern nodded sagely, mostly to cover more coughing, and dangled the bait further into the trap.

“And why is that, do you think?”

“You fear no one and nothing, and anyone who wrongs you or goes against you, you kill”

Elad, determined to stay his course, charged onwards.

“Hmm. One would think, but no. Killing is certainly what we do when we must when directed by oath or honour, but it is not who we are. A man who is nothing but a killer is a shell and can never be truly great.”

Glowering and resentful at being caught in this line of thought Elad nonetheless played his part, compelled by boredom and vague curiosity.

“What then, Lord Ludwell?”

“If a man does not have a purpose other than death, he will not survive to be as old or regarded as I. Finding joy in family, and the love of ones blood and wife, must come first. Oaths and bonds must be honoured, and advice given with cool head. Only when these things are part of the very soul of you can you stand on the field of battle, kill your enemies with a steady hand, and face whatever comes despite the fear in your heart.”

Edern had thought to follow this lesson with one on the value of fear but like the cough, relented. Elad had stopped listening, and there would be many more winter nights in front of the fire.

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Edern
Year 460

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Summer Solo (Guard duty)

While on patrol, Edern and Bryn chanced upon a group of foreign travellers who had been beset by bandits. Edern, ever the vengeful one, immediately commandeered a handful of sargeants and left Bryn to his own devices among the foreigners. This proved to be a fortuitous turn of events, as these foreigners were a prickly and strange lot. Edern would secretly thank the gods for his good sense in leaving for the remainder of his years.

A hand with commoners can be a good thing, and the bandits were soon discovered. The low folk see things everywhere and hunters know their forests. Unfortunately the bandits proved to be more numerous than anticipated, a full dozen of the black hearted bastards had encamped in the woods enjoying their spoils.

Edern hid his Sargeants and squire among the foilage down the road, and set to cantering his warhorse up the trail. Upon discovering the miscreants he manfully feigned surprise and then dismay, turning his horse to ride away. A masterful rider, pretending to injure his horse in the process and slowly hobbling down the trail proved little challenge.

The bandits thought their fortune made, a wealth of armour and weaponry, and a horse to eat to boot! They charged after, determined to catch their quarry. Edern dismounted past the ambush, pretending to care for his horse, and as the bandits approached him he took up arms. The victorious hoots of the bandits soon turned to cries of terror and defeat. Barely had Edern deflected three ruffians off his shield before the ambush was sprung. A great victory, with only two injured Sargeants to pay.

The Winter

During the winter kin of the sprawling Anarawd bloodline, gathered and dispered across the lands after the wedding of Neillyn, came to ludwell. She had a bastard, and could not bear it publicly for shame. Edern, ever loyal to his blood, took the bastard in and claimed him as his own.

Word of his steady heart and wit spread, and before the wracking cough took him for the winter he was asked to sit in judgement in the company of important men, bringing wealth into his house.

The cough was savage as a pict this winter of 460, surely it will be the death of Edern before long…

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Unwelcome gifts
Year 460

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The winter of 460 was mild and after a few weeks a comfortable numbness had snuck into the hall and hearts of the Tarrens.

The crisp days saw the men waddling through snow looking for elusive deer and the long evenings where spent drinking and laughing in front of the roaring fires. During the starry nights Ceiwyn felt a flame awaken in his heart; a small tinder that slowly grew in his chest. He felt an affection he had never felt for any man or beast before budding in his chest and before long his love for Morwenna slowly began to bloom. But even such good thoughts can lead to discord.

To Morwenna it seemed an innocent Christmas gift. Perhaps a bit expensive but lovely nonetheless. The lovely fox furs matched here brown eyes and when she showed them to Ceiwyn he smiled happily. But why shouldn’t he? Such a lavish gift from Squire Elad as thanks for Ceiwyns training and friendship only proved to Morwenna that marrying Ceiwyn had been a wise choice. Elad was a striking young lad; as kind as he was goodhearted. Had he not visited her during the long summer? Hadn’t he laughed with her at the fire and kept her company during those dreary days? Her husband was lucky to keep such friends.

For Ceiwyn the signs were clear. The letters dripping of honeyed words, the constants visits to his beloved wife, Elad insistence on becoming his friends squire… and now this. The skinned foxes dead eyes gleamed as his wife spun; their rich fur gleaming as red as Ceiwyns hair in the dancing light. This battle would be long and bloody. But Elad would have a hard time skinning this fox.

