At the Royal Easter Court
The Easter Court is held at Wynchbank Castle, with a foreigner, the Praetor of Soissons, Sygarius, in attendance. Earl Roderick is not present, attending the Easter feast in Sarum. Merlin is back, having apparantly recovered from the Malhaut campaign.
“But isn’t it terrible about Maldon and Colchester! My ma has three cousins living with her now! Those horrible savages! Oh, it’s the end of Britain, I say. I am praying every day that King Uther strikes every one of them dead!”
“Listen, darlings, it’s everywhere. My last lover, that monk, told me that the vile Franks are even worse! They’ve overrun the last Roman outpost in Gaul. The barbarians are everywhere.”
“And who can be surprised? Since the Great City of Rome fell, everything there has been dismal. Maybe it’s the end of the world.”
“But aren’t you afraid that they’re coming here? Those savages are probably marching here right now!”
“We have nothing to worry about. When I was in the king’s chambers I saw that Merlin is back. The kitchen had his usual plate of food out there. He’s looking a little wan and tired.”
“Well I’ll say you would, too, if you had to sleep for six months without eating! Like a bloody bear, he is!”
Prince Madoc declares he will be raiding the Saxons around Colchester, expecting them to be spread out and easy picking. King Uther readily agrees, and orders his vassals to send half their knights to support prince Madoc. It is this very summons that is the first news of the Easter Court arriving at the Castle of the Rock, in Sarum.
Uther meanwhile bids the Praetor welcome, but does not commit to supporting the Praetor’s military campaign – not even when the Praetor offers half the treasure in Paris, when Paris should be taken.
At Earl Roderick’s Court
Earl Roderick paces and voices his concern that Salisbury should be too poorly defended while prince Madoc draws most of the knights to Colchester. Thus, he commands sir Elad to stay behind with a mix of fresh knights and knights with more military experience – enough to keep the Saxon or any enterprising neighbours at bay.
Thus, sir Elad approaches sir Dalan and sir Lucas that they shall stay behind on garrision duty, while sir Tristan is amongst the knights campaigning against the Saxons around Colchester. Sir Dalan takes this in good humour – even if this may not be as glorious as campaigning against the Saxons, he has heard that lady Elaine has no plans for travel either. Sir Lucas however does feel slightly offended, feeling that he is assigned garrison duty suspiciously often. Still, he is happy to spend more time with his newborn son, Sion, and his wife, Rhoswen.
On the Border With Summerland
The knights under Elad’s command spend their time riding the borders of Salisbury – and in particular those to the east, with Silchester, and those to the west with Summerland. With few knights to spare, they mostly ride in twos and threes, accompanied by their squires. One such patrol is that of Lucas and Dalan, and their squires Myrrdyn and Parcel. Setting off from Vagon they follow the border with Summerland, into the woodland of Wheelwell hundred. A half day into their ride, so far uneventful, they see an old man waving at them, the man leaning into his staff for support, his clothes mostly turned to rags, his hair long, grey and unkempt.
“Sir Knights, good sir knights! I must beg for your aid…”, the man calls in a shaky voice, bowing when the knights come to a halt “My best goat ran off up that hill, and my old bones have difficulty climbing that high….” He points with his shephards staff, polished from years of use and showing it’s age as much as the man does.
Peering up the hill, Dalan does see a goat slipping between the rocks and comes to an impulsive decision. He spurs on his horse and canters up the hill, where he sees the goat browsing between the ruins of an old manor. When Dalan’s warhorse kicks away a stone, the goat starts and bolts for the clusters or bushes and patches of denser woodland behind the ruins, down the other side of the hill.
Seeing Dalan vanish over the crest of the hill, Lucas mutters “Wait here, old man…” before he sets off after his fellow knight – only just remembering to call out “_With me!”_ to the squires. He reaches the same ruins just in time to witness the goat as it scampers into a patch of clustered trees, only to bleat out in terrible fright.
A Giant of a Problem
Enthusiastically giving chase, Dalan blinks when he hears the goat call out in fright – as at the very same time he witnesses one of the trees moving, being pushed aside. A wild looking giant with green hair and three eyes instead of the usual two pushes past the trees, holding up a goat in one hand, and uprooting a tree with the other. Seeing the knights, the giant roars threateningly, dropping the goat and getting a firmer grip on it’s tree.
