Knights of the Realm

485 A.D, Spring ~ Dalan's Quest for a Fey Presence

A Story of Knights, Druids, Mushrooms and Marriage

Sir Dalan has a strong interest in the fey and having heard that in years gone by a sacred grove had been present within the Winterbourne Gunnet manorial lands he yearns to restore the grove. If only he knew where it was located or how to go about restoring it…

Seeking a Druid’s Guidance

Seeking guidance from a druid or perhaps even directly from the Old Gods of Logres, he decides to travel to one of the better known pagan sites of Salisbury. The Giant’s Dance (Stonehenge) would be an obvious choice, but for some reason the White Horse of Epona appeals to him more. Thus, together with his new squire Parcel, he sets out for Modron’s Woods due west. Figuring he may well have to make an offer to Epona, he brings a foal along with the intent to set it free.

After a brief stay at castle Vagon he turns north into the woods at Warcastle, down a path that quickly narrows to a game trail. Just as he starts to wonder whether he is on the right path afterall he comes across a lone peasant “Pray tell the way to the White Horse?” he adresses the lowly sort. The peasant looks uncertain, but finally points out that the good sir is on the right path, that he should continue the same direction to find the horse carved into the hills on his right. Puzzled, the peasant tilts his head as he looks up at the knight “Aren’t you a Christian, sir?” he speaks. When Dalan’s expression darkens and his horse takes a step forward, the peasant ducks his head and hurries off. “Insolent peasant, speaking to me in that way just because I’m not Christian!”, mutters Dalan. Parcel pipes up “Sir, I don’t believe the peasant was a Christian either… He sounded surprised that there were still those of the old religion amongst the knights…” Dalan pauses, looking at his altogether Christian squire in some surprise “Huh…”

Lost in the Woods

As the day progresses, the knight and his squire fail to come upon the hill with the horse. Instead they make their way deeper and deeper into the woods, and only by the time that the sun drops from the sky does Dalan appreciate that they truly are lost. Rather than try to keep going in the dark and probably make matters worse, Dalan decides to make camp and instructs Parcel to collect firewood, make a fire and see to the horses.

With the small fire going, Dalan sits back and enjoys some of the wine they brought. Casting a glance towards his squire, he notes Parcel just put another few branches on the fire, the squire looking decidedly nervous. “Scared of the dark, Parcel?” “No sir, just making sure the fire is high enough to keep the lions and other creatures away, sir!”, the squire answers. “Nonsense, nobody has seen a lion in these parts for years!” Shaking his head, Dalan stands up and tells Parcel to follow him, away from the fire and into the dark.

“Now just wait and your eyes will grow used to the dark”, Dalan tells his squire – the latter looking decidedly uneasy. “See, you can see much more than when you’re blinding yourself with such a high fire.” “Yes sir, you are right… Wait, what’s that!” exclaims the young squire when one of the horses snorts, scrapes at the ground. Dalan immediately rushes back towards their camp site, to the horses where they are tied up. He just manages to make out a couple of creatures as they scurry off. Smaller than bears and four-legged, that’s all he is able to make out. “Better keep a guard at night. You’ve got the first watch, Parcel – wake me in four hours” he instructs his squire.

Dalan sleeps peacefully until he is woken by a damp sensation in his face. Without hesitation he grabs for whatever creature it is and manages to wrestle the young foal to the ground, the poor animal motionless in fright as Dalan keeps it pinned. “Parcel? Did you fall asleep?!” he roars, getting up and taking stock of the situation. The fire is almost out and the squire only now shocked asleep “I… I… Sorry, sir….”

Having tied the foal back up, Dalan instructs Parcel they are breaking camp, squire and knight working together until horses are saddled and they mount up. Riding off, Dalan impresses upon Parcel just how harsh the punishment for falling asleep while on guard can be, but decides to let the squire off with just a verbal reprimand this once.

The Tree with a Face

When Dalan and Parcel finally figure out they are going around in circles, Dalan decides to keep the stream they keep running in to on his left hand side and make his way upstream, hoping to find his way back to the hills in that manner. They spend most of the day struggling through heavily overgrown woods before they suddenly emerge into a clearing that sports a single majestic oak. A face stands out in the bark, a natural growth enhanced by careful carving. With the even green tint of the bark it has obviously been there since ancient times.

Dalan dismounts and walks up to the tree to kneel in prayer to Epona, asking her guidance to find their way out of the woods. With most of the day behind them, the knight decides to stay at the clearing, taking advantage of the mossy surface and Epona’s protection for the night. This time Dalan will take the first watch, tending the fire while Parcel falls asleep alongside.

