Part I: The Royal Court
’What daring! What outrageousness! What arrogance!’, Lord Hywell fumed at his knights in the hall of Windsor Castle. Though the assembled host of noblemen and ladies created a formidable murmur of noise, his harsh voice more than likely carried to the ears of Duke Lucius. If it did, the stately old Roman showed no signs of irritation. ‘He has the gall to deny us our rightful place in the coming battle, in front of the king himself’
‘My lord, someone has to command the garrisons. Steward Bradwen cannot be denied a place in a battle in Stour Valley, Sir Marius is an incompetent fool, and Marshall Titus has to be in the field. Who else of the high lords but you, then?’, Tarian told his lord daringly.
Hywell rewarded him with a frosty stare. ‘Any fool of a Constable could organize that. First I am left with the command of the left flank at Colchester, and now this. The man piles insults upon insults – surely even you are not as thick as to misunderstand that, Harling’
Tarian stayed wisely silent.
‘The king agreed with Duke Lucius, whether we like it or not’, Herion said, glancing at the powerfully built, red-haired form of Uther Pendragon. The king sat apparently at ease on his chair at the end of the table, having light conversation with the surrounding magnates of Logres. ‘So, unless you plan to oppose the Pendragon’s will, father…’
‘Bah!’, Hywell barked. ‘Even you, boy. God, I am tired of kings and dukes and their petty games. All I ask is a Saxon skull to whet my sword on, and they deny me even that’
You envy Broadlanders and Valleymen for being allowed to face the horde we fought at Colchester?We were lucky to escape with our lives. Gaius was no coward, but he remembered all too well the brutal might that had forced the Caerwent army downhill in last year’s battle, and the wolf banner’s relentless advance. Victory will not come easily, even with Sir Brastias and his royal troops at our side.
Gaius ignored Lord Hywell’s further ranting, instead concentrating on the king’s Gaulish guest. Praetor Syagrius of Soissons lounged leisurely in the seat next to Uther’s, his white-cloaked bodyguards always hovering nearby. The Roman’s handsome features were often adorned by a cheerful smile, which Gaius suspected to be more façade than not. Praetor Syagrius was a desperate man in dire straits; an insistent beggar, whose cries for help had so far been largely ignored by the King of Logres. Gaius shook his head. Barbarians had engulfed every corner of the once great Roman Empire; how could Syagrius expect Britons to offer any assistance, with land-hungry Saxons, Picts and Gaels harrying their very homes? Franks are not the only beasts let loose in this ever darkening world, my good Praetor.
King Uther did not seem to think that the various breeds of invaders were the worst threat to his realm; disloyal vassals remained a constant topic in royal conversation, as though the Saxons who had engulfed Caercolun did not exist at all. Corneus of Lindsey managed to get his fair share of the king’s ill will, but most of Uther’s curses were directed towards Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, whom he described as little better than Brutus reborn. And here I thought the relationship between Lord Hywell and Duke Lucius was sour.
‘You look like one of the royal hunting hounds just bit you in the bollocks’, Owain said, laying a meaty hand on Gaius’ shoulder. ‘Come, let us taste the king’s wine. It has to be better than the watered-down swill Lord Hywell serves us back home. Maybe it’ll even chase that dark mood of yours away. God knows Tarian is dull company at feasts; I’ll not have you turn you into a similar stick-in-the-mud’
Judging by the smell of his breath, Owain had already drank more than his fair share of the royal winery. Gaius smiled weakly, and allowed the Lord of Wolfpit to drag him towards the serving wenches.
The wine was rich and red, but Gaius did not indulge in it to the same extent as Owain, being content on sipping it moderately. He had long since learned that sobriety, alert ears and a ready tongue served one better in high courts than drunken revelry.
Tarian soon joined them. Gaius knew that his old friend was perturbed by Hywell’s reprimands, but only those close to the Lord of Harling could read the signs from his calm countenance.
‘Some tongue-lashing you got there’, Owain muttered, eyeing Tarian blearily.
‘I simply spoke my mind’, he answered, shrugged, and looked away. A wine goblet had graced Tarian’s hands for the whole evening, but he had nary taken a sip from it.
