Wednesday, 29 June 2022

The Heirs of Britain - Game Nine

 The Heirs of Britain

Session 9: 482; The Hag of Imber

__________ Summer 482 – Reinforcements from Summerland __________ 

Back in the War Camp of Summerland, Sirs Iwan and Myles, both ailing from the feast, resolve to catch up with their companions; the healthier men left earlier to hunt for a Demon Wolf. The handsome Sir Iwan is motivated to overcome his ale-illness by his admiration for Sir Myles, his dashing mentor whom he hopes not to disappoint, and his promise to help Sir Cadel. The two fine knights know to where their companions travelled: thus, they soon depart for Imber. 

Arriving without trouble, Iwan observes the town is substantially more disordered than two years past. He asks word of a nearby peasant; alas, the lesser man immediately becomes flustered, understandably overwhelmed by the presence of two such handsome knights. Of the earlier party of knights, the grubby fellow manages only to stammer some rough directions. Disappointed by this blundering fool, Sir Iwan seeks a fellow of stronger resolve: He learns that three knights, presumably Prince Madoc, Elvorix, and Vandagild, were here earlier; the lords were asking for signs of the demon, he tells, and left into yon forest not three hours gone. Pressed further, the man tells true: The demon they seek he has seen; it is a blackish hound or serpent, some kind of man-eating monster. He is confident; it is real. Iwan, quickly gaining reputation for his suspicion of bog fae, knows not what to make of these descriptions. The two knights depart the village. Despite their thumping heads, they easily spots the tracks of the knights and their squires; they form a clear path onward. Sir Myles rides quietly beside the younger man, who takes the lead.

Following proves simple enough; they are many and fresh, the heavy steeds churning deeply the damp forest loam. Further, they find discarded wineskins on the trail, telling tale of Prince Madoc’s passage and proving the path true. Sir Iwan grunts and presses forward resolutely. The two knights share few words as they travel: There is nothing to say. Myles nods approvingly at Iwan’s simple leadership.

The journey is long. Very long. Dreary and tiring, the dense forest and moist air draining and cruel. After some time, Iwan finds Uvan and the other squires resting with more horses than men; they chat easily and comfortably among themselves. A brief from Vandagild’s squire reveals the Knights have been gone a few hours; the squires have seen and heard nothing since then. Iwan grunts with displeasure; this is not a good sign. Sir Iwan asks Uvan, a capable hunter, to come with him; the young Pict assents, walking softly beside Iwan's own squire Uthred. Myles sighs and tries to push his horse further along the trail: A fruitless endeavour. He resigns himself to the trek on foot, looking sour still from the evening before. They clod slowly into the dense, strange forest…

__________ A Terrifying Reunion __________

The trail is as before; new growth overreaches the fresh trail, oddly verdant; broken branches at head-height indicate the careless passage of some great beast. The scents of sweat, forest, and crushed herbs fill the air. His armour snagged briefly on a stray branch, Iwan shakes it free and grunts again. The trail is exceptionally long, taking time uncommon to most days. The sun hangs heavy now, refusing to partake of its honest journey; it watches warmly from its perch above. Sir Iwan, despite his ailing gut and head, finds strength to continue. He is suspicious of the trail and the presence of magic; this vigilance offers him impressive vitality and resilience in the face of such an arduous trek. Alas, Sir Myles is afflicted by the misery of his evening and the horrendous hike, dragging his feet and visibly exhausted. Iwan notices and offers compassion, bidding Myles to wait with Uthred for a while: Regain thy strength, Sir, we will return for thee! Myles protests: He must get the Demon's head to impress his Lady Trenia! Sir Iwan promises his mentor that he will, if able, return the Demon's head to him personally; Myles relaxes at this, and gratefully rests on the trail.

Uvan insists on continuing, driven by pride like his father before him. Alas he fatigues; in time Iwan tires of Uvan’s pace, which matches not that of the handsome knight. Soon, Iwan reminds the young Pict for the last time of his tempo; before them they spot the fallen log, and the trail of a horse’s charging flight. The stench in this part of the forest hits them hard, almost bringing retch. They, too, notice an ever present and slowly building sense of dread. The two men share a look of concern…

A crash ahead, of a knight tearing through undergrowth! It is the tall Roman Sir Elvorix, in flight before them, almost flailing in panic: His are eyes bloodshot, and he sweats madly, looking a man possessed. He skids in the earth and stumbles to a halt when he sees Sir Iwan and Uvan. Elvorix is breathing fast and heavy and, after a moment, collapses to his hands and knees. Sir Iwan rushes forth to aid: Elvorix reaches longingly upward, his mad eyes searching deeply Iwan’s face: Tell me! Are ye real, and not an apparition? Iwan assures him!

“Ah, Iwan! This place is too much” Elvorix laments, “and unnatural! It will show ye terrible things; things no man should see!”

Hyperventilating, the Roman climbs to his seat. “Vandagaild and Madoc are still out there!” he spits out in a panic, roughly gesturing in his wake. But the presence of his friend is grounding. Iwan is calming, gentle: After a few reassuring moments, Elvorix looks more himself. Sir Iwan thanks his fortune for finding him.

Resolute, Iwan seizes the moment: He charges his friend to upright, and continue his quest! Elvorix grits his jaw, grips his friend's arm, and stands from the earth. “We must! We cannot leave those good men to their fate!” The two friends turn toward the clearing, blades to hand. Alas, Elvorix knows not how long he fled, nor the distance to the clearing: “Time has no meaning here”, he tells in haunted tones.

Uvan declares that he is fine to follow; yet Elvorix and and Iwan see his fatigue. They convince the young Pict that this fight is not one for Squires; his presence will only hamper them. Uvan assents; though his pride is hurt. They bid him return to rest, and return to Myles in the path; tell him we fight ahead! The knights rush onward!

Left alone, Uvan, son of Golistan, meanders slowly back. And yet lonely, he detects the crushing silence of this place. The stench of unnatural rot fills his lungs, and terror creeps inexorably upon his deepest thoughts. No sounds of friends or horses, no sounds of birds or wildlife bring familiar consolation. He looks about, panic rising: The sun still hangs motionless, an ever present symbol of the futility of men in this place. The forest dense and evil; the trees themselves seem to confound and menace. Slowly, Uvan recalls Elvorix’s words, and terrible meaning dawns on him. Sir Elvorix, a knight renowned for his courage, did fleeing madly through this cursed grove; the man spoke of wretched, irresistible horror, face awash with tears and despair. He spake that squires are unfit for these trials, and he spake true: What right has Uvan to be alone here?! The young man is afeared greatly. He calls for friends; none call. Frantic, he searches, but there is no safety here. Uvan is overwhelmed; he flees, down the trail as fast as his legs dare work. Alas, his mind is torn with fear, and his huntsman’s savvy similarly rent! He crashes mindlessly through the undergrowth, and before long the trail is nowhere to be seen...

__________ The Grisly Glade __________

The creature's jaw opens wide, cracking in parts, undulating with the vibration of her terrible scream; flecks of black and decay spray obscenely forth. The scene is horrifying. Sir Vandagild, bloodied and sore, is momentarily stunned by the terror of the monster, and perhaps some supernatural sense of Uvan's fateful flight. Beside him, Prince Madoc, also wounded, shouts boldly: “Stand your ground, knights!”

Beside, the Stranger, the Knight of the Golden Lion breathlessly begs for action: “My squire! He needs thy help!” His voice is confident despite his injuries, his accent of Lyonesse to the distant west; he urges the Aquitanian beside him to move thus! Sir Vandagild’s scarred brow furrows in determination, though his own voice shakes: “Forgive, Sir Knight, but I will not leave my Prince!”

He shifts feet to balance, clarifying his grip on his sword, and prepares for the worst.

For a moment, a deathly, sickly silence prevails: The sound of deep, energetic breathing all that is heard among the wounded knights. They each eye the monstrosity before them, shields abreast, blades sharp and slicked with the foul blood of the fae hounds…

The towering, gangly creature does not leap forth, nor does its terrible dog. It slowly lowers to four limbs, its shaggy, black head slavering and twitching.

Like an arrow it whips forward, but not into the reach of the knightly arms: It darts around the knights, shrieking horrendously, feinting lunges and snatching with wretched talons... It hesitates; does it fear the bold men before it? Quietly, the Aquitanian suggests the move together, holding around the wounded squire. The Stranger nods, and speaks thusly: “Yea! Guard me, Knight and Prince, and guard well, for I will give aid to Pedroc!” The men manoeuvre, shields raised, blades whipping in broad slashes to control space.  The two demons hound, but keep their own; the shrieking and rapid movements of the one fiend are troublingly inhuman, and fast.