Dalan awakes with a start with the sun beating his face – the knight haven fallen asleep during watch, this time. Blinking blearily he sees his squire stir, stretch under his cloak. “Did you sleep well, Parcle?”, the knight addresses his squire “You know, I almost fell asleep there”. Sitting up, Parcel glances at the last remnants of the fire, then back at his knight, only for Dalan to wink at him and thus confuse the squire further.

That day the knight and squire, perhaps aided by Epona’s blessing, manage to find their way out of the woods, emerging at the foot of the hills and right beneath the chalk of Epona’s White Horse. Pausing at the edge of the forest, Dalan spies an older man in drab clothing by the stream, under the horse. Dalan’s destrier neighs, causing the man to turn towards the noise and wave at the small party. Dalan returns the wave and hops off his horse to tell Parcel to wait and see to the horses while his master leads the foal over to the druid.

The Druid and the Dreams

When Dalan strides up, the mystic introduces himself as Ovate Cadwgan – much lower in rank than the druid Dalan initially assumed him to be – and invites Dalan to join him by a small fireplace below the horse, the ovate sitting down facing the horse.

To the ovate’s surprise, Dalan sits down across the fireplace, with his back to the white horse. Catching on to his faux pas, Dalan quickly scoots around next to the ovate and explains the purpose of his visit – to request the blessing of his mansion by both the Goddess and the Fey, and that he has absolutely no idea how to go about it. Hopefully the ovate can make this request for him?

“I’m afraid that I can’t… But I can help you do it yourself. A sacrifice is a good start, but mostly you’ll need to allow the mother goddess to speak to you. This is something that comes more naturally to my kind, but for other men it is harder. And dangerous, too….” Something to which Dalan agrees all too readily. “You will find new sides of yourself. Sides you don’t know or may not want to know…”, the ovate continues. Dalan isn’t afraid of any of those, as he is convinced he has no sides he would not like to find. The ovate nods and tells Dalan he has to gather some things and will be back later. Rising, the ovate wanders off into the woods, leaving Dalan on his own.

Night falls while Dalan is still waiting. Figuring this to be a test of some kind, Dalan is determined to hold a wake until the ovate’s return. Behind him he hears the crackle of a fire, where Parcel has made his camp for the night. Resolute to stay awake or not, it doesn’t take long for the knight to fall asleep again. When he wakes, the ovate has returned and is seated across from him. Embarassed, Dalan apologizes for falling asleep, but ovate Cadwgan will have none of it “Sir, you fell asleep in the embrace of Epona… Surely that is not something to be ashamed of?” he suggests, while mashing together herbs and several kinds of mushrooms in the bowl in his lap. “This will be better with wine, if you have any… Without it will be difficult to swallow.”

Dalan rises and joins Parcel by his campfire, greeting his squire. Going through the supplies they brought, he is surprised to find only one wineskin remaining. Suspecting his squire had been seeking courage in the wine skins, he is left puzzled when Parcel swears he absolutely has not drunk the missing wine. Returning with some food and the wineskin, Dalan is offered the bowl with the filthy looking paste “Chase it down with wine, sir knight, that should help”. Struggling through every mouthful, Dalan manages to empty the bowl of foul, bitter, gunk that the ovate gave him, having to wash his mouth, his throat with wine after each mouthful. At first nothing seems to happen, and Dalan just starts to wonder when he suddenly finds himself back home, opening the mansion door to let in a guest.

Dalan rolled against his passions and more key traits, with the below key results (highest results that passed the test):

Loyalty to Roderick: 10
Hospitality: 15 (crit)
Lust for Elaine: 10
Valorous: 14
Spiritual: 11 (crit)
Receiving earl Roderick

The door opens, and Dalan finds himself face to face with his liege lord “Welcome, earl Roderick, what a surprise!”, Dalan greets the earl of Salisbury “Thank you, Dalan. I trust you are well? I have come to ask you a favour….”

Dalan nods solemnly as he leads his earl into the manorial hall “What can I do for you, my lord? I am your loyal servant.” “It would please me greatly if you would offer your hall for me to host a marriage. Will you be so kind?” Dalan nods “But of course, sir Roderick.” Further conversation follows, with Dalan and the earl discussing the practicalities of the feast, and Dalan’s mother joining in with helpful suggestions.

The First Groom

Time stops and starts again, for Dalan to once again open the door to a guest. This time it is another knight, and not one of Dalan’s friends either, as it is sir Jaradan “The Sword”. “Ah, Winterbourne Gunnet, thank you so much for allowing the use of your mansion for my marriage. I am sure you are most pleased to host such a noble event at this… place.” Dalan grits his teeth but nods “You are welcome…”.