Rarely a wise thing to do in the company of ill-tempered lords. Though admirable in its honesty, Tarian’s candor was far too often misplaced. Gaius offered his friend a few fair words of condolence, and turned his attention to the ladies gracing the royal court, having a pleasant chat full of double entendres with several of them. Not that he had any unchaste plans; word travels fast, and Lady Arcavia would not be in the least bit impressed if Gaius started bedding down every lady he encountered, like some backcountry heathen. Still, cultured female company was a welcome change to Owain’s inebriated banter and Tarian’s taciturn formality.
Gaius spotted a finely-clad young knight wearing dragon heraldry approaching them, and instantly came to attention. Prince Madoc. Uther’s bastard son approached the three knights with a confident, effortless swagger, and saluted them courteously, though his cruel and mirthless smile marred his polite words.
‘Well met, good lords of Harling, Mundford and Wolfpit’, Madoc said, raising his ruby-studded goblet. A rare honour for mere knights, to be recognized by the prince. ‘Do you find the royal court enjoyable?’
‘The wine is good and the wenches are pretty, my lord’, Owain slurred, and Gaius had to force himself not to slap him for his coarseness.
‘Truly spoken’, Madoc laughed throatily. ‘My father says that a good fighting man knows how to appreciate the simple pleasures of life’
‘All that killing business gives a man a thirst for several things’, Owain said with a grin.
Madoc nodded. ‘It is a shame that Duke Lucius chooses to let men so clearly meant for the battlefield to rot among the garrison crew’
‘We all must do our duty, my lord’, Tarian said softly.
‘Mayhap so’, the prince answered, regarding him with an even stare. ‘Would you hold it an affront to your honour, if I were to request Duke Lucius for your presence in my raiding force, Sir Tarian?”
‘I…’ For once, Tarian’s calm was shattered. ‘Would you do such a thing?’
‘Indeed I would. I consider asking him to allow all three of you to join me on my attack against the Saxons in Caercolun, unless your love for the garrison crew is too great to abandon them’
‘By God’s blood, of course we’ll join you!’, Owain shouted.
‘I would be honoured’, Tarian agreed.
‘Why, if may I ask, would you do such a thing, my prince?’, Gaius inquired.
‘Certainly there are knights more experienced and accomplished among Lord Hywell’s men?’
‘A mutual friend asked me’, Madoc said, his smile turning into a mischievous grin. ‘It seems you have attracted the notice of powerful parties, my good knights’
Part II: The White Wolf
The chilly fog covered everything, bathing the landscape in grey, opaque blanket. A steady murmur of curses rose from the host of men, who had to lead their horses on foot through the treacherous terrain.
Tarian glanced to his left, at Gaius leading his charger with a destitute look in his dark eyes. The black plume of his ancestors hung drenched and limp on the back of his mail coif. The Roman looked miserable; no doubt he had envisioned himself sneaking off to court Lady Arcavia during patrols and garrison stints, instead of marching through fog and rain to face Saxon steel. Gaius did not shy away from a clash of blades once fighting began, but sometimes he exhibited an altogether unknightly reservations towards going to battle.
Owain, on the other hand, had none. The big man walked with head held high, his long, thin red hair plastered against his head. He looked as gleeful as a child with a new toy, and irritated everyone around him by whistling a merry ditty completely out of tune.
The all too familiar pre-battle fear churned Tarian’s stomach, although he took great pains not to show it. The Saxons were near; he could feel it. The fight would turn into a chaotic stumble, if this damnable mist did not recede soon. The thick fog rendered a cavalry charge nigh impossible, thus robbing Britons of their greatest weapon. Yet Prince Madoc pressed on.
King Uther’s son walked right ahead of Tarian, holding the reins of his huge black charger, pushing forward with no sign of hesitation. By all accounts, Aethelswith had left a sizable force behind to protect Caercolun; Madoc’s recklessness could cost them all their lives, if they did not begin to advance more cautiously.
Three horsemen galloped through the mists, and stopped in front of the prince; they were lightly-armoured hobilars on quick, hardy coursers. Scouts. The men dismounted and spoke with the Madoc. Tarian could catch a few words of their conversation, being situated nearby. The Saxons were indeed close, he heard, marching through a lightly forested valley close by, led by a tall chieftain under a white wolf banner.
The white wolf. Tarian remembered all too well how the mail-clad, bearded men following the banner had cut a bloody swathe across the British ranks at Colchester. This foe was not to be taken lightly.
