Part I: The Three Squires
As the season of war approached, three young men met in the town of Harling, situated in the harsh, wind-swept plains of Brecklands. Summoned before their lord, Sir Hywell of Thetford, they were eager to begin their journey, after having spent seven tedious years as squires, at the beck and call of their knightly lords. The promise of knighthood, a long awaited prize, was in the air. They had armed and armoured themselves for the prospect, funded by their future manors.
While they were readying their horses for travel, a peasant astride a sweaty plow-horse rode to the manor, as fast as his clumsy steed could take him. The man was Dwn, a yeoman farmer from the outskirts of Harling. He dismounted and knelt before Tarian, the heir to the manor and its surrounding lands.
‘Sir Tarian, my lord’, the exhausted Dwn gasped. ’I am sorry to interrupt…"
‘I am neither “Sir” nor your lord yet, Dwn’, the squire answered coolly, fastening the saddle on his new charger.
’You’re scaring the poor man shitless, Tarian’, Owain laughed, folding his mighty arms across his chest. ‘Speak up, good man’
‘Raiders and bastards and faithless cutthroats, my lords’, the peasant sputtered. ‘I saw a group of them causing bloody havoc at old Bledri’s homestead, harassing him and his family. I came here as fast as I could, and…"
‘Were they Saxons?’, Owain asked, laying his hand on the cruel-looking axe hanging from his belt.
‘Nay, it wasn’t those tow-headed devils, Sir. Their leader was a knight, mounted and armoured, and all high and mighty like he had a ten-foot pole up his…"
Tarian’s icy stare silenced Dwn’s slightly rebellious banter. The squire mounted his horse, hauberk clinking. ‘Unacceptable’, he stated.
‘Lord Hywell is expecting us shortly’, Gaius said, pursing his lips. ‘But it would be a poor precedent to show up at his court, after having allowed brutish ruffians abuse loyal bondsmen. Unknightly even, I might say’
‘If someone thinks he can trample upon Harling as he wills, be there a knight present or not, he might well take a second thought’, Tarian hissed, strapping his helmet in place.
’Let’s have at them, friends’, Owain agreed, leaping to the saddle. ‘No band of brigands can stand before us!’
So, the three would-be-knights rode away from Harling, ready to teach a lesson to anyone who would spoil their land and people.
Part II: Sir Junius’ Folly
The peasant girl screamed as rough hands tore her woollen tunic to strips. Trying to shield her modesty and fight her assailant away at the same time, she managed to only elicit guffaws of laughter from the man-at-arm’s comrades. The soldier on top of her cursed, slapped her on the face, and tried to pry her legs apart.
‘That would be enough!’ a voice yelled from nearby, as three mounted and armoured youths approached from the sparse woodlands surrounding the homestead.
The four soldiers instantly grabbed their spears and readied themselves for battle, while their mounted lord laughed from his saddle. ‘Turn back the way you came, boys’, he chuckled. ‘Men are at work here’
‘And a manly punishment will await them’, Gaius answered him, looking at the assaulted girl, and the three slain peasants lying in the grass. ‘Lord Hywell is not known for leniency towards murderers and rapists in Brecklands’
‘I thought we were still in the Adventurous Forest’ the soldiers’ leader said, shrugging. ‘No matter. Do you western scum know who I am?’
‘A cur whelped in a Broadland kennel, by your markings’, Tarian said coldly. ‘I do not care’
‘These are merely three dead peasants and a slightly roughed up, low-born harlot we are talking about’, the raider knight answered, lowering his spear towards the three Brecklanders. ‘Are you striplings willing to face death because of them?’
‘These are my peasant, in my lands, under my protection’, Tarian growled. ‘Lay down your arms, and perhaps Lord Hywell will show you mercy’
‘Or fight us’, Owain said, an evil grin playing on his ugly face.
The knight cursed foully and spat on the ground. ‘Kill these fools!’, he snapped, and spurred his warhorse to a charge.