“Pedroc, we will get thee safely from here!” The Stranger holds Vandagild’s eye: “Watch ye my back, with vigilance!” he demands; the Aquitanian nods once, resolute. The man works quickly, lifting his ailing squire to his feet and aiding him yonder. The monsters yet keep their breadth.

Vandagild offers to Madoc: “Your Grace, we each are sore and blooded, our friend is yet lost in yon forest, and we must yet see this fine Knight here safely free. Though it pains me to withdraw so, perhaps we can claim this small victory of liberation and regroup to safety? We may lay foul wounds on this beast another day.” Madoc grunts, and agrees: “Yea, Vandagild. Surely as the Hell below, I have no strong wish to die here, and truly not for so damned a village as Imber!”

__________ A Fighting Withdrawal! __________

Once more, the wet, pungent smell of bloated death greets us as we leave the glade; yet we ably defend our withdrawal from the harassing beasts! Soon hence, Sir Elvorix and Iwan rush upon us: Sir Elvorix thanks God that Vandagild lives; Hurriedly, Vandagild tells him to be on guard! The Aquitanian tells forth a hasty summary of the threat and events, and their new quest to see safety for these two men of Lyonesse. The group, now six, pull farther from the clearing: Prince Madoc and Vandagild watch toward the clearing, and once more the Knight of the Golden Lion begs aid for his badly wounded squire. Kneeling by Pedroc, Sir Elvorix pulls a pack and carefully unravels it, revealing surgery tools. Sir Iwan gently but promptly offers aid to sturdy Vandagild, who bleeds from many wounds. 

While Sir Iwan works, the Aquitanian over shoulder suggests the group move farther from the clearing; the threat is still great, and some distance is welcome. Sir Elvorix, though concerned for his patient’s welfare, assents, rolling his tools once more. Back, we push, eyes darting after the black, flashing movements that hound our flanks and fore; back to the fallen tree, dragging Pedroc, greatly sore, through the vile, verdant forest; back away from the Grisly Glade. Several knights edgily watch to forest; As he searches, Sir Iwan looks deep into the grim clearing, catching the sight of... Something? Something awful in the darkness, toward the clearing. The reek of the foul place still taints his breath, but he sees now a shimmer: Some deceptive, manipulative magic, evil eyes piercing the dark veil; it is clear evidence of fairy magic! The foulness seeks to enter his mind and subvert his perception! His paranoia builds; he takes on a haunted look...

Lo! Sir Vandagild’s keen hunter’s eye spies close movement in the trees; he points his blade yonder: “There! The beast moves!” he shouts, following with his sword, “It stalks beside us, daring not face our blades!”

Madoc, too: “Over there, over there! Hells below!”

We are flanked and hunted....

But, so pressed, we reach the tree: The abler Knights set their guards. The Stranger attends his friend Pedroc, gentle and nurturing; Elvorix once more brings forth his tools and sets to work, stitching and holding flesh, plying carefully the skills of Roman chirurgery to the mortally wounded man. Though he has very many rends to address, he works swiftly and competently. The other knights keep him safe for the time required: There is more work to do, but Pedroc is stable, no longer staining red the trail below. Elvorix’s skill is uncommon among Knights, raising esteem on the brows of the Prince and Stranger.

Meanwhile, Madoc, Vandagild and Iwan spy no movement in the forest, for all their careful observation. We are not assailed, by grace of God. All men now in a healthier state, we withdraw farther down the trail. Soon enough, treading wearily, warily through the dreadful forest, we spy Sir Myles marching toward us: He is alone.

Sir Iwan hurriedly, with concern, asks of Uvan; Myles looks back with confusion. Sir Vandagild turns suddenly; he looks carefully between the two of them. He needs no explanation, and his face darkens. Sir Iwan sheepishly mumbles about a weregild… Vandagild swears, and rages furiously! The good name of Our Lord God is foully and unfairly besmirched, as is that of good Sir Iwan. The Aquitanian asks the obvious questions: Iwan explains he thought it safer travelling as a group, so he… Interrupted: Vandagild roars again, barely intelligible: “Why then did ye send a mere squire; MY squire; MY Brother-in-law, to venture this foul place alone!? Curse thee, Iwan! God has damned this vile forest!”

There is little argument.

Sir Vandagild strides ahead, desperately searching the forest for a sign of Uvan’s passage. A mumble is overhead: “Golistan will kill me; I am to be a trophy…”

He fights his rage, which bids him rush onward, but tells the party to keep up; some sense of prudence remains, and he keeps in touch with his friends as they make their exodus. He calls the boy’s name, heedless of their pursuers hearing: He is distraught!  Not yet mindless, but overwhelmed: He is enraged at Iwan; concerned for Uvan; worried for his wife, Uvan's sister, and Golistan, Uvan's father.... and yet , despite the strange forest and his frenzied thoughts, he finds a trail! The Aquitanian is confident, an expert hunter, and rushes off to find his brother-in-law! Alas, in doing so he leaves sight... He charges through the undergrowth, eyes darting for more signs… Too late, he realises that the tracks he follows are not Uvan's. Too late, he realises that perhaps what he follows is merely hope, not a trail... Too late, he realises that his fury has driven him far from his friends....

Sir Elvorix is the first to realises that Vandagild has been gone too long; he told the hunter to stay within eyeshot, but he has evidently not. Elvorix looks at Iwan, telling him of this: Vandagild may too be gone, yet he has no intent of delving into the dark, terrifying forest; it would result only in more loss. Sir Iwan is troubled: He feels responsible, and works his jaw in consternation. He turns to Myles, and begs of him a promise to look after his children if he doesn't return.

Sir Myles is shocked and confused: “Where will ye go, Iwan!?! Chaos reigns! There are strange Knights, many ragged wounds, and a terrible fae forest to contend with. We are pursued by a Demon and her hound. Speak sense, man!”

The Stranger offers this: “My saviours, I thank thee again, but these woods are unnatural; if thy friends are missing, searching for them now is for nought: If ye quest thus, it will not end but by thy own death.” He gestures at the new growth beneath them; “The forest makes effort to hide its tracks. Stay, Sir Iwan, let us reach safety and search later for your friend.”

Iwan thinks and is sorely anxious. He assents, though it pains him greatly. The group keeps moving.

The silence is terrible.

__________ Sir Meliodus of Lyonesse __________

After a long, difficult retreat, the Knights are reunited with their steeds and squires. After such a tense, miserable wait, the squires are frightened. When Sir Iwan last saw them they were relaxed and jovial; no longer. They have formed a tight circle, their faces tense, scanning the forest, and blades drawn.

Sir Iwan sighs deeply: He had hoped that Uvan had found his way here. He sinks in confirmation of Uvan's absence: They are truly lost, then. “Damn the Fae!”

The Squires are confused, for many a reason. Where are Vandagild and Uvan? Who are these new warriors? Some explanations are shared.

Sir Elvorix offers the Stranger directions to Imber, where he can likely find rest. The knight of the Golden Lion grasps each knights hand and thanks them, for his own and Pedroc’s life. He laments the fate of Sir Vandagild, but offers that God works in mysterious ways; there is yet hope. Sir Elvorix asks the knight’s name, who apologises once more for not yet introducing himself. His hand presses his chest, and he bows: He is Sir Meliodus of Lyonesse; a pleasure to acquaint. Sir Elvorix returns the greeting excitedly: He knows of this man! He is the son of the King of that land, King Felec! 

The knights talk: The Prince of Lyonesse explains that there is only so much of value for him at home, and thus we find him here, adventuring; alas, a little beyond his skill, it seems. Sir Elvorix tells his fellows that Sir Meliodus is an adventurer knight, seeking glory across the land; he fought with us somewhere in the battle of Salisbury! The other knights introduce themselves. Sir Iwan generously offers the knight his squire's rouncey, who can ride Uvan's home. Indeed, with Vandagild’s steeds unused, each man can still yet ride. Prince Meliodus declares he is in their debt! He is glad to meet Prince Madoc in person. The latter, usually dismissive of introductions, and others in general, is earnestly pleased to meet this man. He tells him so, and that he wishes not to meet him on the battlefield. They talk pleasantly for a time, sharing easy camaraderie.

