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 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 __________
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!)
Image 1: https://www.deviantart.com/blmd/art/dark-wood-348995695
King Arthur Pendragon RPG 5.2