‘Pass the word; mount up and be quiet’, Madoc hissed. Tarian, Gaius and Owain did as they were told, and soon a multitude of knights clambered to their horses, trying to silence the clink of their armours and weapons with mixed success. The prince signaled a slow advance, and the mounted host clanked forward in an unsteady trod.
The mist ended as if cut with a knife, and Madoc’s force rode to a wide, grassy plain, which sloped down into a deep valley, behind which loomed the dark Quinqueroi Forest. An uproar of voices rose from the Saxon host in the valley, and a metallic hiss erupted, as hundreds of swords and seaxes were drawn from their sheaths.
The prince’s dragon banner tipped forward, and the knights spurred their horses to a charge, lances lowering into a deadly front of sharp steel. The Britons let out a hatred-infused shout in answer to the bestial Saxon howls. The ground shook under the thunder of hooves.
They have no time to form a shield wall, Tarian realized, fierce joy fluttering in his chest. The knightly charge struck the disorganized Saxon ranks with a merciless force, scattering their host, and leaving countless dead and dying on the bloody ground. Tarian’s spear snapped in two, embedded in a hide covered Saxon chest, and hot blood splattered his face. He drew his sword, and heard Owain let out a maniacal laughter beside him, as the big knight’s lance went right through a helmed head. Gaius fought in grim silence, abandoning his spear in a foeman’s belly in favour of his sword.
They hacked through the Saxon horde, swords and axe slicing down enemies, who tried to desperately reform their ranks. The Saxon efforts were in vain; Madoc’s men had cut their force into pieces, and more and more invaders started running towards the sheltering shadows of Quinqueroi Forest. Even the warriors gathered around the wolf banner lurched towards the woods, as Saxon horns sounded a general retreat.
‘After them!’, Tarian shouted, waving his dripping sword towards the fleeing banner near them. Gaius an Owain followed him, with a small group of knights accompanying their rush towards the Saxon commander (A Critical Battle roll by Tarian). A group of Saxon warriors stumbled forward to block their path, but they were quickly cut down by the mounted, hate-filled knights.
They rode into the Quinqueroi Forest, with Owain leading the wild chase through the woods. They soon cornered their enemy in a small forest glade, where the Saxons had pitched their banner. The hulking, mailed heorthgeneats shouted war cries and brandished their huge axes, while their leader stood menacingly in the front ranks, shield and sword in hand. A masked, engraved helmet covered his features, and from within it echoed a challenge in heavily accented Cymric. “Come, Welshmen; I would gladly feast with you in Woden’s hall. Tell the Lord of Battles that it was Wulf of the Hwitwyrmings who sent you before him”
“Die, you swine-spawned whoreson!”, Owain cried in answer, and charged at the chieftain. The rest of the knights followed suit, and Saxon axes rose to meet British swords. Tarian’s shield was split in half by a wicked overhead swing from one of the heorhgeneats, and a warm, wet trickle flowed under his hauberk, but he managed to remain mounted. He answered with a quick slash that cut the Saxon’s axe haft in two and struck through his nasal guard. The invader fell back with a cry, clawing at his ruined, blood-spurting face.
The bodyguards fought back fiercely, their axes taking a toll of the Britons intent on claiming their leader’s life. Gaius managed to strike his foe to the ground after a long, hard struggle. The man lay in a broken, bleeding heap, drawing breath in hoarse gasps.
Wulf of the Hwitwyrming did not die easily. He fought against the mounted Owain with cold ferocity, scraping the knight’s mail and shield with his sword, but in the end the Cymri’s axe clove his helmet and head in two. The Scourge of Colchester had died.
The Saxons had not gone down without a fight. Only Tarian, Gaius and Owain remained standing of the knights that had pursued Wulf through Quinqueroi Forest; the rest lay dead on the forest floor, victims of a desperate, vicious last stand.
“Kill me, Welshman”, the Saxon that Tarian had felled muttered, his smashed face a red ruin. “I have no wish to outlive my lord”
“Have you no kin to ransom you?”, Tarian asked, standing above him, crimson droplets steadily falling to the ground from his blade. His left arm ached where the Saxon’s axe had bit.
“I come from high blood”, there was an echo of pride in the Saxon’s deep, pained rumble. “Yet I refuse to be paid for; I prefer to follow Wulf to the Hall of the Slain”
The heorthgeneat may have been a hated invader, yet Tarian could not help but feel a modicum of respect towards his death-defying valour. “Farewell then, warrior. May your gods have mercy on your soul”, he said, slicing the Saxon’s jugular vein with his sword. A wet gurgle erupted from the man’s mouth as he died beside his lord.
