The Heirs of Britain
Session F: Everwhen, in the Forest of Fae...
__________ Forever ??? – Nowhere __________
Meanwhile, outside of time and beyond the reach of God, Sir Vandagild stalks a withered, stagnant wood, flanked by strange trees and beguiling foliage:
He is wrathful; wrathful at Iwan; wrathful at himself; wrathful at the vile demonic fae that plague Salisbury and all men.
He is troubled; concern for squire and brother-in-law Uvan; concern for his young family, Lady Catrin and five bubbling little squibs.
He treads lightly, his practiced steps following a huntsman’s path; soft, trackless. The land is featureless. He searches for tale of Uvan’s passage, but finds nought. Indeed, he finds nought of much; the difficulty of finding... anything.. anywhere.. ever… it builds. But the bloodied Aquitanian is intrepid, robust, and driven. He has sworn to find Uvan. Instead, so far he finds only an unexpected journey. He prays to God that Uvan was granted a clearer trail; but the Pictish squire is no stranger to the wild ways, and so hope remains.
And still, Vandagild’s guard must never falter; the black demon of Imber and her vile hounds are never far. At increments his glimpses hints, familiar now with the signs of their invisible passage…
A few days pass; perhaps. There is no sense of time but for exhaustion; the Sun hasn't moved an inch for… how long? It hangs, the shadows long but the permanent heat dreary. Vandagild travels south, and the great fiery orb hangs high to right. Always and forever. Rocks, streams, woods, he passes; all shadows keep the same long angle, the same weight. The knight adjusts his clothing and cloaks to protect from the eternal rays. It is permanently the edge of twilight; in the world and in his mind. Disorientation is complete, but for the narrow creek he follows. He catches little game on the trail, but digs tubers from the soil, with nourishing barks and forbs.
He doubts all he sees; be these deep, twisting shadows, or foul tricks in the wings? As the eternal day drags, his concern for the foul dogs wanes; it seems now wherever he is, they are not. Still, Vandagild remains as sharp as he can; his keen sense haven't dulled. His wounds heal, but they are many and he still wishes for his full strength.
Lo! He spies movement in the shadows, and certain this time; he has become used to the shadows in this place, and spies the odd shift immediately. He whips his blade forth, and calls out: “Who are ye! What are ye? Face me, Demon!”
This, the first sound he has heard in many days; his own raspy voice crunches through the silence... faint echoes reply, but no other. He halts, and listens intently: A rhythm, deep and resonant is all that speaks back, the steady metronome of his own strong heart.
Waiting a few moments more, he moves to the place he spied; there is no mark on the floor, nor sign of passage. He has little doubt though; the shift reminds of the Black Dogs who tracked them many days past, as they withdrew harassed from that cursed grove.
Using the shadows, in which he has seen the beasts move, and his knowledge of the beast's invisibility, he dashes to an angle to find a lead with new vantage. Soon he spots it! A single Devil-Dog. It moves with him, to his east as he travels. Urgency renewed, he turns to the west, hoping the beast stalks some territory that he can evade. He knows the monster is no normal hound, and he is in no condition to fight. His keen eyes dart as he moves, catching glimpses of the strange shifts yonder and to the flanks.
The monster follows him for some time, but it soon lags, and short hence the beast is left behind him.
__________ The Weird Waters __________
Free of the stalker, Sir Vandagild turns his anew attention to finding young Uvan… or anything else. He continues West, along the babbling brook in search for deeper waters; he hopes for a stream, to find a river, to find... anything. Something.
Hunger and thirst weigh as he travels; he gathers more mushrooms and vegetables as he travels, snatching water from small pools and nooks. The food is enough to keep him moving, and his wounds keep their steady knit.
The sun persists.
Sir Vandagild persists.
Ten times, exhaustion forces him to sleep, and as the eleventh encroaches he finds it; the small brooks tributes a larger stream, and soon a modest river! The river rumbles! These, the first sounds in an age, almost defeaning in comparison to the overwhelming silence of the dreary days in the woeful wood. At first he must step away, in mercy of his desperate ears. Recovered, Vandagild follows the water to the edge… Fish twist lazily within! A gift from God, perhaps? Does he see this strange land, or here does he dwell in the realm of some nastier lord? Anxious for sterner foods, the Aquitanian takes time to catch and prepare a meal. A fire he does make, and the warm, nourishing flesh renews his spirit and body. He sleeps.