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What are men to rocks and mountains?
Year 461

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The winter brought a lot of surprises for Bryn who spent the months at DuPlain, guarding the area and representing Dominus Robyn. Learning from the experience and keeping far away from his wife warm bed Bryn grew more suspicious and developed his eye for hidden conflicts and intrigues. Like the winter before he fell ill and regretfully felt his body grew weaker once more. Weeks after the sickness had left his body, it was still affecting his confidence. It was during these weaker moments that he met the older and wealthy lady Kyna, who despite Bryns lack of charming women took a liking to him. They would converse during late evenings and eventually end up below the covers together. A bit regretful and flushed by his own behaviour Bryn tried to end their relationship at the end of the season, but the widow being a strong willed woman has not yet forgotten about him.

During the end of the winter Bryn’s uncle on his roman side suddenly passed away after a dreadful accident. He had been thrown from his new expensive horse and ended up impaling himself on the fence on the side of his courtyard. Mountain, as the horse had been named, was the largest and meanest beast that anyone had ever seen in the Salisbury as far as was remembered. Bryn, being known as a competent rider, ended up retrieving the huge charger since no one else dared go near the creature.

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The Brooding Lord
Year 461

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With the summer came the joyous news of Morwennas pregnancy but the warmth also brought the dreams that plagued Ceiwyn until the first snow. Morwennas pregnancy was celebrated as the fields were tilled but as the leaves turned yellow Ceiwyn could no longer stay in his home. The midwives worried glances and the dreams that haunted him every night made it clear: he had to ride of. The Lord had sent him the dreams, of that he was certain, and for the first time in his life he understood Magog’s droning words and the ramblings of the Old Gods priestesses. He suddenly understood what it felt like to be chosen. The Lord wished for him to retrieve a hallowed relic from the mountaintops. Again and again he had seen the lonely chapel with the withered stonewalls and overgrown gardens. At first Ceiwyn ignored the signs, later he considered them and finally he accepted them. So it came that Ceiwyn rode of in the early autumn to retrieve the small vial clutched in the hand of a withering statue.

The chapel was as distant as the dreams had foretold and the journey left Ceiwyn numb and tired, a numbness that would never leave his weary body. But he found the vial; clutched in the hand of the Virgin Mary just as in his dreams. But when he came home it was too little and too late. Morwenna had died giving birth to his second son and darkness fell over Chillmark.

Everything Morwenna had ever owned or touched was burned when she was lain to rest. Gowns, goblets and furs were piled on the pyre under the tear filled eyes of the brooding lord and as the black smoke whirled up to the heavens he cursed the fates and his soft heart.

In those dark days of winter Cadwallon kept Ceiwyn company by the fire, but even the kindness of an old friend couldn’t’ mend his broken heart. But Cadwallons company and humour kept Ceiwyn from being alone with his thoughts, something that kept him from growing even more weary of this world.

When the spring finally arrived one thing was clear: Ceiwyn blamed himself for his wife’s death. His affronts to the Lord and lack in faith had brought this upon his family and he vowed that from that day forward he would be a more pious man. But as Ceiwyn thought he was simply committing his life to the Lord worried whispers were heard in the Tarren household: their lords heart and eyes were growing crueller and colder every day.

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Of Faith, Fate and Destiny
Year 461

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The peaceful times and the good times were ending and thus Cadwallon was sent out by his Lord to gather allies. Many were the men who grumbled in privacy of their own halls but few had dared to raise the banner of rebellion against the high king, the so aptly called Usurper. Thanks to the quest for the Dragon Banner Salisbury was now counted among the few along with the men from Kent. Being a notable warrior known for his forthrightness, Cadwallon had been sent as an emissary to the court of the Duke of Glevum. The Duke, being a good man, hadn’t so far declared for anyone other than the high king, but many men claimed that he did so reluctantly. It was this reluctance Cadwallon and his lord counted on to perhaps turn the Duke and have him also raise the banner of rebellion.

Once he arrived, Cadwallon was treated as an honored guest and given a high place at the table of the duke of Glevum himself. Once the pleasantries of the table had been dispensed with the two men got to talking about more serious business and Cadwallon told most of the facts as he saw and knew them to the duke. The only thing that he kept to himself was the fact that Ambrosius Aurelius yet lived and was preparing to return to Logres, and this he didn’t speak of only because he had sworn an oath to not mention it until the time was right. Making an impassioned plea for aid and alliance by speaking of the old days under the rule of High King Constantin and by pointing out the many crimes committed by the usurper against his own people, Cadwallon seemed to make headway with persuading the duke. When he left the duke asked the Lord Robin send another messenger when spring arrived so that the matter could be discussed further. Lord Robin turned out to be grateful for this message for it was more than he had expected from the mission, and thus he rewarded Cadwallon with good silver for his swiftness and eloquence.