The man Gaius had felled also chose a warrior’s death, and the Roman likewise gave him his final wish. None of Wulf’s heorthwerod left Quinqueroi Forest alive (I decided not to give the boys any Cruel checks, since the Saxons themselves asked to die. They would have received Merciful checks had they chosen to spare them nonetheless).
“They died well”, Tarian said quietly, wiping his blade clean.
“They got what they deserved”, Owain spat on Wulf’s mangled corpse. “May a legion of demons bugger them in Hell for all eternity”
The mist had begun to rise again. The knights watched in alarm as pale, wispy tendrils snaked between the old oaks of Quinqueroi, reaching out for them with cold fingers. Everyone around them, a murderous, volcanic roar thundered across the landscape. For a while it echoed menacingly in the woodlands, and then was gone.
“By St. Alban’s finger, what on earth was that?”, Gaius exclaimed.
“A dragon”, came a sinister whisper from within the rising mist. “The White Dragon of the Saxons, lamenting the fall of his champion. Wulf of the Hwitwyrmings made hundreds of British widows and orphans curse his name, but his doom could already be read from the stars, and heard in the wind’s whisper. His death, Sir Owain of Wolfpit, was to be by your hand”
“Who are you?”, Tarian yelled, raising his sword in a feeble defense against the crawling mist. “Show yourself!”
A figure approached from within the fog, a tall man wreathed in dark robes and a heavy, black cloak. Lank raven hair fell to his shoulders, and from his pale, thin face stared eyes of startling yellow colour. In his long-fingered right hand the man carried a tall, oaken staff.
“I thought you were dead”, said Gaius slowly, recognizing the man. “Felled by the sorceries you summoned to help Uther defeat the Saxons at Mt. Damen”
‘That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die’, Merlin the Magician, the Archdruid of Britain, said with an enigmatic smile, and bowed his head in greeting. “Greetings, knights of Caerwent. I would request your assistance”
Part III: The Sword Lake
“Assistance?”, Tarian said. “Impossible. We should be joining Prince Madoc’s forces already. The Saxons are descending at Caerwent, and if our host rides fast, we might be able to strike Aethelswith’s rear”
“That battle is already lost”, Merlin said, his unblinking yellow stare raising Tarian’s hackles. “Duke Lucius failed to break the shieldwall. At this very moment Aethelswith is gathering his men into a swine’s head, and its charge will break the spine of Caerwent army and claim Lucius’ life”
“You devil’s brood!”, Owain hissed, taking a belligerent step forward. “Go pour your venom into other men’s ears”
His mighty form cast an ominous shadow over Merlin, yet the sorcerer did not even blink. “Deny it if you will, Sir Owain, but time will reveal my words to be true. Yet you can still be a boon to Britain herself, helpless though you may have been in saving your countrymen from their fated defeat”
“What is it that you want of us, druid?”, Tarian asked wearily, his sword drooping towards the mossy ground . Merlin’s words had sunk deep into his soul, and he knew them to be true. Death and defeat. May you rest easily, my brother knights.
“Your protection. I aim to make a most dangerous journey into the depths of the forest, and require knights with both strong hearts and sword arms to guard me”, Merlin answered.
“Prince Madoc is expecting us…”, Tarian said stubbornly.
“The prince will understand”, Merlin said, with the faintest of smiles.
“I think he will”, Gaius said, mirroring Merlin’s smile. “You are the ‘mutual friend’ he spoke of, aren’t you?”
“Will you come?”, the sorcerer asked.
The knights looked at each other for a moment, then nodded in agreement. They took the dead chieftain’s wolf banner with them – with Tarian also strapping the Saxon’s shield to his left arm – and rode behind Merlin into the forest.
After a lengthy travel through the woods, Merlin stopped and waved his staff over his head in a wide arc. The ancient oaks before them glowed with a faint shimmer.
“The lands of the Fair Folk”, Owain gasped. “Are you leading us into Annwn itself, warlock?”