Meliodus knows not what screeching beast it was that ruled that dreadful lair, but suspects it a Hag. He asks the Knights the reason of their presence here: Iwan explains he followed his friends, and Elvorix explains the Quest for the Demon Dog. Sir Meliodus thanks the will of God for bringing them to him; he is surprised that he was found at all. He feels a debt to assist them to find their friend Vandagild. Elvorix laments that among them, the Aquitanin was by far the greater hunter; without his skill they have little hope in these lands. The Prince of Lyonesse tells that this forest does not track akin to the plains of Logres; for the trees themselves wish not for quarry to be found. Though he himself hath devised some ingenious ways of managing it, he must away to attend other needs. Yet, he knows only one other who can find what he seeks in these forests: Sir Sigurant the Brown. Elvorix knows him to be the husband of the Famous Sir Arnoullant the Fair! Stories of the pair describe the slaying of various great beasts across Britain. Elvorix and Iwan resolve to find the famous hunters, and perhaps convince them to help slay the Hag and find Vandagild. Meliodus will be in Logres for the next few seasons, he explains; he looks forward to seeing the knights at court! He mounts, and takes Pedroc toward Imber for healing. The Prince thanks them again, swearing to aid them once more, with God as his witness.

Sir Madoc, a few patient moments after Meliodus has left, declares confidently: “Sir Sigurant is a prick”.

__________ Home __________

The Prince invites the men to Castle Woodhouse, which is almost finished, to stay the night. As they leave, the sun, which was hanging still, sinks with disturbing haste to the west: It is well into the night when they emerge from the forest. They continue past Imber, for they like Cadel little, and in the dark Logres night reach Woodhouse. It is a nearly-finished castle of stone; cranes and pulleys are erect across the lands, stone blocks abound. Through the gates, Prince Madoc bids them to throw their things wherever; this place is a mess still, and he cares not where they rest. “Tend to thy own wounds; I have no staff here”.

Sir Elvorix is aghast: “No staff!?”

The Prince calms the Roman: This is not yet his residence, unfinished as it is. Besides, it's more fun without some damned commoner breathing down your neck: He offers a humorously mocking parody of a doting servant, to the cheer of all. “Bah!” he says, “I hate them!”

Madoc still holds the wine; Elvorix holds forth a glass, asking the Prince of Logres to fill it for him; a wry smile crosses his lips. Madoc laughs, and shakes his head, tossing the bottle to the bold Roman.

Drinks flow freely. As they talk, Sir Iwan resolves to leave in the morning to search for Sir Sigurant; he will not leave Vandagild and Uvan alone in that forest. Madoc tells him he won't likely find them this year; the Famous Hunters hold odd schedules. It is better to find them at Castle Brown, to the North, for they are knights of that great fortress.

He swigs his wine thoughtfully, eyes filling with recollection. “In fact”, he begins, “Next Easter my Father’s Feast will be at Castle Brown; that may be best for thee”.

Sir Iwan nods, dejected; he can only hope that their friend will be able to fend for himself in the winter.

Sir Elvorix claps Iwan on the shoulder: “Worry not, friend! We will find them, and convince them to help find Vandagild; I’m sure of it. And Vandy will be fine; he is the best hunter I know. He will make it.”

The group drink into the night, among the detritus of construction and the cold air of Britain.

__________ Delivering the News __________

Sir Iwan delivers Vandagild's horses to Winterborne Gunner, where he finds the man's wife, Lady Catrin. She is heavily pregnant, with four young boys in tow. Two cling to her dress; two held warmly in her slight arms, and those of a wet-nurse. They are all younger than three. Sir Iwan softly tells the Lady of her Husband’s fate; he apologies and claims responsibility for their disappearance. He offers whatever he can for recompense, promising strongly that he will get her Husband, and his friend, back. The children understand little of the meaning; Catrin herself holds her face still, and hard. She thanks him: The impending tears thicken her voice, but do not yet wet her face. He leaves her to her modesty.

Next, the blonde Knight rides to Biddesden, the forest-set Manor of Sir Golistan. He steels himself: Golistan is a proud man; Uvan is son; Catrin his daughter. He delivers the news: His eldest son is lost in the Fae, perhaps dead, left to fend alone by Iwan. His daughter is without a Husband, who hath delved boldly afterward to rescue the boy. Again, Iwan claims responsibility. The news is not well taken. In short: Sir Golistan is furious. He leaves his hatred for Sir Iwan clear for all to hear, to Iwan’s face presently, and later to anyone who will listen.

Sir Elvorix, meanwhile, looks for help in their quest to retrieve Vandagild. He visits Sarum, informing Earl Roderick of Vandagild's disappearance and his request for permission to find him. Roderick nods his head somberly; he assents to the Roman’s request; but if Vandagild is not found by midyear he and Iwan are to return and fulfil their duty. Sir Elvorix thanks Roderick for his mercy. Informed of the Hag, however, Roderick turns grim: He tells the Roman that our service to him shall instead be to slay the Hag; take the time you need. He can spare no aid; King Uther has not recognised the claims of Salisbury on the lands we took in Summerland, and Salisbury must be ready to defend them.

Later, the Roman considers hiring mercenary Knights or footmen, but first searches for a priest. Sir Iwan's father-in-law is Sir Branoc, Marshall of Ambrius' Abbey; he finds this a sensible first step. He fetches Iwan, and the pair travel thus. They explain the situation to Sir Branoc and describe the story of the Hag and Vandagild, soon asking for aid: A priest to help sanctify the land, and a strong arm to protect the holy man. Branoc is sympathetic to their plight: He cannot order the clergy, but will put in a good word to the Bishop Roger of Ambrius. If the Bishop agrees, Branoc will send a Knight to escort the holy man. He tells the young knights that the Bishop is a Lord of many lands; the best chance to speak with him will be at the King’s Feast at Easter. At Castle Brown.

Nobody bothers to speak with Sir Cadel, for it does not seem of any great value to do so and we like him not.

__________ Winter Woes __________

That Winter!

Sir Elvorix receives a missive from the suspicious but beautiful Lady Diane...

Worse, the Roman’s relationship with Sir Edar has turned sour over the last months. The two men clearly hate each other; Edar is openly resentful over Elvorix's insubordination during the raiding of Bedegraine; Elvorix decries the man a dishonorable, overstepping hypocrite.

The handsome Sir Iwan receives a gift from one Lady Eleri: A fine set of hunting leathers, superbly camouflaged and particularly robust… Iwan's wife, Lady Alwen, also gives birth to a healthy boy! He is named Myles, after Iwan’s good friend and mentor!

Sir Vandagild, alas, is still lost in the Deep Forests of Fae... While he is away, Lady Catrin gives birth to a fifth son; she names him Vandius. The Witch’s prophecy proves true…


(OOC: Uvan, alone and impassioned by his Loyalty to Vandagild, crit-failed a Valorous roll; into the woods for thee, young man! Vandagild then, trying to find his Squire, crit failed (20/18) his Hunting roll… Woe! Yea, also unto yon forest for thee!)

(Also, I spent a little time actually proofreading this one; hopefully it’s a little smoother. I’m trying not to dwell on these more than I already am, but the number of little errors was irksome. Enjoy!)

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King Arthur Pendragon RPG 5.2

Monday, 20 June 2022

The Heirs of Britain - Game Eight

The Heirs of Britain

Session 8: 482; The Demon of Imber

__________ Summer 482 – Uther’s War Camp, Summerland __________

 The knights awaken; Vandagild and Iwan in a large tent, not far from the Prince. Despite our heavy night of unexpectedly heavy indulgence, the days of despicable Summerland harassment, and the general wretchedness of this place, The Aquitanian, Vandagild, is hale and hearty, his Constitution holding against this broadside of causes. Iwan, alas, is less used to drink: He is not well. Sir Myles also, though an exceptionally tough man, has also rendered himself low; he retches horribly when prodded. Sir Elvorix, the Roman, raises, feeling quite well but for his hand, which, he discovers, has a quite deep but adequately treated wound across the palm. He is covered in blood, snuggling a snoring pig, and quite confused. He groans, stumbles to his feet, and searches for a trough for some water.

Sir Elvorix emerges to find his friends; he soon finds Vandagild washing at a basin. They greet warmly, huskily, and the Roman asks what happened with that woman? The Long-haired Vandagild laughs heartily, for he was hence to ask the same of the Roman. A confused shrug from Elvorix, though some inklings start to dance their way into the front of his memory… He burps grossly, cleans his face in the basin, and asks what else happened. Sir Vandagild tells briefly of the Demon wolf, the luckless sir Cadel, and our quest with the Prince. They wonder at the legitimacy of Sir Cadel’s plight; they trust him little. Elvorix shrugs; his last worry proved true, and we slew the bear truly! And the Saxons, which, he admits were likely the true source of the misery. At the mention of Saxons, Vandagild grumbles outwardly; he wonders with frustration why we're out here fighting fellow Britons in this ungodly swamp instead of those Saxon Demons in the South! Sir Iwan stumbles from the tent, waves, throws up, and sits heavily against the canvas once more. He has been caught unaware by the power of drink, and his typical temperance justified once more.

