Battle of Mercred's-Burnsted (485 continued)

Earl Hertford's Pentacost Feast was a lavish affair dominated by generous portions of fresh mutton, recently purchased at a good price from a traveling ne'er-do-well going by the name of Olyd the Tinker. In many ways unused to such social affairs, our player knights were left to swim or sink of their own device. Breaking out on their own to mingle with the gathered nobility, each knight had his own degree of success.

Sir Morial of Lewarewich availed himself of the Earl's generosity and kept to his cups for much of the night. Sir Aragore was keen on Sir Morial, particularly given that Sir Elmig had shown interest and favor to Sir Morial earlier in the day, and so gave a formal introduction to his niece, Feunete. Feunete invited Sir Morial to a game of chess later in the evening. Neither Fuenete nor Sir Morial had much skill and found themselves abandoning the game in favor of conversation. With Morial well into his drink, the conversation ended early. Still, Morial seemed to find some favor from Fuenete which may develop over time. Sir Morial also promised Sir Elmig that he would come to Caercolun, God willing, to help rid them of the Saxon menace.

Sir Rhodri of Bushey became the envy of all the eligible men of Hertfordshire by catching the eye of beautiful Gwynhwyfar. Possessing a surprisingly keen mind herself, she admired Sir Rhodri's penchant for thoughtful action and clearly let him know her opinion. After a short discussion the two of them agreed to question the sole surviving axeman from the players' encounter with the witch at High Wycomb.

Sir Rhys of Boxbourne learned much that night about courtly etiquette, though he stumbled upon the lesson by happenstance. It seems that trouble was brewing between Lords Berkhamstead and Hemel Hempstead for many years over a few contested manors lying in the valley between their own estates. When one of Lord Berkhamstead's vassal knights drank overmuch and spewed forth vomit upon the person of Lord Caramig of Hemel Hempstead, Sir Rhowydd of Windridge assaulted the poor drunken knight. This being the Pentacost Feast at Earl Hertford's court, Sir Windridge's assault was a major breach of hospitality. The Earl was gracious and allowed Lord Hemel Hempstead to discipline the erring knight, who was after all a vassal of Lord Hemel Hempstead. Lord Caramig took the entire eschille to the bailey to punish Sir Windridge. It is here that Sir Rhys decided it would not do to have gawkers follow them out, ushering the curious back into the great hall. (Rhys fumbled his Courteous roll; but, given that he'd decided already to usher the folk back and that was indeed the better course, he got a check anyway along with thanks from his commander.) Lord Hemel Hempstead struck Sir Windridge across the face with a mailed hand, lacerating his cheek such that it will leave a nasty scar. The assemblage thought justice was served. Sir Tydig, the drunken instigator of the episode, was deemed well avenged. Sir Windridge received just recourse and appropriate discipline. The eschille learned a lesson in obedience. And the Earl was seen as generous by allowing Lord Hemel Hempstead to right the situation with his own vassal.

Sir Madog of Henlow had earlier spent a fair amount of time playing music with Lady Tryamour; but, with her now keeping a closer eye on Damsel Diane he was forced to fight off the attention of a brazen serving wench all night. He had enough of her when she tried to sit upon his lap and left to find Morcheidys.

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Lastly, Damsel Diane was much impressed with Sir Rhys' knowledge of falconry and kept close to him all evening. They decided to go to the mews in the morning and invited the rest of the newly knighted men along. Morcheidys, Tryamour, Sir Morial and Sir Madog all agreed to go hunting coneys together in the morning. Although least of skill and painfully hung over from the prior night, Sir Morial was the only knight to actually bag a coney. Still, the morning's hunt provided another opportunity for Diane and Rhys to develop their growing, though platonic, friendship. Likewise, Morcheidys made abundantly clear that she had designs upon Sir Madog.

While the rest of the knights were hunting with the birds, Sir Rhodri and Damsel Gwenhwyfar descended into the dungeon of the keep to question the surviving axeman. The Earl's torturer had yet to glean any useful information from the man. Rhodri himself questioned the prisoner to no avail. Gwenhwyfar had much better luck. Her charm and gentle approach convinced the man to answer her questions. Some shrewd reasoning caught the man in a snarl of logic and eventually elicited some very interesting information. It seemed that the young witch killed that spring was named Ethyl and only an apprentice. The true witch was none other than the old hag chirurgeon of High Wycomb, Elthead. Later, Sir Certher of High Wycomb showed shock at learning the news. He had known the old lady since his birth and she always treated everyone with kindness. Elthead even searched Sir Morial's wolf bites withher leeches so that Sir Morial did not contract distemper. It made no sense that she was a witch. Even so, Sir Certher promised to confront Elthead upon his immediate return to High Wycomb.