“Not quite so far”, Merlin chuckled. “Leave your horses here. No harm will befall them; that, I promise”
The knights did as they were bid, though Owain whispered to them, “Those woods are no place for mortal men: eat nothing, take nothing, trust nothing” (The knights received +5 to all subsequent Trait rolls, thanks to Owain’s successful Faerie Lore roll and warning)
The walk through the forest was long and burdensome, and the very air itself had a heavy, drowsy smell to it. Though the flowery moss banks seemed soft and inviting, the knights trudged forth, not daring to rest in the eldritch woods.
Apples and leaves of gold and silver hung heavy from the ancient oaks in a nearby grove, lustrous in the dark, beckoning them to stray from the forest path to gather this immense wealth. Owain’s warnings ringing in their ears, they did not take one step towards the faerie trees.
As they journeyed on, an intense, mindless surge of pure emotion overcame them, forcing them to steel their nerves against it, dispelling chaotic feelings of doubt and anxiety with a calm, intense strength of will (Yep, I agree, an extremely contrived Just roll. Still, it was the best I could do without resorting to an absolutely WTF scenario, akin to “you encounter two pointy-eared peasants arguing about a stolen cow”).
A group of sneering, screeching, horrible little things scampered around the woods, holding heads of the knights’ slain comrades atop spears and stakes, jeering at them from the shadows. Not allowing their lust for blood and revenge stray them from their path, the knights carried on in Merlin’s wake, though Tarian had to restrain and give Owain a strict talking-to, to prevent him from charging the nasty critters then and there (This was a Merciful roll, though in retrospect it seems more like Forgiving. Oh, well…)
“Why do you follow him, o mighty knight, when you could be charging to glory with Prince Madoc? He lies to you, that devil-sired necromancer, his words are as tangible as the mist he summons. He has stripped you of praise and reward, and even now the prince curses you as deserters…” The haunting, melodious words echoed within the knights’ skulls. Gaius swore foully and turned around, but came to his senses after Tarian slapped him smartly across the face. Merlin beckoned them forward with a wave of his hand, and the three followed. (Trusting roll, you say? Nope, a Modest roll)
“A true knight is more than just a high-born killer with a sword, an armour, and a horse”, Merlin’s voice rang deep and clear amidst the vaulting trees. “And true knights are needed to light the fire that brings warmth and comfort to a world haunted by darkness and war. Honour, justice and compassion are a true knight’s hallmarks. Yet one original truth will always remain”
“Knights are warriors” Merlin had stopped walking. They had arrived in the shores of a mist-shrouded lake, and before them stood three men, menacing and grim.
Their aspect was fearsome and otherworldly. One was a black-mailed youth with fierce, hawklike eyes and a grimace of sharp fangs, who carried a sword and a shield. A band of silver circled his head.
Another was strong and middle-aged, with a long, silver-shod black mane. He was clad in rotting hides, held a cruelly barbed boar spear in his hand, and from his forehead sprouted two spiked antlers.
The third was a gnarly-limbed old warrior, with a garland of oak leaves wreathing his snowy locks. He held a long-hafted, double-bladed bronze axe, and his eyes were black and cold as winter night.
“For the King and the Realm, defeat them!”, Merlin shouted, and the three warriors surged at the knights, yelling inhuman battle cries filled with bloodlust.
Tarian met the charge of the dead-eyed old man with his sword. The wild leap with a raised axe came to an abrupt end, when the knight’s blade emerged between the leaf-crowned warrior’s shoulder blades. The hoary man slid to the ground without a sound.
The horned man’s spear had bit deep into Owain’s flank, and the knight almost fell to his knees in pain, while the youth’s blade struck sparks from Gaius’ hauberk. Tarian sprung to Owain’s assistance; he swung his blade through the animal hides covering the spearman’s body, spilling black blood and entrails, and Owain’s backhand swipe parted the antlered head from shoulders.
Gaius ducked under the youth’s wild swing, and slashed into his calf. The foe’s legs buckled under him, and he fell to the ground with a crash and a screeching cry. Owain and Tarian rushed to Gaius’ side as the warrior climbed up, and together the knights cut the thing down, this time permanently.
A wild, biting wind blew between the trees, keening like a wounded animal. Before the knights’ astonished eyes the three dead men began changing. The youth turned into green oak leaves, while the antlered man’s corpse transformed into auburn ones. The old man’s form writhed, and dried, dead leaves emerged. They all flew away with the wind, vanishing into the depths of the forest.