The two healthy knights set off to find the Prince. He is near the King's tent, by a campfire, dressed loosely in his casual way. Sir Vandagild greets the prince happily and, after talking small, wonders when we ought leave for Imber. The Prince is surprised, and keen, to learn we were serious. He looks to his father’s tent, and tells us our Holy Quest of Demon Slaying sounds more fun than whatever else he has planned; the Demon Wolf is interesting and glorious enough for him to spend his time slaying it. Sir Elvorix notes his tentward look; he suggests to the Prince that spending time with some knights his own age might do him so good, regardless; Madoc nods slowly, agreeing heartily. The stuffy courtiers are boring. Madoc is indifferent to learn that Iwan can't make it, afflicted as he is by the curse of Summerland and wine. Madoc shrugs: It happens to the best of us, he says; we've all been there. It is true.

Lo! Though Sir Vandagild’s gut is healthy, his memory ails: He only vaguely recalls the directions Sir Cadel gave him... something about a flag and a tree? Yet if the flag has been pulled down then.. a tower? Shrugging once more, Vandagild leads Sir to… a tower. Prince Madoc arrives around thirty minutes later, his two squires in tow. Sir Cadel is nowhere to be seen. We wait, awkwardly, for some time. Sir Vandagild apologises, blaming nought but himself for misremembering... The knights talk through the last evening, trying to find an anchor for their memory. And it is found: A tent with blue and gold! The three knights approach!

Last night Sir Cadel looked bad; dishevelled, grubby and anxious. This morning, somehow, he looks worse. When asked, he tells us he is doing better now that.... and then he fumbles his words; he espies the Prince, standing beside us; and panics. Cadel is a mess, he tries desperately to fix himself and fumbles his phrasing awkwardly. We inform him gently that the Prince Madoc will join us; for he would not miss the opportunity to slay a demon in his own lands. Cadel kneels and is appropriately, or perhaps excessively, sycophantic. Madoc looks uncomfortable. The Aquitanian , eager to smooth the situation, notes that Cadel seems absent a squire. Sir Vandagild offers him the use of his own squire Golistan’s son Uvan. Clearly, he says, Cadel’s was lost in the raiding. Sir Cadel, fumblingly, lets that explanation stand; he is not convincing.

__________ Imber Intrigue __________

We ride briefly south, past the castle Devizes and thus onward to Salisbury and Imber. On the way, we see many of Roderick's men gathered outside border manors. Sir Vandagild spurs his horse yonder to investigate: A footman informs us that these manors, and some castles, were taken several days ago and Roderick is now keen to hold them; his presence hear may help sway the King’s decision. Asking for the battalion commander, Sir Vandagild is directed to Sir Hywell, who he knows well enough from Bedegraine. Hywell is an older knight, well maintained; he mentions Sir Blains as they recap that day, and Vandagild spits. Hywell nods. He explains hence: We wait for recognition from the King that these claims are legitimate. Nodding, Sir Vandagild informs the Banneret that we're off to fight a Demon Wolf with Prince Madoc. Hywell raises an eyebrow, and laughs; these feasts sometimes give us unexpected opportunities. He asks the Aquitanian  for a Demon Puppy if we slay the beast. Laughing along, Vandagild assures him he intends to claim a whole clutch, and send the demon pack against the Saxons! The young hunter returns to the road, informing his colleagues of Hywell’s words; they care little for the story.

Sir Cadel leads us down trails to Imber, on the north side of the hills. The village, somehow, is less well-managed than when we first met it. Many buildings are run-down or abandoned; the folk look nervous and unwell. The manor itself looks intact, but the lands suffer greatly. Sire Vandagild, merciful as always, checks the villagers. They are dirty, but Vandagild is not familiar with the ways of common folk; they baffle him with their grubby servitude. He assumes this is their way, and worries no further.

We approach the manor, where Cadel offers us succour and hospitality. His manor is very well furnished with an array of expensive and esoteric trinkets. The presence of certain Heraldry repeats: Elvorix recognises it; The Saxon Shore. The Roman inquires of this from Cadel for he hopes to reclaim his own family's lands there once the Saxons bloat in the sea. His family is large, Cadel replies; these were all family gifts that have trickled down to him. He values them little, but they're nice to look at; makes the Manor look nice, he explains meekly.

We prompt futher: These lands are in Salisbury, Roderick’s land. This is not the Saxon Shore. Cadel doesn't elaborate. Sir Vandagild wonders if his family is, or was, large and rich, and he has fallen from favour. Elvorix wonders why the manor is so well furnished while the lands are so poorly... though he quickly concludes that Cadel probably bought these treasures in better times, and likely has leftover money from inheritance. This conclusion raises eyebrows; something deep in the Roman’s subconscious knows that this conclusion is spurious.

Cadel tells us more: After we slew the bear, things were good for a while. And then they were... not. We push not further. The beleaguered knight hasn't seen the Demon Wolf himself, though many peasants report the stories. They talk of some large demonic dog; others speak of a curse, where people disappear in the night. Yet others tell many a strange tale… but these two dominate the fable; lizards, snakes, dragons. Cadel doesn't believe it's a dragon, at all, of course.

We depart for the forest armed as warriors, not hunters. We gather some of the manor's hunting dogs, and Cadel furnishes us with rations. We mount, and the man raises a hand and wishes us luck. As we leave, Madoc looks oddly at Sir Cadel, standing by his manor door. Sir Vandagild inquires quietly, and Madoc responds loudly: “Are ye not fighting today, Sir Cadel?”; Cadel melts into anxiety and fear. The compassionate Aquitanian tries to cover; he tells the Prince that he heard Cadel has some vulnerability to the woods, and is not well; Cadel immediately recovers and jumps on the low-hanging excuse, feebly holding it for all he is worth; which, to Madoc, is greater in trinkets than in character. Madoc looks back and forth between us before shrugging: Let the coward be, he says. Our mounts clop west, toward the woods. Sir Vandagild is happy to assuage Cadel’s discomfort; the ambitious Sir Elvorix is pleased to have more face-time with the Prince.

__________ Insufferable Serfs __________

Vandagild accosts a peasant, asking after our last contact, Old Garr. The peasant knows him not, but insists, when Elvorix asks, that the demon is a snake! The hunched man saw its eyes in the woods! He takes us to the edge of a farm, and a stream yonder. Vandagild recognises the brook to which he brings us; we followed it here after we battled the bear by its side, deep in the woods. Sir Elvorix asks other peasants for more information; they each offer various names and descriptions; a Demon Dog, a Shadow, a Hairy Monster; a Demonic Boar... but they all point to the same area; where the stream leaves the forest. We follow our only lead.

The Aquitanian asks Prince Madoc if he wishes to lead the hunt, offering his services as required. “Are ye not the expert, Vandagild, squired to thy Earl's hunter?” Vandagild nods and, introducing Madoc to squire-and-brother-in-law Uvan once more, tells that the young man is also Golistan's eldest son: “Be it young Uvan or I, I give ye faith and promise that the beast will be found. Onward my Prince, onward friends!”

Elvorix offers his aid, attempting to make his presence known and valued to the Royalty in the midst; Vandagild, smiling, tells Madoc that mighty Elvorix will surely slay the beast once we find it.

__________ A Dark Trail… __________

The group splits, half the men either side of the narrow stream; the young Pict Uvan searches for tracks on the west bank, Sir Vandagild on the east. Prince Madoc looks back and forth, then declares wants to go with “the kid”; he pulls a wineskin from his bag and leads his horse to Uvan; Lead on boy! 

The search is long, each tracker finding small evidence. After time, The Aquitanian finds something distinct: We are deep in the forest now, our horses manoeuvring carefully; before him a heavy disturbance, like a thick, well-travelled boar trail. The branches either side are broken, high, near height with a horse; some drag marks besides. Vandagild tells this: “Some large thing hath dragged weighty prey along this trail... Hold guard, friends.”

Sir Vandagild recalls Uvan, uniting the group once more: “We will follow this lead, young Uvan. Praise and thanks to thee; you have led a Prince to-day!” He leads down the path, riding single file now; alas, the forest is too thick for horses otherwise. Madoc tosses an empty wineskin aside; it is quickly replace with another. The prince holds high spirits, joking joyfully with the young knights. The forest is heavy and tall, the undergrowth reaches for us hungrily, snagging buckles and nooks. Having travelled for much of the day, it nears the time of supper. We are weary, of course, but the knights persist energetically. Madoc too still sits straight in his saddle.