The raiders had underestimated the young men badly. Tarian and Gaius struck down the four footsoldiers with their charge, scattering their mauled bodies among the dead peasants in a rain of splintered spear shafts. Owain struck their leader hard with his spear, which broke in his hand, then hacked the man to submission with his axe. The once proud knight now laid on the ground, spitting blood and asking for mercy.
Owain would have beheaded the caitiff on the spot, had Gaius not managed to dissuade him from the violent deed. ‘This is not some common brigand we have here. Let us take him to Lord Hywell, and let him dispense High Justice on him’, the Roman said.
Owain and Tarian agreed, though the former decided to take his prisoner’s arms, armour and horse for his own, while Gaius skillfully tended to their high-born captive’s wounds. The man named himself as Sir Junius of East Dereham, and Gaius recognized his family; Junius was the oldest son of a powerful Broadlander lord, Sir Drusus of Buckenham, and his kinsmen owned several manors in the east. The squires had managed to step on some big toes this time.
Part III: Lord Hywell’s Justice
Having delivered the peasant girl to his relatives in Harling village, the squires resumed their original journey. With the wounded and shackled Sir Junius in tow, and the bodies of his men piled on sumpters, Tarian, Gaius and Owain travelled to Thetford, the seat of Lord Hywell de Revil. The great motte loomed high and ominous over the bustling trade town, yet its grim visage was a familiar and comforting sight to them all. It was a hallmark to the unbending strength and ferocity of their lord, the true master of western Caerwent.
The squires led their human trophies to the bailey, where Sir Hywell and his son, Sir Herion, strode to meet them. Tarian’s tale of their exploits was delivered with confidence and curt splendour, and the two de Revils nodded favourably to his words.
‘So, you decided it was your right to come to the west to teach us Cymric bumpkins a few lessons about true nobility’, Herion said in a deceivingly gentle tone. ‘A pity it did not play out quite as expected’
‘My father will have your heads if you harm me!’, the Broadlander barked, but changed his tone quickly under Lord Hywell’s merciless stare. ‘My ransom is great, my lord. Send word to Buckenham, and they will surely pay any sum you ask’
‘Gold and silver do not wash clean my honour, which you have spat and shat on’, Hywell said in his customary, gravelly burr. ‘Your blood will’
The Lord of Thetford turned his back to the flabbergasted knight, and spoke in a loud voice ‘Hear me, folk of Brecklands! Let it be known that if anyone, no matter his bloodline, dares to assault folk under my protection, then justice shall be swift and decisive. Hang this God-cursed churl from the battlements’
The horrified screams of Sir Junius were drowned in the shouts of soldiers and townspeople hurrying to do their lord’s bidding. His bruised and torn body soon hung from a hempen rope from the high walls of Thetford.
‘A pity’. Gaius mused, inspecting the grim sight nonchalantly. ‘His ransom would have undoubtedly filled your coffers nicely, Owain’
‘You should have simply let me chop the bastard’s head off on the spot, and save Lord Hywell the trouble of hanging him’, Owain answered. ‘Well, at least I have his hauberk and charger, and some blood on my axe’
‘O tempora, o mores’, Gaius sighed.
Part IV: The Battle of Colchester
‘Your knighthood will have to wait’, Hywell said, seating himself at the head of his long table. The knights and ladies of Thetford, gathered on the benches, eyed the three squires before them appraisingly.
‘May I ask why?’, Tarian said tentatively, trying hard to keep dismay out of his voice. He failed.
‘Though you have proven yourself fairly capable in a skirmish against Broadland rabble, I require more mettle to be shown’, their lord answered, sipping blood red wine from his wooden cup. ‘A true knight is forged in the fires of war’
The youths stood silent, and Hywell continued. ‘Duke Lucius sent summons to me a while back, ordering me to muster my troops in defense of the realm. A Saxon fleet has landed in the south, burning and pillaging Caercolun county’ Little Hervis, his younger son, cooed from the arms of his nursemaid, who was seated close to her lord, somewhat undermining the severity of Hywell’s words.