A sound! And not the rippling river! The pitch punches through the murmur… His clever ear knows beasts; be this the haunting howl of a wolf? Not quite, it has new tones, unheard in the forests of men. Nor is this the terrible call of the Demonic Dogs which did rend his flesh. The call comes from downstream, though he cannot pin the source. He troubles himself; it is something, and thus of vastly more interest than the vast stretch of nothing so far. But his torn body is not yet prepared to battle new demons. And yea, wolves hunt in packs. Not wanting to tousle with strange wolves in his wounded state, Vandagild seeks a crossing; put some hefty waters between this strange beast and its human prey.
Once crossed he travels south soon to near whereby the call emerged. He calls out, across the river. “Ho! Show thyself! Uvan, dost thou hear my voice? Uvan!?”
Nothing. Closer he stalks, along the riverbank; the call comes again! A cry, strange indeed! Then Nothing. More silence, and the burbling river. He is not dismayed for himself; the trip is long, but he now has good food, the friendly company of talkative waters, and the skills to survive. He worries for Uvan, but keeps these fears from his mind.
Still; he has not found Uvan's trail. Though he is used to, and prefers to keep silent, he calls for Uvan as he travels; sporadic, powerful shouts. The anger of those earliest days has subsided. He still reddens with rage when he thinks of the Fae, but he is here for the boy, and there is none he would prefer to have the task.
__________ The Haunted Hunter __________
He walks again, and he calls.
A voice returns! A cry of inquiry? Lower pitched, some questioning voice? Across the way, the bank on which, some time past he heard the strange wolf. Searching once more for a crossing, Vandagild calls as he approaches, eliciting more replies of a kind. Once close, the hunter sneaks forth in the understory; Alas, in this silent place, his armour's soft hushing sounds like a cacophony. He gives up on the idea, instead stepping forth boldly! Into a clearing, wherein: A knight, a horse, a campfire, and a dog.
The knight stands, sword drawn; “What!?” he cries questioningly.
He is armoured in exotic hunting leathers, braced with maille in parts; the man is older and taller than Vandagild, his shield yellow, emblazoned with two sets of seven plain crosses. His gear, though serviceable, is in want of maintenance.
Vandagild, blessed to find another man, sheaths his own blade, raises the empty hand in greeting. The Aquitanian introduces himself, a fellow hunter, and tells the man of his quest. The strange knight withdraws his helm as he replies in kind; though not conventionally attractive, he has a charming and stern look. His greying beard unkempt and full. The man is grubby, stained with grass and rusted metals.
The man tells he is Sir Pellinore; he is also on a hunt.
They converse, sharing their quests, tales and news. Pellinore hunts a specific beast, apparently. The finest beast in any forest, of such glory and challenge that he has dedicated himself to this hunt. Vandagild tells of his own mission, and explains from whence he hails.
Pellinore is confused: Uther isn't a Prince? What? What year is it? Who is Madoc? Vandagild mournfully tells the man that Aurelius is dead and Uther now King, with a son. It emerges that Pellinore fought beside Good Aurelius against Vortigern! Vandagild brings him to date with the affairs of Logres. He wonders how long the man has ridden these strange trails. His affect is odd; he shouts “What?” at the strangest of times. Vandagild presses not.
Vandagild observes the man with curiosity; they share food and there is silence for a time. As the fish roast there is some confused discussion; Strange Pellinore hails from Cambria, he tells, and asks news of his own lands. Vandagild has little, alas, and apologises. He scratches the scrappy hound idly.
This dog, young, small and presumably once white, is leashed to the strange hunter’s horse; it has wrapped itself tightly around a tree and the mount, whimpering softly for release from its eternal prison. Pellinore untangles the creatures, but ends up stumbling over the leashes and tripping into the mud. Unnecessary expressions of "What!?" persist. Vandagild laughs softly, helping the man to his feet. The Aquitanian talks with the dog a little; the houndlet has little to say, but enjoys the fishy morsels that apparently accompany the conversation.