Alas, soon the path itself becomes unmanageable for our steeds; the trail has more regrowth here, unusually so, and we risk a horses ankle by leading them forward. The long-haired hunter calls to dismount; the squires, he declares, are to wait here. They are charged with defence of these fine mounts; Vandagild leaves them a horn, in case they are accosted by a demon wolf. “Keep thy blades handy, and thy wits sharp. Thy courage may be tested as we hunt yonder; hold firm, and fight together. God speed, Uvan; God speed, young men!”

We march on; Prince Madoc grumbles at the length of our toil, though he keeps apace and tires not. Here, at ground level, Vandagild spies more of the uncommon regrowth; the forest is verdant here, odd in parts, and mismatched to the season. He shakes his head, and strides heartily forth; there is still sun, and his quarry must not be far now.

__________ Long Shadows and a Longer Day __________

The hunter, obsessed and enjoying his element, stays focused on tracking; the journey continues for weird time. Sir Elvorix, less distracted, wonders at the length of our journey; time seems to be moving far too slowly. He wonders aloud if we are in the Fey Wilds now! Sir Vandagild is unsure; his keen eyes mostly cast grounward. He turns to ask of Madoc; Lo! Madoc is still, paying us no heed, eyes cast skyward. Asked whyfor, he points up and out. “Look ye; it moveth not”; Vandagild’s eyes follow, and the Prince tells no lie: The shadows are long, and have been as long for some time. Madoc marks a shadow, and we watch it closely some time; it does not move. Nor the sun, hanging above, ever present.

The knights are awonder; Vandagild curses. There is discussion; Vandagild suggests that God has paused the day for us, to ensure that we can slay the beast, as promised, in this very day. Madoc indifferently agrees; we have food, wine, and each other; we have strong shields and sharp blades; there is nothing to do but venture forth. Sir Elvorix agrees, though he does wonder if he hasn't seen that same tree three times...

The three men trudge through the damp, thickening foliage; it almost writhes as we pass. Alas, the beauty of this strange place is soon lost: a horrendous scent builds, and assails us. It is sour, festering, mouldy; reminiscent of decay. It takes root in our noses: Sir Elvorix grumpily accuses Vandagild as the source; a rough laugh, and the two make jokes of one another's relatives. We persist forth, and soon spy an overturned tree across the path. Sir Elvorix spots hoofprints deep in the earth afore the log, clear evidence of a horse vaulting the barrier. We look to one another, and around: The trail is still unsuitable for mounts; and we are confused. Which reckless man brings steed to this place? Yet we see no other marks, until over the tree lies the impact of an equestrian landing, and some frantic hooves leading left, off the trail. The tracks look less than an hour fresh, and yet still there is some new growth in their imprints. This forest has many wiles.

We are torn; Elvorix wishes to follow the beast trail, the reason obvious; Vandagild considers the horse trail; this is the first of anything new we have seen for many long strange hours; God offers us a sign, and we best listen. After discussion, Sir Vandagild calls out for the valorous cavalryman we seek; he listens carefully for a reply. As he does, he notices that the forest is unnaturally quiet; we hear nothing, not even the wind. A thought; it has been time, and quite, since we have heard a bird or insect. It is deathly silent here. And the sun hangs still. Looking about for further reference, there is alas no obvious landmark before us; we have crossed some tiny rivulets and creeks, perhaps through rolling hills, but nothing to navigate by.

We follow the horse trail per Vandagild’s argument: If we find nothing in the short term, we can return and continue along the endless trail for the Demon Beast. After a few minutes, we crest a small rise; a steep descent follows, to a very small stream... And a horse, dead, its heavy body wrapped around a tree at the bottom of a steep slope. We descend the hill: The horse has a saddle, which the Aquitanian inspects. Elvorix spots the footprints of a man leading away, from some thick drag marks beneath the slain beast; they end at the stream, heading right, downstream. The saddle is of good quality and fine craftsmanship; and in a saddlebag a stamp, wax, and paper. The stamp has a crude depiction of a heraldic lion rampant; the hunter brings it to the Roman, who does not recognise it for the lack of colour. Sir Vandagild assumes the knight is sorely injured from the impact; and the horse is still warm - we must venture to assist this ailing hunter!

__________ Terror __________

Sir Elvorix checks on Madoc; he looks stalwart but aware. He is no longer drinking; his eyes keen and shield at hand. Vandagild comments that this may not have been the hunting trip the Prince expected; Madoc says the same of the man who owned that horse. We follow the stream, which eventually leads back to the trail above; we see no more prints on the trail, but the wretched, thick stench is awful and pervasive. It gets worse as we proceed. The eerie silence makes every step tense; any sound draws a snap of heads; we are all on edge. Trudging occurs.

Soon ahead, the reek almost overpowering now, the forest twitching with fertility and vim. Ahead, Vandagild spots a hint of a clearing; the dense foliage thins, and the waves of rotten stink wash over us anew: From the suddenly encompassing scene before us, which seems to swirl and lurch... each knight is ripped into the depths of his own soul, his mind filled with evil possibility; pulling at our darkest fears…

Sir Vandagild's mind fills with the image of an enormous, multi-limbed beast; black, with vicious talons; the knight we seek lays slain, his armour rent asunder and viscera gored wide. In each talon, one of Vandagild's children lays, dripping red... He grits himself, sweating, and turns to his friends:

Sir Elvorix breaks, fleeing back the way we came. He mutters wordlessly of fear: We know not what fills his mind, but the spirit of this famously valorous knight is crushed by it. Vandagild calls back, but he is driven from the scene in terror.

Madoc, too, watches him flee; the Prince draws his blade; he looks back to the clearing a turns to Vandagild: “Come then, hunter, let's be men about it”. Sir Vandagild nods, draws steel, and advances.

Vandagild fortifies himself; his jaw tightens and his focus sharpens. As we breach the dense forest into the foul clearing, the scent rapidly dissipates... still present but no longer pervasive. An almost perfectly circular grove, the grass a dead, rotten yellow. In the centre: Collapsed trees, dead and rotting vegetation; and bodies, some armed, piled thick and heavy. Vandagild’s black taloned demon, swirling slain children, is not there. Instead, a black, evil tree; covered with red fungus; a dark, black liquid runs thickly down the trunk, like wretched ichor, pooling at its base. Glop: A large piece of flesh drops from a branch; gooping grossly into the pool, flecks of blood spoiling the perfect darkness. We look upward; a horrible humanoid clinging spiderly, horribly, to the dead canopy. Black hair covers its face but for the mouth; it is agape, fanged evilly, and spewing forth a horrible, hacking laughter.

It laughs not at we, but elsewhere, across the clearing. We spy there another knight, spear held aloft, over a green shield with a golden lion rampant (it matches the stamp); his battered armour holding against two giant black dogs, slavering, massive, awful. They battle urgently these three, before a fourth, wounded man; the latter propped against a trunk, rapid of breath, alongside a slain beast of similar ilk. He bleeds.

________ Bring Forth Thy Blade Unto The Demons of Imber! ________


“Black Dogs” Vandagild, snarls to Madoc. Vandagild recalls tales of the beasts from the Pict Sir Golistan: Nighthounds they also call, named not for their fur, but because they are unseen, black like night, and do not manifest physically in the world, instead unseen to the eye of man. And yet they are here, slavering and snapping at yon Lord. He does not recognise the Knight’s Heraldry, though he rarely does. The monster in the tree is an awful, terrible mystery.

Vandagild, his Grandfather’s medal at his breast, is nonetheless stunned by this terrible, chaotic scene. The Lion Knight thrusts again at a dog, shouting as he does: This battling, beleaguered knight, outnumbered by demons, spurs the hunter to action: “Sir Knight! Worry thee not; we come to aid with steel and brawn! For God!” The two men start across the clearing but yet, from nowhere three more Demon hounds lunge viciously upon them! Curse their fae tricks and savage maws!

The Prince and the Hunter fight side by side, each sending his blade against such foul foes as he can reach, aiding one another! Vandagild lands first, his blade thrust perfectly into one monster’s ribs; The howling creature is transfixed. Prince Madoc, thick muscle rippling beneath fine steel maille, with a mighty overhead strike cuts at the struggling beast; the blade hammers down on its neck, Madoc's prodigious strength driving the blade deep into the bone! It thuds instantly to the ground, motionless; His shield keeps the other at bay, and he now turns to square off against this other assailant.