Merlin climbed to a small boat on the shore, which moved in its own accord toward the centre of the lake. A slender, female arm clad in samite rose from the water, brandishing a naked, gleaming sword. Merlin crouched and took the blade with a reverent nod, and the arm disappeared into the lake once more. Holding the sword like a mother cradling his child, he steered the boat back towards the shore, and walked vigorously to the three weary men.
“Well done, knights,” he says. “Britain is in your debt, and I presume will be for several times more in the future. Let us go now”
The knights followed him with bleary eyes, dragging their tired feet numbly. “This has to be the most unreal thing I have ever experienced in my whole life”, Gaius whispered.
“My wounds are real enough”, Owain said through gritted teeth, holding his side.
Part IV: Christmas in Norwich
I bet those words taste like ashes in his mouth, Gaius thought, peering at the knelt form of Lord Hywell. Duke Marius stood before the Lord of Thetford, clad in a purple cloak and radiantly white clothes. Lucius’ son looked handsome and resplendent, though his face was slightly flushed from the copious amounts of wine he had enjoyed since dawn.
Hywell managed to grumble his oath of fealty to Marius, who answered them formally, though a few sudden spouts of hiccups marred his stately speech. Our duke. At least Marshall Titus remains alive, or the whole Caerwent would be doomed.
“I cannot believe Uther allowed that caricature of a knight retain his father’s ducal title”, Tarian whispered beside him, his brow slightly furrowed.
“The realm is fragmented enough as it is; it is a small gesture, and may well prevent a rebellion”, Gaius answered in a low voice. Though Marius probably could not lead a pack of horny Saxons into a whorehouse, let alone an uprising.
Especially with his army in such a sorry state. Aethelswith’s forces had absolutely crushed the Caerwent army at Ipswich, and only Marshall Titus’ heroic rally of the Saxon Shore Guard had saved them from a complete annihilation. Sir Brastias and his royal forces had come late to the rescue, and prevented Stour Valley and Ipswich from falling to the Saxon. Nevertheless, old Duke Lucius was dead, his corpse in the hands of his murderers, and an utter waste of space now sat on his throne.
Lord Hywell needn’t look so sour; he has all his knights and men-at-arms intact, while Marius’ and Bradwen’s forces are in tatters, and it will take a long time for them to recover. Hell, Lucius’ blunder made him probably more powerful than ever, Gaius mused, looking at the young faces of recently dubbed Broadland and Stour Valley knights, who bowed to pay homage to the new Duke of Caerwent.
Luckily, there had been little chance of a further Saxon invasion, with King Uther having chosen to spend his autumn and winter in Norwich, attracting knights and noblemen from all around the realm to Caerwent. The king sat on his honorary seat, resting his auburn-bearded chin against his large fist, inspecting the oaths of fealty given to the new duke. Reminding us all with his presence of our true overlord, The Red Dragon of Logres.
After the loyalty oaths, the time of gift-giving began. The attended noblemen had brought treasures for the king from various expensive and exotic sources; Earl Roderick of Salisbury gave Uther a fine cloak trimmed with the fur of a white bear, while Duke Ulfius presented him with an exquisite, Saxon-style arm ring crafted by his Surrey subjects. The Caerwent nobles also had fine presents; Lord Hywell had added a fine red stallion to the royal stable, and Duke Marius handed Uther a golden hilted Gladius, which he claimed had once belonged to Emperor Vespasian himself.
Yet no one outdid Prince Madoc. He called his ten retainers, who brought forth great treasure chests carried in stretcher-like frames. They gathered them in a semicircle on the floor, and opened them all at once, at the prince’s command. All contained booty from the war: A chest of silver coin, another of gold; one of goblets and plates, another of jewelry; one of silver and gold, one of red and purple jewels; another of bolts of silk and samite, others of gold cloth and silver thread. Saxon plunder, plundered back from Caercolun. Prince Madoc then unrolled a cloth as if it were a carpet; a black Saxon banner, bearing the image of a fierce white wolf.
Gaius smiled. The prince had practically beamed with joy when they had presented him with the dead warlord’s banner, after their dreamlike journey with Merlin. Afterwards, they had raided Caercolun county of riches, harassing the Saxon settlers that were infesting the once Briton land like vermin. Owain had plundered and slaughtered with a bloody-minded glee, while Gaius and Tarian had been more moderate in their pillaging. Nonetheless, they had all gained considerable wealth from the Saxon lands, as well as Prince Madoc’s favour and gratitude. While warfare had yielded a disaster to Caerwent this year, at least some of her knights had profited.