The player knights then went back to their own manor estates to prepare for King Uther's muster. They met again in early July at Silchester, there joining the ranks of King Uther's army. Duke Gorlois of Cornwall yet again flaunted King Uther's summons, giving rise to much speculation about how the King would treat Duke Cornwall's disobedience. From Sir Morial they learned that Voraxingluvius once again troubled the lands of Lewarewich that summer. The dragon burnt the hamlet of Brackengrot to the ground, destroying all the crops and consuming a few peasants along the way. From Sir Certher they learned the frightening fact that Elthead was impervious to attack, leaving all to guess at how the witch might be overcome. Sir Certher, not being able to ignore the muster of Uther Pendragon, left his liegemen to watch over Ceorlham as best they could while their landlord was away. Sir Bleger of Shefford shared his compositions with Sir Morial, a work in progress translating the Aeneid of Virgil to Cymric.

Traveling southeastward, King Uther was able to outmaneuver King Ælle and forced the Saxons to engage on open ground. The host of Logres was able to make the better encampment immediately to the north of fast flowing Mearcred's Creek (Mercred's Burnsted in the Saxon tongue.) Scouts warned that the Saxons had brought mounted men with them, negating some of the advantage of the Cymric knights, and numbered in the many thousands of footmen. The Logres host, some eight hundred knights and perhaps five times that number of footmen, awoke early and arrayed themselves just south of the creek. As the battalions aligned themselves, they could hear the war drums begin to sound across the field to the south. The Saxons were arraying themselves for battle as well, though the enemy could not be seen through the mist.

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Our player knights were in the vanguard of the center battalion, led by King Uther Pendragon himself. Uther roused the troops with stirring words and the charge was sounded. As the knights galloped into the mist, the Saxons were found to be much closer than expected. Indeed, the scouts' reports were true. Not only were there mounted warriors amidst the men of Sussex; but, they had lances as well! The nearness of the Saxons and their mounted lancers took King Uther's army by surprise, negating any benefit the Cymric army might have had by their charge. Still, the Saxons seemed somewhat hesitant to engage - perhaps showing fear at the masses of knights bearing down upon them in the open field.

Saxon lancers and our player knights crashed headlong into each other. The screaming horses and cries of men soon drowned out calls of Lord Caramig to his men. Battle was engaged. A lance careened off Sir Rhodri's shield and into his chest, nearly knocking him off his horse. (Note: Here I made the first mistake of the battle and didn't account for the fact that Rhodri actually took more than twice his knockdown in damage before armor soak. Rhodri should have automatically fallen off his horse; but, instead we had him roll horsemanship. I didn't realize this until coming home after the session. Things would have turned out much worse for Rhodri had the rules actually been followed correctly. In hindsight, I'm quite happy with how the battle turned out and definitely don't want to redress this mistake.) The lance tore out a chunk of Sir Rhodri's flesh, causing a deep tear along the pectorals and dislocating his shield arm. The other player knights fared much better, the eschille getting the best of the Saxon lancers overall. One man of Lord Caramig's eschille was unhorsed, pinned to the ground with a broken lance shaft piercing his torso. Sir Morial's squire had also gone missing after the charge.

Lord Caramig, judging the downed knight as beyond saving and seeing foes close around them like a tightening noose, decided to withdraw and save the rest of his men. A group of ceorl spearmen halfheartedly attacked the knights as they withdrew back to their own forces to regroup and charge again. Once safely disengaged, Sir Madog quickly dressed Sir Rhodri's wound, popping the shoulder back into its socket. Lord Caramig asked Sir Rhodri how he fared and if he wished to make his way back to camp. Prudence being Sir Rhodri's strong suit, the young knight took advantage of the current respite and made his way out of the battle.