Alas, Vandagild’s blade is briefly pinned by the fallen creature’s bulk; The other Dog takes advantage of this, sinking its rending teeth into Vandagild's leg: The agile hunter keeps his feet, but has no blade! He steps cautiously, shield battered by the monstrous, leaping hound, as he gets a good grip on the lost weapon and rips it free. Madoc is slammed against a tree by the other beast, his shield interposed, but a slashing claw rips him from his feet and gashes his thigh! It leaps atop him, but with great strength and deft shieldsmanship the Prince regains his feet!

Vandagild, armed once more, plunges his blade into his beast's flank; the creature has fur like wire, but the tall man has the strength to punch his blade through; he keeps his grip this time, spilling dark blood into the sickly grass as he pulls it free from the howling monster. 

Meanwhile, the Stranger Knight has been battling valiantly against his own savage foes: One monster bleeds from a deep wound, but the Knight has acquired another of his own. The Golden Lion ducks beneath one leaping beast, driving his spear into its belly... it is badly wounded, but still battles! The other monster latches its evil maw upon the man, though his fine armour keeps the worst out yet again.

The battling is savage; slashing and lancing blows from the men of Logres trade evenly with darting bites and ripping claws; The black beasts are soon drenched in red, and Sir Vandagild suffers numerous small wounds. Madoc’s great strength brings him the first victory, his mighty blows repeatedly hacking in the monstrous face and jaw before him; it is his third blow that carves through the beast's weakened skull and laying it to evil rest.

Across the clearing, the Strange Knight of the Golden Lion has put one monster down; it lies twitching at his feet, unable to fight on. But the man is hard pressed himself, many gashes leak into the vile yellow grass. He moves slower, but still holds his shield high.

Madoc turns to help his friend; Vandagild insists that Madoc aid the other knight, but the Aquitanian is bloodied, and he cannot hide the exhaustion of the day and battle; The Prince respects the man's honour, but he will aid his friend first!

Nodding, Sir Vandagild launches a deceptive attack, catching the beast in the ribcage, which has gripped him in its slavering jaws! It stumbles and starts to fall, when Madoc pounces: the Prince rushes to its side and hacks into the back of the beast's neck; it immediately limps, releasing Vandagild from its foetid maw and slumping to the muddy grass.

A word of thanks, and the two knights start to sprint across the sickly clearing: The distant knight battles still against a final foe! The Knight of the Golden Lion slams his blade heavily into his last beast, the jarring blow aimed with might and precision; the behemoth yet battles on!  Reaching the man at least, the men of Logres swarm the monster! Vandagild and the Stranger cut the monster shallowly again, which doesn’t fall. But the hunter slips to the flank, waiting for its balance to wane; his moment presents, and the young knight thrusts his blade through thick ribs and into its heart. As he does, the Stranger hacks at the beast, his sword a butcher's cleaver: Staccato, he roars “Why won't you die!!” But it does not hear his final word; for it is chopped savagely, and hears no more.

When the beast falls, the grotto is once more deathly silent; the men breath heavily, each wounded. The cackles have ceased. “Hark thee!” begins the Hunter, “I am Sir Vandagild of Salisbury, and this is my Prince Madoc; Alas for these brief words, yet I must away; for yon beast, cackling and mocking, begs me to lay waste unto it with this very blade.”

He turns to set upon the monster: A splash yonder; the creature, long and evil, emerges from the goop, from all fours, to two feet; A shadow shifts; another foul hound beside it. The vile tree-thing stands erect, taller than any of us. It draws breath deeply; the next noises pierces the silence and engulfs the clearing; for it screeches horribly, taloned arms spread wide.

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Image 2: Cannot find original source

King Arthur Pendragon RPG 5.2

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

The Heirs of Britain - Game Seven

The Heirs of Britain

Session 7: 482; The Summerland Swamps

__________ Spring 482 - Sarum, Salisbury __________

Once more the young knights ride to Sarum; Easter Feast has been announced there, and Roderick’s knights attend. We arrive and find the castle quieted much from last year; Ulfius and his entourage, searching for marriages, are not present this Spring. The Duke’s absence is somewhat offset by the presence of Prince Madoc and his own courtiers. Loach in cold green sauce is served.

Sir Vandagild takes opportunity to beg some of the Earl's time to go hunting and falconing. The Earl appreciates the request and Vandagild's enthusiasm; alas he has too much to attend to this season and will likely be unable. They both look forward to the next opportunity.

Sir Elvorix, not in good graces with the Earl, attempts in his way to win money from gaming. The Roman engages in courtly intrigue, and finds a mark in Sir Rhodri: An older knight, portly, known for constant indebtitude, though seemingly capable of paying. Elvorix propositions the chap for a game and a wager! The jovial gent accepts eagerly, his bag of pieces quick to hand; This is a mistake. Sir Elvorix trounces him, winning in a few short moves after catching his foe in a cunning gambit. The man shakes his head in disbelief; the game is over, and the monies overhanded.

Sir Iwan, modest as ever, is content with his lot, feeling fortunate and well care for. He asks little of his lord, instead focusing on the welfare of his family. His humility inspires!

During the feast, our Good Earl Roderick has an announcement! There will be another campaign! Off the victory of Bedegraine, King Uther is invigorated to put down another recalcitrant lord, one who also refuses to pay his dues; Cadwy the King of Summerland! A joyous roar fills the hall! The latter is known to be formidable and wise, a foe not to be taken lightly. We learn Salisbury’s muster will be split; half with Uther to Summerland, and half with Roderick to besiege some contested holdings in Salisbury. Salisbury is Roderick's ancestral home, and he has intent to secure it properly! 

Sir Godifer approaches during the joyous response: He tells us that Summerland is known for Strange Happenings, and it should be a memorable campaign. The forest to Northwest goes by many names, and the charming man shivers when he describes the tales that come from that place. He tempers himself: Most of the tales are probably just told to keep peasants afraid, he explains; some children go missing, another returns with a weird scar, peasant nonsense of the like. He means not to spook us, just sharing some interesting trivia.

Changing topic, he identifies Vandagild and Iwan and... not Elvorix. He recalls our time at Wynchbank, and bids us accompany him on a similar quest to the Saxon Shore. We shall visit Sir Ederyn’s Castle Vigor and his daughter Lady Llylla, who Roderick may court. Sir Vandagild references the misbehaviour of the men of Saxon Shore in London; Elvorix still bears the scars of his duel. The Aquitanian suggests that there may be yet more inhospitality when we arrive!

Nonetheless, those invited accept the task; over many days we travel through Levcomagusm, Silchester, Londinium, Camulodunum and, finally, to Castle Vigor in the east.

__________ A Vigorous Scathing __________

The Castle Vigor, of Sir Ederyn, is more fortified, more utilitarian, though perhaps a little less wealthy though than that of Wynchbank. We are greeted with a respectful entourage, who aid us to tour the grounds and keep us entertained. 

During the day the hunter, Sir Vandagild, takes opportunity to stalk the woods with the lord of these eastern lands. The day is long: Ederyn appears not the greatest hunter, nor trailsman, and his lengthy stories are drawn, staling quickly. This frustrates some. Men wonder in whispers and looks if this hunt will ever end. Sir Vandagild wishes not to overstep his mark, but necessity forces him to action. While Sir Jarren is telling some story to the gathered men, the long-haired Aquitanian espies a doe! Representing his Lord Roderick, and wishing to impress the man, he dismounts softly, drawing a few glances. In a smooth motion he pulls his bow, nocks, draws and looses; he starts afoot before the arrow lands. And it does, deep and true: Low in the ribs, just behind the foreleg, cutting the creature’s heart so. It is felled immediately. A few steps hence, he quietly declares: I have found our dinner. The hunting party are impressed by the skill and confidence of this display! Despite being a foreigner, and a knight of Salisbury, Vandagild’s efforts draw looks of thanks and admiration from the Saxon Shore hunters.

Later, the handsome Sir Iwan navigates the courtly courtesy well, speaking gently but pointedly with some of the Saxon Shore knights. He makes a good impression with one Sir Mellon; a quiet knight, of a kind with Sir Iwan, who confides much in the Salisbury man. The Castellan Sir Ederyn is apparently one for stories, though not in a way that all find favourable; Vandagild has learned this first hand. Lady Llyla, for her part, is quite a, uh, presence, though not a storyteller. Mellon politely says no more on that curious matter. Iwan notes this, and they return to less delicate matters, talking of state and knightlihood.

The day comes to a close, and the time to feast approaches. Lady Llylla has been nowhere in sight through the day; but she is presented at the feast that evening. A woman of 18 summers in a beautiful lavender dress, she is stunning. Her introduction is impressive. As the feast progresses she speaks little; many Salisbury knights whisper of her beauty and charm: What a boon to Roderick! Meanwhile, Sir Myles approaches Iwan and speaks bluntly to he; Myles needs advice. Lady Trenia and he have had some rather excellent times, and he visited her family in London as we passed through recently. It seems her family may own around half of London, perhaps with some exaggeration. The striking knight laments that he has need to prove himself worthy of her hand, and to be worthy of joining their family. He is struck, it is clear.