Uther descended from his seat, walking on Wulf’s banner as he eyed the surrounding treasure. The king was obviously pleased. He then took various things and fondly handed them over to his lords, pressing goblets, jewelry, and a bolt of silk upon one; a massive gold necklace and a book upon another, seeming to know the right gift for each man. He then proceeded to give the lower born knights a handful of silver each; Gaius, Tarian and Owain gladly accepted the king’s gift.
After a long while, all the gift-giving seemed to be over and the great hall was cleared to set up the tables for the feast. Suddenly, at the back of the room the people were all abuzz. A herald rushed in and made a great shout, “Presenting the great wizard Merlin, the Guardian of Britain!” he said, just in time as the impatient druid walked into the room. He looked neither right nor left, but strode to the front, where King Uther sat on the duke’s throne.
“Welcome, Merlin, to these halls,” the king said, “You are always welcome in my court.”
Merlin thanked the king, and spoke in a loud, deep voice. “Gold and silver, clothing from far distant lands; these are surely gifts worthy of a king. Yet you, Uther, deserve more, for surely no one in The Isle of Mighty holds power greater than The Red Dragon of Logres”
The sorcerer paused for a while, his golden eyes gleaming in the torchlight. “Yet, even you lack one thing.” The king frowned at this, and a murmur filled the hall.
“Such a great man deserves nothing but the best, and he who would bring peace to the whole of our great land deserves all that would help him to obtain it. And so I, your humble servant, am pleased to offer you, from my weak hands, this.” With a flourish Merlin pulled from beneath his robes a gleaming sword whose own internal light caused everyone to gasp in delight and wonder. Even the king stood up, his eyes wide at wonder.
Merlin took the sword by its point, his hands covered by his robe so as not to tarnish the blade, and extended the pommel to the king. “For the High King,” said Merlin, and with a loud triumphant statement, “Excalibur, the Sword of Victory! Forged when the world was young, and death was but a dream”
Everyone in the room gasped aloud, and when the king took the sword they broke into applause and cheer. King Uther flashed a toothy grin as he admired Excalibur’s perfect, luminous edge. “Now no one can stand before me”
“All you need do,” said Merlin, “is to remain just. The blade is not only meant to hack, but also to heal”
It was not exactly clear if Uther had heard the arch druid’s words. The king’s eyes shone with a ravenous gleam, and his cheeks were flush with excitement. “Now I am prepared to visit some friends of mine” Duke Ulfius, standing close to Gaius, chuckled at this with grim pleasure.
“This is cause to celebrate” said Uther. “Bring forth the tables, and make a place at my right hand for Merlin, whose wisdom and truth guides our good land”
“Thank you, Lord,” said the magician. He turned and walked towards the back of the room, but stopped before Lord Hywell. He looked him straight in the eye and pointed towards Gaius, Tarian and Owain. “Watch these men well, and give them rein to help Britain” The astonished Lord of Thetford managed only to nod in silence, and then look at his knights questioningly. The three just shrugged and smiled.
During the feast, a drunken Huntington knight was slightly boorish towards Tarian, who handled the situation with grace, not letting his temper get the better of him. The ruffian let him enjoy the festivities in peace.
The king soon called everyone to dance, and Gaius managed to snatch Lady Arcavia before other would-be suitors, and impressed her with his dancing skills. A strikingly beautiful courtesan seemed also to have been taken by Gaius’ charms, and smiled seductively at him, but the knight stood strong before considerable temptation. Sir Henry, Lord Hywell’s brother, laughed and jocularly praised Sir Gaius’ honour and courtesy. Gaius took the praise as his due, toasting the Steward of Guinnon in return.
When the feast was almost over, Prince Madoc rose, and asked for attention in a loud voice that rose over the festive murmur. “My lords and ladies, may I ask that you listen to a tale most fantastic, about the sword so recently brought to my father, our great King Uther” The prince beckoned Gaius, Tarian and Owain to rise.
“Please, good knights, tell us how you defeated the dreaded warlord Wulf and assisted Merlin the Magician in acquiring the wondrous Excalibur”, he said, smiling.