Both knights do not hesitate to valorously charge the monstrosity, even if it is frightful enough to give most mortals pause.
“FOR THE OLD GODS!” shouts Dalan as he recklessly (passion) charges into the monster, reaching it well before Lucas can be of aid. Ducking under the swinging tree, Dalan takes a slice out of the Giant’s hide, causing it to bleed, but only just.
When Lucas joins the fray, it becomes something of a bullfight, with Dalan grabbing most of the giant’s attention, who only manages some distracted strikes towards Lucas. Time and time again the knights and their horses nimbly charge in and out while slashing at the Giant, who becomes more and more frustrated because he cannot seem to hit the knights.
Dalan taunts and shouts at the giant to draw it’s attacks, so that sir Lucas may land a fatal blow, but fate didn’t allow it to happen. So enraged it forgets to hold on to it’s weapon, the giant dully watches it fly from his hands. Perhaps it had gotten too slick with the giant’s blood, bleeding from so many cuts and scrapes. For a moment the giant seems to consider fighting the knights barehanded, but instead it turns and trundles for the trees it got separated from in the fight, looking to uproot a fresh one.
Dalan however does not allow it past, ducking under the giant’s reach and disembowelling it with a single strike (crit). Coated in a spray of blood and gore, Dalan almost forgets to urge his horse aside as the giant crashes topples over, landing on the ground with a loud, dull, thud. Only then do the knights realize that somehow, miraculously, neither they nor their horses took as much as a scratch.
The Old Man Shows His True Colours
With the giant toppled, the old man hurries down the hill, cheering and at a much faster pace than anticipated. Passing through a puff of mist, the old man shifts in front of Dalan’s eyes and suddenly it’s not the old shephard but Merlin striding towards them.
Both knights bow deeply from the saddle, too surprised to speak up. Merlin on the other hand hardly pauses “Very good sir knights, you will do.” he declares. Glancing at the giant, then back at the knights, he hurries past ”No time for that, sir knights, follow me!”, leading the knights and their squires deeper and deeper between the clumps of trees and soon extensive woodland.
When the path narrows and finally comes to an end amidst brambles and dense undergrowth, Merlin turns to the knights “Leave your horses here with your squires, and proceed on foot.” Without waiting for a response, the sorcerer turns and makes an obviously magical gesture. Nodding, he leads into the narrow footpath that was just revealed “Follow me.”
Dalan and Lucas look at each other and then start to dismount – Dalan in particular showing some reluctance to leave his horse behind.
As the trail winds its way between the trees and undergrowth, the knights make out the shine of water ahead just as they hear branches break off to their right. “There! Protect me now, good knights, for the sake of your king and your lives!” commands Merlin, pointing in the direction of the noise.
Fighting a Green Monstrosity
Turning to face the perceived threat, Lucas and Dalan raise their shields in preparation when a monstrous green horse with a green rider charges through the undergrowth, the horse impossibly nimble as it makes it’s way through the obstacles in a way no natural horse can. “Do your jobs know, sir knights!” calls out the sorcerer as he hurriedly strides down the path and away from the threat.
Both knight steel their resolve, inspired by their loyalty to Roderick and Uther to not let this foul appearance pass. Sir Lucas gives voice to his surprise “Just what that?” not at all expecting an answer and more then a little surprised when Dalan responds “That’s a Nukelavee, see how the rider and the horse are one?” Standing shoulder to shoulder, the knights expect a tough fight.
Instead, Lucas only just manages a clean strike at the Nukalevee before Dalan removes the green horse’s head in one clean strike, the Nukalevee disintegrating in a shower of foul water that drenches Dalan and a splash of algae, the water quickly seeping into the forest floor. Sir Lucas waits to see if the water will form a monster anew, but when this does not seem the case both knights follow the path that Merlin took.
The Sword in the Lake
Hurrying down the winding path, the knights come upon the small lake they espied earlier, to see Merlin standing in a barge as it drifts out to the middle of the lake, a swirling fog hanging low above the water. When the boat comes to a halt in the middle of the lake, something metallic breaks the surface of the water, rising to reveal a very shiny sword held in a ladies hand.