‘I was under the impression that we were going to join King Uther against Aelle of Sussex’, the ever well-informed Gaius said, while Owain bared his teeth at the very mention of Saxons.
‘He will have to make do without us’, Hywell answered. ‘If the barbarians capture Caercolun, they are within striking distance of London herself. The king will accept our absence in the south’
War. The very word hung heavy in the air, causing cold shivers of dread and anticipation run along the spines of the three young aspirants. They would fall dead on the battlefield, or they would live on as knights.
The ducal army gathered at Ipswich in Stour Valley; Brecklanders in somber-coloured cloaks, Broadlanders from proud Roman houses, and semi-pagan woodlanders from the Adventurous Forest joined the forces of Steward Bradwen. A force of over one thousand men would strike at the Saxon horde, and drive the invader back to the stormy North Sea from whence they came.
Sir Herion gathered his eschille. The battle-hardened knights accepted the three squires to their ranks; some treating them with suspicous scowls, others welcoming them with words of encouragement. They were joined by three youths, a few years younger than themselves, who would act as their squires. Sir Herion led his unit close to his father. Lord Hywell would command the left flank of Duke Lucius’ army, with Steward Bradwen taking charge of the more prestigious right side. A calculated reminder of his place. Duke Lucius has noticed the growing pride of de Revil clan, Gaius thought.
The duke himself commanded the centre, with his brother Titus beside him. The two Romans shone like stars in their burnished loricas, surrounded by the hard men of the Saxon Shore Guard. Gaius felt his spirit soar at the sound of the brazen trumpets that ordered the army to move, but several men beside him eyed their lords grimly. The men of Brecklands knew only one master, and he did not reside in Norwich.
The army moved forth from Ipswich, and alarming messages were brought to them on the way south. The Saxon commander, a warlord by the name of Aethelswith, had crushed the forces of Caercolun county, and was besieging Colchester itself. However, the Saxon had split his forces, sending a portion of his mob to face the encroaching army of Duke Lucius. The battle would be short in coming.
And come it did, though the sight awaiting the Caerwent host north of Colchester was most disheartening.
‘This is folly’ a knight beside the three squires muttered, as he eyed the steadfast Saxon shieldwall formed before them. The line of round shields, blistering spears and raised swords stretched far and wide atop a genty sloping hill. ‘They have higher ground, and look at their numbers! And how many more of those blond bastards are there in the besieging force? Countless axe-wielding maniacs, I wager’
‘Cease your whining’, Herion barked, though he did not sound entirely confident either. ‘We cannot let them just ravage Caercolun and take Colchester. Our charge will break the savages, as it has done many times before’
These are not some overseas raiders out for quick plunder and flight, who will scatter at the sight of lowered lances. Those warriors have come to conquer, Tarian thought, as a deafening roar rose from the Saxon ranks, challenging the advancing Britons. The trumpets of Duke Lucius blared in response, and the Briton host surged forth against the hated invaders.
First Charge: The Saxon shieldwall shook but held, as knights charged against it. The barbarians fought back with brutal ferocity, though Herion’s unit smashed through old, blue-cloaked warriors, absolutely crushing them. The enraged, hatred-filled Owain slew Saxons left and right, as the horsemen plunged deep into enemy ranks.
2nd Round: ‘Kill! Kill! Hew the Welshmen!’ The guttural battle cry rose from Saxon throats, as they pushed the Britons back with bestial rage and might. A chieftain under a black banner displaying a white wolf surged forth with his bodyguards, scattering knights and footmen alike from his path. ‘Pull back! We are too deep!’, Herion shouted. Gaius fought like madman to everyone’s surprise, splitting skulls and severing limbs with his sword. The whole unit fought well, and managed to withdraw from the fiercest struggle, one household knight short.