Oh Hell.Gaius felt his stomach drop at the sight of the great lords and ladies of the realm staring at him. He took a deep breath, and to his surprise managed to keep his voice from wavering, as he recounted the story about their battle against the Saxons and of their strange adventure in enchanted woodlands. Everyone listened with rapt attention, and the king glanced at Merlin.
“Sir Gaius spoke truly”, the magician said with a nod.
Many knights eyed them with thinly veiled jealousy, and several women with gleaming eyes and heaving bosoms, throwing desirous glances towards the three young heroes. Gaius caught the gaze of Lady Arcavia, who smiled at him warmly.
The three knights spent the rest of the evening as the centre of attention, with lords, knights and ladies from near and far inquiring about their adventures, and of their connections to Prince Madoc and Merlin the Enchanter. Sir Hywell raised a toast in their honour, and other Brecklander knights congratulated them with fraternal friendliness.
Despite the brutish hangover they had received from being forced to drink several toasts in their honour, the knights were more than happy during their homeward journey.
P. S. Yeah, I pretty much copypasted the whole feast scene from the GPC, with a few minor tweaks, but I felt I did not have much to add to the scenario as it was.
Part V: The Winter Phase
Sir Tarian continued to seek out wife candidates; he was once again successful, but decided to once again wait for another year (added to the bonus gained from the Sword Feast, his modifier to the Random Wife Table in Book of the Entourage began to be quite hefty). As his spare time activity he decided to go a-hunting, and managed to chase down and kill a fallow deer.
The vile Buckenham clan had been up to no good in Harling again, having abducted and forcefully recruited his bailiff. Tarian decided not to act hastily and vengefully; he brought the matter before Lord Hywell, who in turn complained to Duke Marius about the behavior of his vassals. However, the lord of Caerwent would not heed their words, and the Brecklanders left his court humiliated and outraged. Luckily for Tarian, he managed to recruit a bailiff who was more skilled than his old one had been.
Abbott Marchlew of Guinnon also visited Harling that year, and stayed for quite some time. Hosting him and his retinue took a heavy toll on Tarian’s coffers, but at least he managed to learn a bit about theology on the side. Harling’s harvest was excellent, so the additional cost did not hurt him overmuch financially.
Gaius continued his courtship of the fair Arcavia, and succeeded beyond all expectations (the fiend has an ungodly luck with dices in court situations). The lady acknowledged her love towards the young knight, and they consummated their relationship in the bower of her manor. However, his request to marry her fell on deaf ears in Marius’ court; the duke would simply not allow such a wealthy heiress to marry a knight of little power and influence, when much more could be gained from marrying her to a more suitable person. The discontent towards the new duke grew ever greater in Brecklands. Gaius nonetheless decided to continue his affair with Arcavia.
Gaius’ old grandmother died in her sleep, and the family gathered in mourning. No other remarkable events, good or bad, happened to his lands or family, and the harvest in Mundford was good.
Owain managed to find a suitable wife candidate for himself, thanks to his added fame during the Sword Feast. He married the daughter of another Brecklander vassal knight, who gave him a good amount of silver as her dowry. The maiden was Ysbail, a kind-hearted and strong-willed girl. However, she was also quite plain and disliked sex, so Owain decided to keep her curvaceous peasant mistress in his household, which did not amuse his new wife in the least.
Owain hunted with hounds and falcons in his spare time, and managed to slay a wild boar in the hills around Wolfpit.
Owain’s father-in-law had a feud with a knightly family from Huntington, and asked his assistance in a raid to his enemy’s lands. Owain complied, and rode to fight the Huntingtonmen with his in-laws and their other allies. They skirmished with a hastily collected force of peasants and footmen, and returned home after a quick burn-and-flee, Owain having performed well against his low-quality foes. It seemed his father-in-law was more interested in wreaking havoc than gathering plunder, but that posed no problem for the warlike young knight.
When Owain returned home from the raid, he learned that a horrible, black devil hound had started killing his peasants and cattle. Owain immediately set out to hunt the monster; thanks to his knowledge of faerie creatures, he managed to catch it at the moonlit Caerwent hills, and there he skewered the monster with his boar spear. The peasants of Wolfpit cheered their noble lord for slaying the monster that had slain their kinfolk, even though their harvest was poor. Owain was filthy rich for a vassal knight of single manor, so he could well afford the ramifications of a lousy harvest.
Owain’s mistress gave birth to a healthy boy. Once again, Lady Ysbail was not happy.