Overhearing the difficult problem, Sir Vandagild mirthfully suggests that he could slay a Dragon? He hears from his wife they live in the Pictish Mountains; it might make a fine adventure! Or, mayhap, hire a good craftsman with tight lips, to render a false head of such a beast and convince them of the slaying thusly. This draws laughter; alas Sir Myles has little faith in these plans, though he enjoys the joke.

Sir Iwan more seriously suggests slaying a mighty Saxon hero or warlord, perhaps lay claim to a banner of that foul folk? And then he may lay it on her table before her kin, to show his valour as a warrior. Or, if we produce a report of quality for the Earl Roderick we can offer the credit to Sir Myles, increasing his standing with the Earl and thus his standing elsewhere? Myles nodes thoughfully…

We are interrupted: Lady Llyla shrieks! Her voice pierces the dull rumble of knightly conversation and draws men to their feet. All turn: Her beautiful dress now has a burgundy blotch on it, spreading rapidly; the lady is enraged!  She screams at a servant, spitting vile, uncomely words and scathing him harsh. She declares to all: The cost of the dress will come from their wages, and they will be thrown from the castle! Eyebrows are raised; it appears wine was spilled. The tirade continues for some time. 

Sir Vandagild makes a whispered note to his friend Iwan, with a sweeping gesture: I offer you, The Saxon Shore!

Soon the feast ends; many are uncomfortable. We depart the next day.

In Sarum once more, the Earl Roderick asks once more the opinion of the two young knights. He is excited; he hears word that she is quite a sight. Sir Iwan, in careful phrases offers: She is easy on the eyes, my Lord, but cruel to the servants, and her father is... long of tale. When pressed, Iwan explains the cruel behaviour regarding the spoiled dress. Vandagild confirms the tale. Roderick is disappointed; he was hoping for better news. The feasts are important for morale, he utters, and the men would be discouraged if such cruelty and misbehaviour was suffered under his hospitality. With thanks, he dismisses the men.

Later that Spring, more glorious news for the family of Sir Vandagild. His brother, Sir Vanduva, has reached his twenty first year; he is knighted!

__________ Summer in Summerland! Summer, 482 __________

Though we are keen to fight with Earl Roderick, the young knights are each sent to join Uther in the invasion of Summerland. Recalling Godifer’s rumouring, Sir Vandagild asks his wife the Lady Catrin, and a priest of the Arian Christian Faith, to bless him as protection from the demons of the forest. They do; he kisses his wife and children hefts his armaments, and rides North, Uvan in tow.

We muster and arrive at camp near the Summerland border. We find the Salisbury men, who keep a keen eye on their surroundings, and join the other Lords and Knights of Summerland under Uther. It is noted by many that once more Duke Gorlois of Cornwall is absent, as is the Duke of The March. Nonetheless, we march forth into the forests, marshes, bogs and woodlands of Summerland, unto the castles of this cursed land!

But ho! Soon hence, we see the Duke Gorlois already at work, besieging the southern forts of Summerland; and yonder, the Duke of The March besieges forts in the North! Glory to King Uther! We march onward, deep into the territory of the foe… And yet Uther finds trouble pinning down the forces of Summerland. They muster not before us, and have chosen no battlefield to face us. We are instead impaired by fallen trees, hidden bogs, and persistent assailment by arrows and javelins... This treacherous warfare reaps a modest toll, but frustrates greatly! Many knights decry the dishonorable tactics, and pray rightly for open battle! King Uther, not a merciful man, once more reverts to a tried tactic: Raid Summerland, he calls, and force them to respond! Sir Vandagild, not near Elvorix and driven by his vengefulness for these traitorous folk and their deceptive warfare eagerly spurs his mount!

Sir Elvorix opts not to anger his lord further, choosing to raid an undefended manor and yet harming no peasants. Sir Iwan rides with Sir Elvorix, in case some defending knights emerge and his friend needs a blade beside him.

We raid for several days among the marshy, boggy lands. We take treasure from our targets, under constant harassment from the slings and arrows of dishonest folk. Bugs and midges infest and bite; the very forest seems to reach out and entangle our arms and steeds; rest is hard to find, and chaos reigns; it is an awful campaign. Sir Vandagild is enraged; filled with vengeance but unable to find a home for it. He tightens his jaw, and makes effort to keep his shield high; the arrows of his wretched foe come at unexpected junctures. He rides with a more aggressive cohort, seeking vengeance for these slights! His vigilance and endurance pay dividends; an arrow thuds into his shield as they ride to plunder! He roars, eyes darting; he hunts the man, spurring his mount in the direction of the arrow, finding tracks and, soon, the man himself! He flees before the knight, darting between the trees and moss… Alas, Vandagild is alone in the difficult terrain! Troubled by the risk of ambush, he finds solace in his Grandfather’s medallion rattles against his chest: Men lured from formation into ambushes of pouncing, violent Huns… The Aquitanian, frustrated, finds the prudence to reign his mount, and wheel back to his party.

Sirs Elvorix and Iwan try raiding the more distant manors to evade arboreal assassins, and loot gently to avoid encumbrance and conflict. Alas! The Roman, while riding a manor, is forced to dodge a missile, ducking swiftly behind a low wall in a manor. He peeks atop it, but he cannot find his assailant. This slows them, and soon they withdraw to friendlier roads.

After days of this, we gather at the war camp; several men are wounded, and many arrows have found a home in Salisbury maille. We learn that King Uther has called for parley with King Cadwy; the latter will leave his court to meet our King on a riverbank. Elvorix makes note to his friends, for King Cadwy, sometimes called the Hermit King, is renowned for never leaving his court. Headway!

__________ Cadwy’s Conference __________

The toll of our campaign soon becomes apparent: Many of the men of Logres are sick, laying in tents, not in shape to fight or raid. Other men are nauseous and full of malaise; the number is significant. By grace of God and constitution, this sickness does not strike our protagonists. The Cymric men of Logres are broadly known for their resilience, and yet many are still unwell. This impact on our forces bodes poorly for a battle should it come to pass. Alas, something vile has surely happened: And it is blamed equally on the weird magics of the forest, as on the poisoning of our men by Summerland knaves!

Sir Elvorix feels the plagues are a punishment from God for our raiding. Sir Iwan, shakes his head, believing his knowledge of the lore of the Fae is protecting him; he has begun minor rituals, and now he spends yet more effort on these idiosyncratic spells and tricks. Unusually full of confidence, he offers advice on how to conduct these protective rituals to the other knights. Vandagild worries little for the cause, instead feeling gratitude for his wife and God; his preparations have clearly kept him safe.

Prince Madoc soon arrives, striding proudly through the ranks, but worried openly about the illness. He finds the three young knights well, and looks relieved; perhaps our old mentor, Sir Elad, has trained us all for fortitude, he offers! Madoc looks forward to seeing Cadwy up close, he tells, and laments not managing to lay his blade on an enemy. Vandagild agrees, and tells of his prudent withdrawal from his woodland foe; he relates his Grandfather’s wisdom to the Prince. Madoc nods sagely, and wonders if the young knight might make a good Battalion commander one day; he laughs, though Vandagild is unsure if he is joking. The three young knights are well and healthy; more than he can say for most others. The Prince offers us the chance to ride with the King to parley with Cadwy; our vigour will show him strength - we eagerly accept! 

The King's entourage numbers around two dozen knights; we approach a dock by a river's edge near Cadwy's castle. A barge emerges from the mist before us; on it a bright green tent, with only four knights outside. The men of Logres are keen to see the end of this nightmarish campaign; Madoc declares his excitement to see his father deal with this so-called King. Uther's hand doesn't leave his pommel, and Sir Vandagild follows suit.

The barge docks, and Uther strides furiously into the tent. The two parties watch each other cautiously. The vermin of the swamp sing their strange and beautiful songs. Ripples in the water, shudders in the trees. Odd chirps and haunting cries in the mist.

Sir Iwan, mistrustful of the fae, dips his hand into the nearby water, smearing some swamp water under his eyes; he explains to Prince Madoc that this will help him see through Glamours, for Cadwy is an evil magician and he has a great Suspicion of these Summerlanders. Prince Madoc believes not such tales; Cadwy is just a man, and the King Uther is more than that; this will suffice. Sir Elvorix is amused by the situation at large; Vandagild whispers prayers to God.