3rd Round: Saxon javelins fell like rain, as the invaders began pushing the ducal army back. The white wolf fluttered above the bloodiest slaughter, and wherever it waded, Britons died. Though disengaged, Herion’s unit was beset by fierce Saxon fyrdsmen, but the brave peasants were no match for trained knights and knight aspirants, and were driven back with great slaughter.
4th Round: There was no stopping the Saxon onslaught. Duke Lucius’ banner tipped backwards, signaling retreat, and the slow withdrawal from the field began, as roaring barbarians threw themselves at their nearly defeated enemy. Herion ordered his men to pull back, and so they did, harassed by red-garbed spearmen, who found themselves badly overmatched.
5th Round: A group of mail-clad Saxons brandishing fearsome two-handed axes assaulted the retreating unit. A mighty blow struck Herion from the saddle, and left him sprawled on the ground. With a harsh cry, Tarian, Gaius and Owain set upon the enemy threatening the life of their lord’s son (I allowed them a Loyalty (Lord) roll, even though Herion is not exactly their liege. Those Axemen are brutal!). Owain struck down two warriors, while Tarian and Gaius both slew one, and Tarian’s battle servant carried the unconscious Herion away on his horse. Owain’s servant was lost in the struggle. Shouting words of inspiration and waving his sword in the air, Tarian took command of the unit.
P.S. I allowed drama to overrun realism here; ordinarily, household knights would not deign to take orders from a squire like Tarian, but I wanted one of the players to take control of the unit (the new unit commander was decided with an opposed Battle roll).
6th Round:The retreat was almost finished, but Saxon warriors still surged at the unit. Tarian and Owain suffered minor wounds, but Gaius once again outdid himself, and slew enemies with fearless abandon. His battle servant, however, was lost. The clamours of battle began subsiding, with the army of Duke Lucius having successfully managed to withdraw from the battle. Tarian led his followers to safety.
Two household knights and Owain’s battle servant had been lost to the Saxons, but the rest of the eschille was safe. Tarian administered (poor) First Aid on Herion, whom his squire had taken safely away from battle. The knight’s wounds were serious, and he was in need of a skilled chirurgeon, but at least he was alive. The army of Duke Lucius began reforming and licking their wounds, with the triumphant Saxon roars echoing faintly in the distance.
Hywell walked slowly towards them, a naked, bloody sword in hand. He glanced at the limp form of his son. ‘Is he alive?’
‘Aye, though badly wounded’
‘The men of Revil are made of stern stuff – he will live’, Hywell grunted. ‘You, brave youths, have done me an enormous service, and proved your worth thousandfold by saving my son. Rarely have I seen squires more deserving of knighthood than you. Kneel’
The squires did as they were told, trying not to wince at the pain caused by their battle-earned wounds. Lord Hywell walked by the three men, tapping each of them lightly on the shoulder with his sword, its blood-smeared blade rasping against the iron links of their hauberks.
‘Rise, Sir Tarian of Harling; you are a knight’
‘Rise, Sir Gaius of Mundford; you are a knight’
‘Rise, Sir Owain of Wolfpit; you are a knight’
Part V: The Feast of Remembrance
Though the battle had been lost and Caercolun county fallen into Saxon hands, Duke Lucius decided to organize a feast in Norwich to honour his fallen warriors, and the new knights who had earned their spurs in the battlefield. Lord Hywell and his men traveled to the great city in the east, passing through the long shadows of the Adventurous Forest. They did not stop in the city of Buckenham on the way; the word of Sir Junius’ death had reached his father, and there would be scant hospitality available for Brecklanders in his father’s hall.
Norwich was the third largest city in Britain (after London and Ebucarum), and it’s hustle and bustle was strange and bewilfering to men accustomed to the stark plains of Brecklands. Sir Gaius, though, found himself immediately at home here (even though stray dogs tore his cloak at the city market). Tarian absolutely loathed the place, although the chamber pot emptied on him from a second store window may well have coloured his view slightly. Owain nearly got into a fight with a roaring drunk friar, who hurled insults at him near the city cathedral, but his pride and honour prevented him from laying hands on a clergyman, no matter how obnoxious.