Vandagild prepares more food for the journey. Wordlessly, Pellinore pulls a large shank of salted meat from his pack, and hands it to the young knight; it joins the pot. Pellinore asks of the queer howls; Vandagild tells him heard them several "days" North. A wolf? Nay; Pellinore hunts something much more elusive. A boyish joy covers his face; he tells that he hunts the greatest prey: The Glatisant. The sounds were its trills; it's not a howl, per say, it trills through a snake-like face and neck. It bears the head of a serpent, a body of the cheetahs of Africanum, and the legs of a hare. Among other things. Pellinore, ecstatic and passionate in his speech, looks to the sky, to the unmoving sun. Wisftully, he explains he has been on its trail for... a time. Thinking of Aurelius, Vandagild does the sums; around fifteen years have passed. Vandagild gently asks if the man has family or responsibilities to attend. Pellinore shrugs, noncommittal: He returns sometimes, but cares not for the dealings with Kings and the like.
Vandagild turns talk to his own quest: He asks if Pellinore can offer him guidance to find Uvan. Pellinore is curious about these other creatures described; the Black Demon and the Demon Dogs. He knows not of those creatures, but can help the Aquitanian find Uvan! He heard Vandagild’s earlier shouts of that name, and worried that they might have scared off “Glatty”.
Along the river, Pellinore recommends, keep following for what else is there to follow? Keep going; south there is a tower. He might be there; many of the lost end up there. Vandagild asks who the lord of the tower is, but Pellinore cannot say. The young knight stands, eager to off for this tower. He asks if there is anything he can bring to anyone, news, gifts, or the like? Pellinore looks distantly, then to himself, his dog, his horse; he is fine, worry not for him. He confirms Vandagild’s lands; in in Salisbury, under Roderick? He will visit; for he knows his way out. Soon.
Vandagild asks for guidance to leave, once he has found Uvan; how does one return to their lands? By now, however, Pellinore is quite distracted; his glance drawn repeatedly into the deep woods upstream. He tells Vandagild distractedly, as if the most obvious thing, to simply return from whence he came. Vandagild searches for the man’s eyes in confusion, but they do not meet.
Pellinore takes something from his bag and starts to mount; he tosses Vandagild the package; it is caught. Within: A whistle, fiddled neatly from wood.
Pellinore calls behind him: “You find your boy, and then you leave. What what? But, like me, you cannot leave until you find what you're looking for. Once you do, you blow that whistle: Either Glatty or I will hear it. What? If it's Glatty, you capture her; she's yours. May the better hunter win. Got it? Good. What what.”
The odd man spurs his horse, leaving detritus around and the fire going. Vandagild, shakes his head in confusion, takes the leftover food and whistle, and heads south for the tower.
For three more exhaustions, he marches downstream. He heals well.
__________ The Despicable Tower of Deceit and Dislike__________
The next few “days” have brought the river to widen and deepen. Soon, in the distance, a robust stone bridge crosses the river. A simple tower is on the other side, of solid stone with some small windows. A single knight waits, mounted, on the stone bridge; he is motionless. Vandagild approaches.
The bridge joins a road, running crossways to the river; across, Sir Vandgaild spies a flickering candlelight illuminating the inside of the great stone building. Before him, the knight is atop a steed, a lance at his side. But this fellow is strange: His armour is not rings of steel like most good men; this warrior is clad in sleek, flowing plates of some strange substance; they are teal, with curving ridges and ornate markings. His weapons are elaborate, but robust. His eyes are cast down to the approaching Aquitanian.
The mysterious warrior raises a hand, an eerie, ethereal voice wafts forth; “Go no further! No stranger may pass. Give me your name and you may cross this bridge."
Sir Vandagild asks first for this knight’s name.
"I have many names; call me as you wish" he replies.
The knight adjusts in his saddle; on his arm is strapped a white shield covered with twisting black markings; Sir Vandagild cannot interpret them at this distance.
Thinking back to his youth, he recalls tales from his father-in-law, the Pictish Huntsman Sir Golistan; though the details are not clear (for he did not care for Faerie stories as much as his cousin Vandar), he has some recollection of the tricks of the strange men of these lands. Thus, Vandagild makes up a name, and offers to the Knight; the words emerge.
“Then henceforth I will call you that. You may enter.”
The strange knight’s words are heavy; his mount steps one to the side, allowing passage.
The young hunter, still on foot, starts forward across the bridge; he does not recall the words he said to the Bridge Knight, nor does he recall the words he was concealing with them. As he strides past, he catches the shield in his glance; more markings have been added.