Some time later, Uther leaves the tent and returns to his men. He tells us to return to camp. He no longer has his hand on his sword.

Sir Vandagild whisperingly questions Madoc, asking if we won; apparently we did, and there will be a great feast tomorrow. Sir Vandagild thanks God, but voices concern about the death of the last High Kingm Aurelius, some say from poison as much as battle. Given the deception of the Summerlanders, best not we guard sharply this feast? Prince Madoc worries little; while Cadwy is "unique" he does not believe him to be so dishonorable as that.

__________ A Feast in the Fen __________

The next day, the camp is expanded. More men and women have been brought up to fill out what was previously a war camp, including the King’s entourage and concubines. The sick are taken away to recuperate. A great tent is erected for a feast, and furnished as best manageable in this cruel swamp. Cadwy and Uther sit at the High Table; Cadwy has a strangely large entourage of men who look much like him, albeit younger. Sir Iwan calmly, warily informs us they are dopplegangers. Vandagild and Elvorix recognise one of these young men as Sir Melwas, the Sword of Summerland, and son of King Cadwy; he rides an Emerald Green Horse! Vandagild tells his friends he wishes to visit the horse in the stables... Sir Iwan states clearly that he will never go near the horse; he is convinced it will kill him.

Also present: Prince Madoc, of course; Duke Eldol of Glevum; Duke Cornius "The Hammer" of Lindsey, who wields a weapon of his namesake; Duke Ulfius; and the rest of Uther's court. Also present: The nefarious coward Sir Blains; Vandagild spits as he spies him on a distant table. We are seated, appropriately, below the salt. Sir Elvorix's appearance this feast leaves something to be desired; his finest clothes are not here, and his clothing is stained from the swamp.

We take our positions, and soon the King calls attention. In a glorious ceremony, King Cadwy kneels before Uther, who names him Count of Summerland and grants him new lands! Cadwy is allowed to keep his nominal title "King of Summerland” but remains under Logres.

At once, Uther stands again, his booming voice declaring a dance! Vandagild, not known for his courtly footwork, leaves off the opportunity. Sirs Iwan and Elvorix dance well, though Iwan impresses! He is known for his dancing and draws many fond looks. Indeed, King Uther, visiting the knights after a dance, comes to commend Iwan for his dexterity and skill at dance; but asks Iwan what passion inspires his footwork, so expressive it is? Iwan replies that he wishes to put his best foot forward before his Lord, Earl Roderick. The King commends the Salisbury man: Roderick is lucky to have such a graceful and talented knight at his court; Uther wishes to see such grace on the battlefield! When asked, Iwan explains that Roderick’s Generosity to him and his wife has earned his undying loyalty. Satisfied, Uther leaves with some parting comments.

Shortly later Sir Iwan, returning from business, finds in the damp flooring a jewelled armband, obviously valuable. His honesty prevailing, he searches for the owner, soon finding it a home among the Silchester Knights. The band belongs to none other than Sir Blains; Iwan's eye twitches when told thus. Nonetheless, he persists, and finds the wretched knight carousing; he taps his shoulder and asks his attention loudly. Sir Blains turns, scowling, and demands the purpose. Iwan explains it coldly and offers him the band. Blains is confused, squinting, but is soon enough appropriately grateful. He is taken aback. The Silchester Knight asks for Iwan's name and thanks him. Learning of Iwan's Salisbury lands, he pauses, stunned, and then bids him a good evening. Iwan leaves.

Vandagild, for his part, helps his colleagues to more drink, trusting Madoc’s talk of Cadwy’s honor to keep them safe from poison.

As we converse, we notice a lady, Uther apparently in tow, striding confidently to our table. She stops a little short as the King steps forward; he introduces the Lady Diane to Sir Elvorix, though at first he thinks Vandagild is the latter. King Uther promptly leaves; and the real Sir Elvorix invites the lady to sit with us. She has been in Uther's court for four years, she tells, after her father died. She inquires to Elvorix's station and his land in Salisbury, and turns talk to his efforts in Bedegraine. Sir Vandagild, famous for his stories and the recent telling of The Ballad of Britain, weaves a spectacular tale of Elvorix's prowess and skill in battle. He tells stirringly of Elvorix decapitating the last valiant defender, who himself was a bastion of resilience for the Bedegraine defenders. The table laugh and enjoy. After some more conversation, Lady Diane produces a note for the Roman, bidding him to meet her later, before taking her leave. Sir Elvorix, of old stock, knows the written word well. Before him is an instruction, though it is written imprecisely in strained letters: Meet me behind the King's stables. 

Sir Vandagild, for his part, helps his colleagues to yet more drink. Sir Iwan and Sir Vandagild, at this point, are drunk. Sir Elvorix, at this point, is a mess. They enjoy more cups, but Elvorix is keen to away. He stands, salutes clumsily, and heads for the King's Stables! Elvorix slurringly bids us farewell, a full, sloshing jug of ale in hand. Vandagild wishes him luck!

__________ Soused Subterfuge __________

The Roman reaches the place, somehow, finding a guard outside. "Well now”, he begins, “ye should not be out here by thyself, have this!"

The guard happily acquiesces, though he questions why the young knight is out here. “King Uther bequeathed me!... err.. indirectly. See!”, sayeth he. The paper is handed; the guard can read. Apparently, the clumsy handwriting was requesting him to wear red, not only to attend this place. The guard laughs, pointing to the error, and tells Elvorix he isn't even following the instructions right. Nonetheless, he permits entrance; she is waiting for him.

Confused, Elvorix enters, unadorned in red: "I could not read thy off words, lady! How expect thee for a change to red attire, for we are in a siege; truly my clothes are elsewhere!"

The Lady is disappointed, she tells; she expects better resourcefulness from a knight. If she were asked to wear red, indeed she may even cut her palm and smear her lifeblood thusly!

Sir Elvorix, raging drunk, immediately does so; the wound is deep, but effective! He is clad in red. The lady Diane laughs and praises his capacity to follow instruction. Flirting occurs, boldly and clumsily on Elvorix's part. The lady enjoys this, but steers the conversation: She enjoyed the part where he refused Roderick in Bedegraine, but asks why the change in Summerland? Elvorix defends his decision: Summerland was raiding lordly manors, not peasantry; it was innocent folk he protected in Bedegraine. They continue apace: It soon becomes clear; the woman is ambitious and of want for a knight who is willing to achieve fame and wealth through ignoble means. The conversation spins nefarious particulars, and Elvorix drunkenly assents. Soon enough, she leaves, promising to arrange the details of marriage later in the year. Once she is gone, Elvorix slumps heavily into the mud and straw, and he sleeps. The horses chew quietly nearby.

__________ Drink and Demons __________

Inside, Iwan and Vandagild observe someone furtively espying them from across the room. The man appears hard lucked; his attire, formerly quite glorious, has fallen in quality and is in need of repair or replacement. We stare back and he soon approaches; he knows us, he tells, and introduces himself as Sir Cadel - he asks, sheepishly, if we recognise that. We don't. He explains that he is from Imber, and speaks of the Bear. Sir Vandagild shows the trinket he had made, and points to the similar one on Iwan’s neck; this excites Sir Cadel. He wishes our help again, for another monster has encroached and his peasants are once more frightened. He calls attention to his dilapidated clothing; times have been hard. He continues: A wolf, a demon, or a cursed serpent; they are not sure. But it is real, and he knows us capable of finding and slaying it. The knights expect they will be released from muster soon and, despite the unusual nature of this request, the opportunity thrills. Sir Vandagild is taken by Valor, Generosity and his Energetic spirit; Iwan too wishes to give aid to the beleaguered man. And have both enjoyed wine. The Quest is accepted; the young knights ask only to have our families care for should we be eaten by demons. Sir Cadel assents, and gives us instructions for the morning, and we agree to set off as soon as able.

As Sir Iwan departs to find Elvorix, Vandagild speaks with his friend, Prince Madoc, sharing yet more cups. He tells of Sir Cadel's quest, and invites the Prince to battle the Demon with him. Madoc thinks hard; he asks of Sir Jarren who Sir Cadel is; Jarren wonders aloud: He is.. maybe from Saxon Shore? But Imber is in Salisbury? The two men have some confusion. Vandagild nevertheless tells his tale, and convinces Madoc of the Glory of slaying a Demon Wolf in the forests of these, essentially his own lands. Madoc casually accepts the Quest; he has nought more fun than that to attend. Alas, Sir Jarren cannot come, for he is to go raiding with his father. Sir Vandagild remains with the Prince and Sir Jarren for the remainder, conversing easily about nothing.