Merlin leans over to respectfully receive the gift, cradling the sword in his arms as the barge starts it’s slow, steady, process back to the shore where the knights await.
Feeling he is in the presence of the Goddess, Dalan kneels humbly, with Lucas following suit. Stepping out of the barge as soon as it touches shore, Merlin addresses the knights “Well done, knights,” he says “Britain is in your debt. Let us go now.” As he brushes past the knights, he slips the sword under his robe and marches back up the path.
Following Merlin back to the horses and squires, the knights bid Merlin farewell. In the blink of an eye, Merlin is gone – did he vanish into thin air? Is it a trick of the shadows? Surely it is magic… Awed by this experience, both knights promptly lose their bearings and get hopelessly lost in the woods.
Lost in the Woods
They stumble across an abandoned manor house, but find nobody home. Without a clue if they are heading in the right direction or not, they are happy to stumble across a small hamlet and a peasant who gives them directions towards the road to Sarum.
Even though following the peasant’s instructions, they are far from sure that they are on the right track when – with dusk calling – they happen across a hermit in front of a shallow cave. “Say, old man, is this the path towards Sarum?”, calls Lucas. Looking surprised to see anyone here, let alone knights, the hermit rises.
After finding his voice witch he clearly hasn’t used in a long time, he directs the knights to Sarum, but also tells them they will not make it this night. Thus, he welcomes the knights to spend the night if they can respect his silence. Both sir Lucas and sir Dalan have no problems with this but their squires seem to have a harder time at keeping their lips tight.
After an uneventful night, where both knights let their squires get some rest, they set out for Sarum in the morning. They seem to be lost again, but sir Lucas suddenly has a flash of insight and knows exactly where they should go (crit hunting). Breaking from the woods on a hilltop, they see the motte of Vagon off in the distance. A stroke of luck as they were supposed to report back with sir Elad at Vagon castle.
The Tale of the Sword Unfolds
The knights report what has happened with great humility, nonetheless sir Elad is much amazed by their tale. Dalan elaborates “Really, we were clearly blessed by the old gods”, leaving Lucas somewhat puzzled by the sudden reverence of his fellow knight. Patting the knights on the back, sir Elad states that this calls for a feast that very evening and instructs the knights to report to sir Roderick as soon as he gets back.
When sir Roderick and the Salisbury knights return from campaign, they look downcast. The campaign did not turn out well. Expecting to outnumber the Saxons and force them onto the back foot, the knights found strong opposition wherever they ventured. Nothing much was achieved, and the losses sustained seem to have been for nought. Thus, good news is more than welcome.
Prepared by Elad for an epic tale, sir Roderick listens full of expectation and at first looks rather disappointed when Dalan starts: “Well there was this old man and a lost goat, and we decided to chase the goat for him…” But as both knights humbly and almost nonchalantly tell of their adventure, Roderick eyes widen, with words such as giant, Merlin, Nukelavee, magical sword following each other in rapid succession. The minstrel present hangs to their every word and after their report asks them to repeat it, Sir Dalan orates at length – an epic story that only gets embellished further as the minstrel spins his yarn.
Much pleased with the activities of his knights, Roderick orders a great feast and gives both knights a place of honour at a table close to the high table.
Of course the other knights are not the only ones to pick up on this wild story, with young ladies – noble and servants alike – hanging on the knight’s lip as they have to retell their tale again and again. Lucas and Tristan manage to avoid the temptation of the wine and good food, Dalan less so. Later that evening, and in absence of lady Elaine, Dalan rises to escort one of the ladies for a walk, neither of them seen for the remainder of the feast. Tristan, in sharp contrast and perhaps more surprising than Lucas, abstains from these temptations as well, spending the evening in conversation with his fellow knights.
Earl Roderick is pessimistic about the defeat in Caercolun, but realistic about the relatively light losses suffered by his men. He discusses events and plans with all his knights. He is with the knights as they check their horses, and provides healthy steeds to all who need them.
During the winter sir Lucas and lady Rhoswen become parents again as Rhoswen gives birth to another son, Mervyn. Elsewhere in Salisbury Tristan’s old squire, Andreas, goes missing shortly before he is due to be knighted.