But lo, to the tower! It is breached by the young hunter; inside: Uvan! He sits at a table, on-which a great feast is spread! The young Pict leaps to his feet, rushing to embrace his mentor and brother-in-law! A joyous reunion ensues; shared words of thanks to God and each other! Uvan is not injured.
The hunter squints a little, and is confused. He thinks hard. Soon he realises:
He tells Uvan that he has unfortunately misplaced his name... he thinks maybe the knight outside took it.
Uvan says he knows something of this, sharing one of Golistan’s tales. The hunter sighs, and tells Uvan that he gave the Bridge Knight a fake name, and yet he has nonetheless stolen his real one! And the fake both, at that, for he has neither to hand. Vandagild seethes; once more he suffers at the hands of these fae demons! Betrayal and treachery! Violence and deceit! Is there no honour among these cursed monsters?
When queried, Uvan tells the hunter that he told the Bridge Knight that he didn't have a name to give, for he had not yet earned one. The Bridge Knight then asked what to call him, and he said Uvan. This seemed to have been a safer exchange.
Seething once more at the deceptive monster, he grips his hilt in a tight knuckled fist. He will have revenge on that demon for this theft. He need only retrieve his name, and heal his wounds fit for deadly combat.
The hunter inquires after his new foe: Uvan tells that the Knight stays mounted and never sleeps, keeping watch over the Bridge. He neither drinks nor eats, only keeps watch. Uvan himself has food and water and warmth in the tower, this feast-table refreshes through some obscure magic. But the Knight speaks not with him; he is a humble captive.
The hunter nods, and strides strongly upon the bridge.
__________ Wretched Riddles __________
“Hark! Knave! I gave ye a name. A! One! And yet ye took two! This is a breach of thy own foul bargain, and yea, a breach of justice and hospitality!”
The Bridge Knight slowly wheels his horse and replies; “You gave me a false name!”
“I made the name, villain! It is mine to give; ye asked only for my name. That name was mine, for I made it. And ye may keep that name freely; but ye have stolen my better name, for that I did not give! Admit it, and return what ye have thieved!”
The Bridge Knight parleys not, only repeating his initial request.
The Hunter’s face twists briefly in rage, but he keeps his voice steady: “I tell thee, I would gladly give thee my name; but ye, Sir Knight hold it still, unjustly! Ye must return it for it to be so!”
The Bridge Knight offers a wager, but the hunter does not listen to it.
“Parity is not assumed, vile Knight! For a thief, ye are, and have stolen that which was not freely given!”
The Bridge Knight does not rescind.
The hunter looks closely, trying to see his name upon the shield, hoping the sight will bring recollection; it isn't there. But yet, it must be hidden elsewhere? Or it is deeply forgotten? The hunter calls Uvan, who also looks. The Bridge Knight does not resist. The young squire starts reading names from the shield, as the hunter tries them each on.
Pedrog? No, for it sounds too… Fat; Ambiet? Nay, too tall; Cymrius? A little too.... Roman. The Hunter asks the boy to keep going; and he does: Yet none seem to fit well. So far; Caw is most strongly considered; for it sounds punchy and bold, like a heroic huntsman. But still not quite right. Uvan speaks something floral: Vandagild; It sounds far too... ugly, like a pauper-poet. Hyd is too short. Obyn has robust tones, but is a little boring. This persists for some time; nothing stands out. The Hunter thinks for some time. The GM is patient.
Suddenly, he exclaims!
"No stranger may pass! Well, Sir Knight, I will then pass this bridge. Now, harken thee! What is this? I have no name; and thus I am a stranger. As I have passed this bridge, it follows that I must be no stranger to thee. And since I am no stranger to thee, thou must, by thy own horrid tale, give me my name; for only a stranger has no name. I await now, for thee to give it, Sir Knight, and thus pass this bridge as no stranger!"
The Knight, of course, is stubborn and deceitful; he gives the man nothing but a stare. The hunter condemns his dishonesty and theft, but returns to Uvan.
He grips his sword tightly.
The boy, being more familiar with these fae, has alas little to offer. Uvan suggests that the hunter could take his shield! Then he would have all the names!
“You could fight him for it!”