The eschille, now diminished by two knights, once again charged into the fray. By this time the Saxons had already taken a beating and were beginning to withdraw. The Duke of Lindsey, in the Position of Honor on the right flank, had pressed forward after the initial charge and was forcing the Saxon warriors back to the meadow's edge. A company of spearmen, led by small eschille of knights under the command of Earl Robert of Salisbury, frustrated a group of Saxon reserve lancers who were trying to outflank the Cymrians to their left. A hole opened in the Saxon line just before Lord Caramig's men reached the enemy. The player knights pluynged into the hole, finding a group of hapless javelineers vulnerable to their charge. Lances tore through flesh and horses trampled footmen under their hooves. The charging knights punched straight through the Saxons into the foe's back ranks.

By this time some of the Saxon units were starting to route, though most of King Ælle's men were still under control and withdrawing carefully back toward the wood. Lord Caramig, seeing King Ælle himself not far away, decided to push toward the enemy king. The player knights found themselves facing the same ceorl levy they earlier faced. Once again the spearmen were no match for mounted knights and the eschille clove a path onward. The Saxons had by this time called for a total retreat. Not wanting to give up on King Ælle, who seemed just beyond reach, Lord Caramig continued his push into the Saxon rear guard.

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Meanwhile, Sir Rhodri was feeling quite unhappy with himself for having abandoned his men while some strength remained in him. Feeling the bile of hatred rise up, he had a camp follower strap his shield to his immobilized arm and charged back to try to join his comrades. (It seems against common sense to allow him to find his unit. However, Rhodri succeeded at a Hate (Saxons) check and used the +10 for his battle roll to find and join his eschille. It made for a much more satisfying story to allow Rhodri to rejoin his friends for the last round of battle.)

The player knights pushed onward into a group of disordered heorthgeneats. Sensing a chance to capture King Ælle, Lord Elad of Castle Vagon also charged from the right into the same group of heorthgeneats, confusing them and distracting them from Lord Caramig's men. Sir Morial's brutal lance tore the leg off of one unlucky warrior. Sir Rhys also drove a man to the ground. Thinking to capture the heorthgeneat, Sir Rhys' squire eagerly jumped out of the saddle to collect the Saxon. Alas, but the devil was still alive. The Saxon caught the squire at unawares and slashed his throat. Sir Rhys was quick to respond with a butt of the lance to the helm, knocking the Saxon unconscious.

By this time King Ælle's forces had fully retreated into the safety of the wood. King Uther called his troops to withdraw, the field won. Although not a decisive victory, and without capture of any enemy leaders, still the field was won and many of the wounded saved to fight another day. Camp followers roamed the meadows to pillage the dead, gathering some loot even though the Saxon encampment was not breached. Ransom was arranged for captives and the forces both quit the campaign. Earl Hertford offered Sir Rhodri the opportunity to convalesce at Castle Hertford under the caring hands of Lady Obilot of Knebworth while the other knights made their way back to their own estates. To their mournful loss, our player knights learned that the man killed by Saxon lancers early in the battle was none other than Sir Certher of High Wycomb. Morcheidys was stricken with grief, though she now found herself heiress to High Wycomb and a ward of Earl Hertford. The player knights all suggested to the Earl that they help High Wycomb in some fashion. Sir Rhys offered to go and care for the estate. Sir Madog suggested that he wed Morcheidys and bring a strong hand to rule the witch-infested lands. Sir Rhodri even offered his burgeoning intellect to find some way to defeat the witch who seemingly could not be harmed. In the end, the Earl decided to announce his decision at the Christmas Court and sent Sir Aragore to keep watch on the witch in the mean time.

Christmas Court for Earl Aralyd was held at Hertford Castle. Here our players gathered once more to share news of the harvest. Alas for Sir Certher, not only did he fall in battle; but, scoundrels vandalized Sir Cergwyn the Bold's monument and shattered it. No knowledge or advantage could be gained upon the witch Elthead by Sir Aragore. Earl Hertford decided that Lord Caramig's eschille stand garrison duty next summer so that they could go on patrol and investigate what might be done about the witch. Earl Aralyd also responded to Sir Madog's request by stating that if he could rid the county of this witch then Sir Madog could have Morcheidys' hand in marriage.