The arrogant knight saunters past to inspect the mansion “Well, at least you will be able to seat enough. And the roof does not leak…” He looks around, then heads straight for the private quarters “Ahh, and a nice and sturdy bed, we will need that.” Finishing his inspection, Jaradan thanks the host, shaking Dalan’s hand before he bids his farewell.

The Second Groom

His mind still reeling from the visit of sir Jaradan, Dalan again answers the door for a guest. An elderly, wrinkled, man whom he does not know stands in front of him, his voice grating “Sir Dalan, I presume? It is most gracious of you to host my marriage. I am so looking forward to the night….”, the old man cackles. Dalan is too stunned to respond, as he tries to determine who this man might be. A noble of some sort, going by his attire. “My apologies, we have not met. I am baron Kindrick…”, the old man states “I was most pleased riding up to your estate, what a beautiful place it is… Care to show me around?”

Once again Dalan shows the guest around, the old man commenting on the seating arrangements before he too checks the private quarters to comment on the softness of the bed. “Truly this will be a moment to never forget. Again, most kind of you, sir Dalan….” Dalan meanwhile still struggles trying to recall if he ever came across that name before, but finds himself drawing a blank.

The Third and Last Groom

Opening the door once more, Dalan stares at the vision in front of him. Towering over him stands a night in a beautifully detailed, green tinted armour of a style the like Dalan has never laid eyes on yet. From behind the visor a voice adresses him – a voice he will never forget, so beautiful and kind “Sir Dalan of Winterbourne Gunnet? My most sincere thanks for your hospitality.” Ducking down to fit through the doorway, the slender knight lifts his visor for Dalan to see his face. Almost reeling back in shock, Dalan stares at the hideously disfigured visage, the bulging eyes, the warts, the gnarled, pointy teeth.

Yet the same sweet voice continuous “Please do show us around the site for my upcoming marriage…” And this Dalan does, showing the yard with the apple tree, hall and finally towards the private quarters. Dalan grits his teeth when the fey knight bounces on the bed “Oh, this will do… This will most certainly do!”, laughs the hideous knight.

And Finally the Bride

Dalan has hardly opened the door when he finds the lady Elaine in his arms “Oh Dalan! To be finally married at your mansion!” she cries out excitedly. Dalan wraps his arms around Elaine, while his mind works feverishly “Elaine, wait! Just who are you getting married to?” he insists to find out. “Hush, don’t be a spoilsport. Let’s not talk…” responds the fair lady, a finger to Dalan’s lips. Together they make their way back into the mansion and to the bed that so recently was tested by the three grooms….

The Tourney of Dreams

Dalan wakes to the sound of someone insisting he answers a question. “Sir Dalan… Which of the three grooms do you choose to challenge? You can choose two, and should you best them they will not get to marry the lady Elaine…”, the herald repeats and waits for Dalan’s response.

Dalan considers briefly, and states “I challenge the Green Knight and sir Jaradan!”, drawing a roar from the spectators. “And why is it you choose these two and not Baron Kendrick, sir?”, insists the herald. Dalan considers telling the truth, but in the end chooses to deceive (with a crit roll in Deceitful) when he answers “Because I do not consider it honourable to challenge an elderly gentleman” while really thinking “That old man will not make it through the wedding night!”

With the herald satisfied, Dalan feels a hand on his shoulder, and the voice of lady Elaine in his ear “Please, Dalan, tell me what you really think?” Dalan smiles when he responds “Elaine, I truly want it to be me that you marry, en if you marry the old man, I still stand a chance – your beauty will surely stop his heart before snow falls.”

Dalan blinks, and in the next instant he finds himself facing sir Jaradan – both knights clad in nothing but their drawers, and with but a shield to protect them from the sword the other wields. Calling on his passion of lust for Elaine, Dalan charges forward against the suddenly dour looking Jaradan, with loud calls from the crowd encouraging both combattants. Dalan strikes, cleaving straight through Sir Jaradan, with the opposing knight vanishing into thin air.

Still skyclad but for his drawers, Dalan realizes he now is mounted on his proud destrier – without a saddle, stirrups or reins. Opposing him is the fey knight, still clad in his splendid green armour and with his visor shut. Grabbing the lance from his squire, Dalan intends to recklessly charge forward. Yet instead of digging in his heels, he finds himself struck by doubt. Will the fey knight hit him? Will he breathe out his last breath? He’s only just up to a gallop when he stares at the point of his opponent’s lance, watching it grow bigger and bigger until it drops and spears him straight through the heart. His senses fade and the last that Dalan hears is a beautiful voice stating “Old man, it’s you or me now.”