Uvan looks over the hunter's wounds, and spies the Knight's odd armour and mount...
“Err… uh.. in a few days. Maybe?”
We have little faith in the plan.
The hunter shakes his head in anger, striding outside again. He offers this to the Bridge Cretin:
“Thou hast been deceitful and dishonest; thieving and false; thou dost owe me a chance to win back my name! A chance for thee to regain some of the honor that ye hold of such trifling value! I offer this wager! If ye believe thyself to be a true knight, my equal, then anything I can do you can do. Indeed, thou should truly be capable of anything that all the knights of my land are expected, for I shall not speak of thy own customs.”
“Three tasks, there shall be, Sir Knight, that you must match! Not even exceed, nay, though your pride may wish it for thee. Only to match the three tasks that I choose; for I think thee not the knight thy claims, and think thee incapable of truly knightly action!”
The Bridge Knight considers. His eerie voice gives a slow reply:
“Perhaps. But there are prayers in your religion that I cannot chant.”
“Fine!” the reply, “Religion aside!” the hunter assents.
“Nor canst thou ask that I leave this land” insists the Bridge Knight, “for this also he cannot do.”
“Conceded willingly!” replies the Hunter.
With these omissions, the Bridge Knight accepts: Three tasks, matched!
__________ Deceiving the Deceiver __________
First; swordsmanship! The hunter brings forth his blade, and wields it in so complex and agile a flourish as he can manage! It is impressive; for the hunter is a fine warrior. Alas! The Bridge Knight eyes carefully, and matches the maneouvre cut for cut. And yea, he does add some exceptional swordplay upon the end of the task. The hunter watches carefully and, seething with discontent, nods.
“Very well! Task two! I am a generous man, Bridge Thief, I offer thee a chance to lead?”
“Fine. Uvan, come. I bid thee hide in the forest!”
He turns to the Bridge knight: “Each knight in my lands has need to find his foe or food, however well hidden! We shall thus each take turns finding my fine friend and squire, Uvan!”
Uvan, of course, hides less deeply when Vandagild hunts, and yet still the Bridge Knight finds the young squire when his moment comes. Woe!
“Yea, it is no surprise that ye, in these wooded lands, have learned the hunter’s ways. Copy me now then, for thrice, vile demon, and thus win my challenge!”
The hunter enters the tower. He gathers his cloak on the floor, bids Uvan guard him, and lay himself slowly upon on the floor. The knight joins him, copying his motions step for step.
Soon, the hunter sleeps.
The knight too rests on his side; but he does not sleep, for he cannot. Uvan had seen it, and so it was.
At length, the hunter awakens, spying the Knight’s staring eyes. The hunter lurches to his feet, thrusting a finger at his opponent!
“Failed, have thee, Bridge-Beast! My third task eludes thee, and I demand my name returned at once!”
The Bridge Knight protests! He claims there is no difference in the acts! And yet the hunter insists; sleep is not the same as laying prone! The senses are cut off, and dreams fill the mind. The body relaxes beyond that of a waking man. Ye have failed!
“Very well!” the Knight turns swiftly and walks from the tower. The hunter, wary, follows… But the heavy door is slammed in his face! He thrusts at the handle, and slams it with his shoulder: Alas! Locked with fae sorcery! Tricked again! His sharp blade whips forth, and the hunter slams his fist against the door! He swears! Soon he turns, a deep sigh.
The hunter looks to Uvan and apologises, shoulders slumped.
Through the door; the Wretched Knight's voice echoes:
“You may now have your name, Sir Vandagild!”
A feeling of confidence, recognition and warmth washes through Sir Vandagild, the Aquitanian Hunter, Lord of Winterbourne Gunner! He looks at Uvan, eyes bright, and smiles, for he cannot help it. He knows himself once more, and the perception in Uvan’s eyes brings him joy.
Though he has defeated the Bridge-Villain in a trap of wit, Sir Vandagild is once more tricked and betrayed by the treacherous, despicable Fae. He seethes. His grip on his blade aches for the strength of it.
Sir Vandagild points yonder, and tells Uvan: “I will see him dead, I swear it to thee. And I will get us out of here.”
He turns to the feast, set warmly before them both, and eats to regain his strength.
Image from: https://www.deviantart.com/jasontn/art/Wind-Knight-617874689
King Arthur Pendragon 5.2