The Christmas Eve feast was marred once again by the rivalry between Lord Berkhamstead and Lord Hemel Hempstead. This time Sir Tydig, feeling that the blow from Sir Rhowydd at the Pentacost Court was not yet rightly addressed, decided to challenge Sir Windridge to a duel. The Earl insisted the duel be fought only to yield and the two consented. That same night, while Sir Rhodri and Damsel Gwenhwyfar were enjoying each other's conversation, Sir Aramine of Ad Ansam rudely interposed between them. Taking the gentlemanly approach, Sir Rhodri asked Sir Aramine, himself another vassal of Lord Berkhamstead, outside to discuss the matter. After a heated exchange, Sir Aramine and Sir Rhodri agreed to a horse race. Little did Sir Aramine know that the line of Bushey were excellent horseman. In addition, Sir Rhodri had a blessed horseshoe that granted his mount greater speed than mortal horses. Both men allowed Sir Morial to set the course.

The fight and the horse race were both to take place the day after Yuletide. A crowd gathered in the bailey to watch the sport. Earl Aralyd once again enforced the rule that the duel should be to yield only and that the men were not to kill each other. The player knights mostly rooted for Sir Windridge, him being a member of their eschille. Only Sir Morial was ambivalent, being related to Sir Crychester by marriage. Sir Rhowydd made short work of Sir Tydig. Impassioned by the perceived affront to Lord Caramig's honor, Sir Rhowydd easily parried Sir Tydig's thrust and brought his blade down hard on Sir Tydig's upper arm. The sword cut through Sir Tydig's hauberk, hacked deeply into the flesh and broke the humerus so that the bone stuck out through the skin. Though Sir Tydig tried to square himself off against Sir Rhowydd again, the pain and blood loss was too great. Sir Tydig collapsed into a heap and the Earl's men quickly came to bandage the wounded knight and see to his healing. Similarly the horse race was no contest. Sir Morial chose a route down a winding forest path and across a ford of the River Lea. While Sir Rhodri easily outpaced Sir Aramine, the vassal of Berkhamstead lost footing in the ford and plunged headlong into the mud. It was a humiliating defeat for Sir Ad Ansam. To make matters worse, a few discreet questions from Sir Rhodri to Sir Ad Ansam's friends revealed that Sir Ad Ansam's wife is back at the manor estate nine months pregnant with child.

The player knights also had a chance to exchange news of their estates. Sir Morial announced to his friends that his brother, young John, had imprudently impregnated a younger daughter of Lord Berkhamstead at the Pentacost Feast. Lord Berkhmastead, furious over the matter, forced the Earl's hand and required that John marry the lady. John now lives at Berkhamstead Castle with his new wife, his new daughter and the greater Berkhamstead family. During this time Sir Rhys' mother surprisingly gave birth to another boy. Sir Rhys would not let on who the father might be and all are curious how such a wondrous thing could have occurred. Sir Rhodri's uncle, who is also his steward, was married during the fall to his childhood sweetheart, the first wife having passed away in a laborious childbirth. Sir Madog's younger brother, Tyrone, was likewise married to a wealthy woman of supposedly Saxon nobility - though all are unsure how this might have come to pass.

Sir Madog and Sir Rhys made an amiable exchange that led to Sir Rhys receiving a small herd of sheep in exchange for some of the loot gathered from the battlefield at Mearcred's Creek. Sir Madog used the funds to expand the homeliness of his manor as well as live richly throughout the winter, even going so far as hiring the bard performing at the Christmas Feast to join his retinue for the coming year. Sir Morial decided instead to invest in his future by constructing an elaborate apiary, thus ensuring a large harvest of honey in following years with which to make mead. Sir Rhodri, always taking the more prudent path, decided to sequester his gains away against hardship to come.

Lastly as a gesture of generosity, each of the player knights offered to find homes for some of the refugees from Caercolun on their lands. It turned out to be only 20 or so peasants each, so the peasants can be easily absorbed among the populace without turning to idleness or banditry. There is some worry that Duke Caercolun might take issue with the vassals of Earl Hertford assuming lordship over his peasants; but, the Earl deemed it more worthy to care for the commoners displaced from the ill-fated wars in Caercolun then to let them starve throughout the winter.

Total Glory: 45 for Morial, Rhys and Madog for battle
Total Glory: 40 for Rhodri, 30 for battle and 10 for horse race

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