Back at the White Horse

Dalan bolts upright when he wakes, only to throw himself to the side and violently empty his stomach. Tears run from his eyes as he gasps for breath, his head spinning and the full moon dancing in his vision. Blinking away the tears he finally sees the ovate patiently, silently, watching him.

“Ovate, I have seen many things en experienced still more… And it’s all failing to make sense to me.”

“Indeed, life is a mystery” answers the ovate with a gentle smile.

Dalan retches once more before he responds “Visions like this are not an exact message… There were weddings at my manor but not for me…”, his confusion speaking loudly in his voice.

Cadgen nods, tilts his head “Wasn’t one f your questions related to inviting something to your manor?” He rubs the bald patch on his head “And there was something intimate regarding a lady Elaine?” In response to Dalan’s startled look, he holds up his hands and smiles kindly “You were talking out loud in your dreams.”

Dalan scowls, swills from the wineskin to try and clear the foul taste from his mouth “So why was earl Roderick even asking to hold a marriage at my manor?”

Cadwgan rises “I see the Gods have given you much to think about. I wish you much wisdom.” Dalan thanks the ovate and watches him rise and step backwards, just as a cloud covers the full moon. When his eyes adjust, the ovate is nowhere to be seen, and neither is the foal.

The Grove at Winterbourne Gunnet

A week later Dalan and Parcel have returned to Winterbourne Gunnet, the knights mind still reeling from all the questions that have been raised. What does it all mean?! Also he realizes he never got around to asking the ovate how to go about creating that sacred grove in the first place. Discussing this over the dinner table with his mother, it suddenly strikes him that there could be guidance closer to home. Afterall the castellan of du Plain, sir Hyfaidd seems to know the pagan ways fairly well. The next day he rides off again, this time to du Plain castle.

To du Plain for Advice

Sir Hyfaidd welcomes the younger night to his household – a bustling place with his many offspring, some of whom legitimate. Hyfaidd insists that Dalan stays to dine with the knight, his wife the lady Syoned and his daughter Rhian, for whom he is seeking a suitable marriage. After many boastful tales of the antics of his offspring and his eldest Camm in particular, Hyfaidd hears the purpose of Dalan’s visit. Breaking out in a broad smile, he commands the bard at his household to join them and introduces Dalan to bard Morys.

Morys listens to the knight and nods “Aye, I do recall there used to be a grove of sorts at Winterbourne Gunnet. The woods used to run all the way to the river, and right by the bend of the river, under the hill, there was a grove marked with a stone circle and surrounded by oaks. All that is now farmer’s fields, but I hear the stones are still there, under the field.” With the description he provides, Dalan figures he knows exactly the spot, and thanks the bard. As far as Dalan is concerned, the ground isn’t very good as it’s not suitable for grazing horses.

Unearthing the Grove

Staying the night, Dalan rushes home the next morning and doesn’t waste any time in finding the field the bard mentioned. Tying his horse up by a fence post he strips to the waist and proceeds to pull the plants from the ground and digs into the soft soil with his bare hands. Peasants rush up in surprise, and quickly offer to remove the plants themselves, carting them off in as good a condition as they can. They are considerably less enthusiastic to start digging, but when Dalan commands them to they show up with shovels and picks. It never dawns on Dalan that this is half of the village’s vegetable garden and that he might be causing them some distress with his impetuous action, mistaking the peasants’ complaints for lack of enthusiasm. The end result of the first day is the discovery of one buried stone – half a man’s height if set upright, it bears no markings.

That night, a filthy and sweaty Dalan arrives home to be berated by his mother. “Surely you know better than this? It is the knight’s duty to be the lord of his domain. To protect his peasants and to rule them. Not to fool around in the muck with them!” He should order the peasants for their work and leave it to them. In the weeks thereafter the peasants continue the work, baring the stone circle and setting the stones upright. After an inspection of the circle, Dalan leaves clear instructions not to use the field for other purposes. His mother in the mean time compensates the peasants for the damage caused as well as the hard work.

Visiting lady Elaine

With the grove unearthed, Dalan soon rides out to meet the lady Elaine. Elaine is pleased to see him, as well as squire Parcel – who is a cousin to Elaine. Over a glass of wine she does wonder why Dalan has been getting himself filthy in the fields with his peasants – the rumours having travelled fast.

Sheepishly Dalan tells that story, leading in to the visit to Epona’s Horse and the dreams he had. When Elaine hears how Dalan chose to let her marry the old man while he fought Jaradan, she laughs out loud “So you’d rather have me marry some wrinkled gnarly old man than a handsome piece of work like Jaradan?”, she teases. “Yes, as it would leave more for me…”, he responds. She smiles, eyes sparkling as she appreciates the thinking behind it. Soon after they send Parcel and Elaine’s handmaiden away and retire for the night…

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