Even though the city itself may have failed to impress them, the duke’s court was a splendid sight, replete with tapestries and banners depicting old Imperial glory. The feast itself was also a grand event, with many important noblemen and ladies in attendance. A pretty serving girl served wine to Gaius, and thereafter constantly hovered around the handsome young knight, but he had already set his sights higher. Gaius also managed to discuss at length about horsemanship with Duke Lucius himself, and impressed the lord of Caerwent with his knowledge of equestrian arts.
Then came the time for dancing. The charming and handsome Gaius managed to cajole Lady Arcavia, a beautiful and wealthy Broadlander heiress, into the dance floor, while Tarian and Gaius had to settle for young, landless ladies-in-waiting. The Roman impressed Arcavia greatly with his dancing skills and smooth tongue, while Tarian and Owain were severely lacking in both. Tarian took his courtly failure stoically, while Owain proceeded to drink himself into a comatose stupor. Gaius, however, spent the evening chatting pleasantly with the most eligible and beautiful heiress in the whole duchy.
They also noticed three knights bearing the heraldry of the Buckenham family eyeing them darkly and pointing at them from time to time. Tarian and Owain walked up to them (with Gaius preferring the company of Lady Arcavia over the prospect of a brawl at the duke’s feast), and asked them about this sudden, unwanted attention. The Broadlanders sneered at them and hurled insults ranging from the regular ‘bumpkins’ and ‘churls’ to downright offensive slurs. Tarian kept his calm and mollified the Romans with stern, sinister words about late Junius’ fate.
It was not enough for Owain. Once one of the Buckenham knights went outside to relieve himself, the drunken Brecklander followed him, and beat him black and blue in the castle yard, before a cheering crowd of men-at-arms and servants. It did nothing to endear Owain to Duke Lucius, but that mattered little to him.
Part VI: The Winter Phase
Having returned from Norwich, their reputations shining (Gaius) and tattered (Owain), the new knights proceeded to settle on their lordly seats in their ancestral holdings.
Tarian found out that his old grandmother had remarried to an elderly widower near the Fens, which caused mixed feelings in him. Well, at least his harvest was regular, and nothing surprising or disastrous happened in Harling that year. He hunted down a Red Deer in his spare time, and sought out some marriage prospects in nearby manors. He made many new friends and contacts, but decided to prolong his search for a wife at least for a year.
Gaius’ neighbour had placed a toll station on a shared trade road, which was causing him monetary loss. Unable to sway the stubborn knight with words, Gaius took the case before their lord, Sir Hywell. The Lord of Thetford listened patiently to both claimants, and then judged in Mundford’s favour; the toll station was dismantled, which caused grudging feelings between Gaius and his neighbour, Sir Amig of Methwold. Many flowers also bloomed in Mundford that year, inspiring amorous feelings in Gaius’ chest, even though his manorial harvest was meager. He pursued the affections of Lady Arcavia further, and managed to sway the young woman greatly with his eloquent manners and mischievous flirting. The small spark kindled during the feast at Norwich began to grow into a flame of affection in Arcavia’s heart.
Owain’s uncle had a daughter, and de Wolfpit clan rejoiced, but not everything was bliss and pleasure; some villain had been logging trees in his manor. Though they did not manage to cause permanet damage to Owain’s holdings, he was chagrined nonetheless, and suspected the hated Caercolun Saxons of the deed. Despite the logging, the harvest of Wolfpit was good. With the surplus income added to the silver gained from selling Sir Junius’ armour and charger, Owain was now quite a wealthy knight. Wealthy enough to retain a mistress, he thought, and fairly soon a pretty, buxom peasant girl graced the ugly knight’s manorial staff. Good thing too, since he had no luck in checking out potential marriage prospects. Owain engaged in hunting at his spare time, and he and his men managed to hunt down and kill a wolf pack (the eternal enemies of his manor). Owain’s new mistress sew a fine new wolfskin cloak for his lord from the slain beasts’ fur.