Having returned home to his manor dark news awaited the earnest warrior however. His wife had died whilst giving birth to a son who had fallowed his mother into the Otherlands but a few hours later. Grief-stricken that his companion of many long years had left him, Cadwallon spent little time at home during the winter. Instead he spent many days and nights a his brother-in-all-but-bloods manor, for Ceiwyn has also suffered a similar loss. The loss had however struck Ceiwyn much harder since the lovely Morwenna had been Ceiwyn first and only wife. He hadn’t had to put two previous wives in the ground and neither had he had to bury several of his own children. The dark moods in Ceiwyns hall suited Cadwallon because many dark thoughts had been swirling around in his head and the gloom brought a strange kind of clarity. During the darkest days of winter Cadwallon left to go visit his ancestors.

“With the Gods on your side, you are truly doomed!”

These words spoken by his grandfather had started to make sense to old Cadwallon as he walked the long and lonely road up to the burial hill of Tisbury. His third wife Nia had been laid to rest but a few days ago and so had his unborn and unnamed son. The winter seemed colder and harder than many, at least to Cadwallon. But maybe it was just the cold in his heart as fear grasped his very soul at the thought that the Gods would keep taking his family from him. Now he at last had a son but the signs had all been dark when the boy was born and thus he had order a cow slaughtered and sacrificed to Modron, the great mother. Yet it seemed that the Mothers touch was far away and that some otherworldly power had taken a greater interest.

As he sat foot on the old burial hill where all his ancestors lay he could swear he heard a groaning sound coming from underneath the hill. Walking over to the graves of his wives he fearfully pondered what this sign could mean. What did Ol’Tiss require? Why didn’t he makes his will clear?

Kneeling by the graves, he shouted to his distant ancestor, demanding an answer. But it was not the old man underneath the hill who answered but rather a large flock of Ravens who came swooping in and started cawing out their hunger. In the cawing a voice could be heard, a dark an terrible voice that spoke without words. It spoke of the dead and the dying, it spoke of the blood shed on the battlefield, it spoke of the skulls taken from the enemies of the Durotriges. It was an old call, a call not heard since before the hated Romans arrived on the shores of Logres. It now became clear, the old Gods were coming back! And the oldest and darkest called on the head of the Cellydon family like she had done in the days of old. Cerridwen called!

Several hours later as he left the hill Cadwallon had returned to his senses once more and had time to think on what it all meant. It meant that most of the things in his life had been leading up to this. All the fighting, all the toil, it was all a preparation for the coming war. The gods demanded that blood be spilled and that the usurper must be cast from his throne.

Cradling the hand that was now missing a finger a dark certainty came over the old man: only in giving his self fully to the Gods keeping would they stay their hand from his kin. Their life had been taken to balance the scales when he should have died in the battles of his youth

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Will you not reconsider?
Year 461

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”Will you not reconsider”, asked Cælia and gave Bryn a frustrated look that made him smile.
“No, I will not,” he chuckled and continued to see to his armour. After the unfortunate incidents that had bestowed his friends this winter, he had to make sure to take extra good care of it.
“But, it is not right for a husband to stay out of his wife’s bed this long,” she argued. “It can lead to… well, rumours.”
”People always find something to talk about, but I dare say that this will not peek the interest of folk as of now. Not when there is a war coming.”
“Some are already talking. They say that you…” Cælia took a deep breath as if to force herself to say the words ”are riding the devil.”

Bryn looked up from his work confused. Naturally he knew that Mountain had been called devil by the common folk in hushed voices, but the flushed cheeks on Cælia indicated that this rumour was something else. He felt his face go red.

“They are saying what?!”
Cælia, now taken aback by his anger, turned her gaze down and answered in a small voice:
“That Lord Hindon enjoys riding his new war horse to the extent that he no longer finds his wife satisfying.”

Her cheeks were a burning red now. His anger flushing Bryn stood and threw the tools he was using. They hit the opposite wall with a sharp sound that echoed in the room.

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He had considered his choice both wise and sober, especially since it seemed like every other lady had died in childbirth this winter. Also, four sons and one daughter were more than any lord could wish for and he had to make sure that he had the finances to give them appropriate futures. Since their youngest had been born weak, and Cælia herself had needed more time to recover from the boy’s problematic birth he had felt weary to loose her. Their children needed Cælia to ensure that they grew up well so he had made up his mind, but then that horse had killed his uncle and people sure were talking.

“That horse is going to be as troublesome as it is going to be profitable,” he muttered after taking a moment to compose himself. “It will not stand! If anyone dare imply that I would do ungodly things with a war horse, I will challenge and kill them.”

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