Death in Caercolun

Note: Lee once again guest GM'd for 493. I was able to be present and play, which was really nice for a change of pace. It was particularly good because 493 took two years to play and I got a decent break from GM'ing.

Icy air bites into Sir Rhodri's lungs as he slowly rouses himself from slumber. Somehow in the night Gwenhwyfar rolled away and took the downy comforter with her. Rhodri's foot is cold and stiff, exposed to the night air. The new manor home, one of the very few stone homes in the county, is fine and warm while the hearth burned merrily; but, in the small hours, cold embers can't keep out Brittain's harsh winter chill.

Something more than the cold awoke Sir Bushey. He couldn't tell if it was a dream or not. He heard from deep slumber the scratch of wood against stone. Laying still in bed, Rhodri glances toward Gwenhwyfar. The comforter slowly rises and falls to her breath. Reaching under the pillow Rhodri feels a dagger's cold, steel pommel. Satisfied, the knight drifts back to sleep.

Knight by youmaykillthebride at Deviant Art


There it is again! This time Rhodri is certain of the sound. He reaches under the pillow, wrapping his hand round a leather bound hilt. Quiet as a mouse, Rhodri turns toward the noise and peers into blackness. The window shutter, often swollen and stuck on the stone sill, stands open to the night air. A pale sliver moon slides down the western sky. In a dim silver glow Rhodri sees a glint. He jumps just as a dark shadow launches at the bed.

Gwenhwyfar screams. Rhodri and his assailant roll onto the floor with a loud thump. Though he can't see the man, Rhodri feels strong fingers clench around his wrist. The two figures fight, Rhodri clearly stronger and better trained. He pins the man to the hard floor with his knees, holding the dagger to the assassin's throat. Visions of Rhodri's father came back unbidden to the knight's mind. Rhodri learned Ysgarran's prudent lesson well. Never sleep unarmed.

The man pants heavily from the exertion. Rhodri wrinkles his nose in the stench of fetid breath from rotting teeth. Shouts come from the main hall. A door slams outside. Booted footsteps run upstairs toward the bedroom where Rhodri holds his captive.

"Light! Gwenhwyfar, light! Bring me a flame."

"Sir Rhodri! Sir Rhodri! What's going on?" The squire's voice calls from outside Rhodri's bedroom door. Gwenhwyfar runs to the door and throws it open. Torchlight silhouettes the squire as he quickly bows and rushes past Lady Bushey to his master.

Red light illumines coarse features of a youngish man, surely no older than Sir Rhodri himself. The man wears loose fitting peasant clothes and a hood. A hemp rope belts his waist and a tin medallion with a knotted Christian cross hangs on a thong round his neck. Rhodri roughly turns the man over and raises him by an arm twisted round his back.

"Get up! You tried to kill me and my family. You're going to die."

Rhodri pushes the man out and down the stairs. The squire keeps up beside Rhodri, lighting the way and opening the front door. Rhodri continues to drive the man to the stables and throws him into a heap on the straw. A lineage man, Rhodri's nephew by his younger sister, runs up to hand Rhodri a sword. Gwenhwyfar comes running behind, wrapped in a shawl against the cold.

"Tell me all you know and you will die easily."

Rhodri questions the knave. Gwenhwyfar, keen witted as always, catches the man in a fib and kicks him. She seems more viciously angry at the assassin then Rhodri. Between the two they learn the story of how the man, an Irish kern down on his luck, was hired to come to Bushey and kill the landlord. A Cymric knight approached him on the back streets of Bath, paying good Roman silver to kill Sir Bushey - half pay up front, half pay when he returned. They were to meet at the Chapel of St. Anthony in the Roman church after the deed was done.

For honesty, Rhodri offers the man a drink. Knowing his fate, the man chooses strong spirit. Minutes later Rhodri emerges from the stable wiping blood from his sword.

"We're beset on all sides. And now this! An assassin in Bushey's manor home, right in the heart of my county! Well, its a good thing you ran him through Sir Bushey. I'm glad to have such worthy knights fighting with Hertford's army."

"Thank you, lord." Rhodri is just as troubled as Earl Aralyd of Hertford. King Uther fell ill after his newborn son disappeared with Merlin last year. Throughout the winter no word came from London's White Tower, where Uther kept himself and Queen Ygraine warm from the winter. As snow melted and Spring arrived, still no word came from Uther. Finally, just before the Easter Mass, a rider came from Sir Brastias that King Uther Pendragon would not wear the crown at Pentecost Court this year. Each peer was free to celebrate Pentecost at their own demesne. The king was ill and would retire through the year to recover his strength.

While the Northern Saxon kings rotted in the White Tower's prison, still more Saxons rose up from Essex hard on Hertfordshire's southeast frontier. Caercolun to the northeast was leaderless and impotent. Duke Ulfius of the South March fortified his lands against Sussex and Kent. A bitter drought ravished the kingdom from East to West. And Uther escaped from the world to languish in the dark.

Earl Hertford does not sit idle while the world around him burns. As Uther refuses to move against the Saxon menace, so to does the king neglect to name a new Duke of Caercolun and the Saxon March. Aralyd decides to take matters into hand. At Pentecost Earl Hertford calls a council of his most trusted advisors. One third of Hertford's knights march to Norwich, seat of Duchy Caercolun. There the ducal throne sits empty. Beside the throne is Duchess Diane, Aralyd's daughter and young step-mother to Lucius ap Elmig. Lucius is six years old and heir apparent to the Duchy. He is also Earl Aralyd's grandson through Diane's older sister, Ilaine. Aralyd orders Marshal Caramig to Norwich to ensure the safety of Lucius and the continuity of Caercolun's dynasty. Rhodri's eschille is to accompany the Marshal.

Lord Arawine of Berkhamstead, uncle to Aralyd though much younger in years, must go to Malahaut with Duke Ulfius to plead alliance with the Centurion King.

Outside the council of Aralyd, our other player knights hunt through Hertford's forests. Squire Gailen and Sir Madog find themselves fighting afoot against a ferocious boar. Madog earns a nasty gash to provide meat for the Earl's table that night. Gailen is knighted with honor.

Trophy by randolfo at Deviant Art

Lord Hemel Hempstead succumbs to fever en route to Norwich, leaving Sir Bushey to lead the large eschille of knights and 100 footmen. Rhodri, never having led such a large force of knights, moves cautiously along the road past Royston and Huntington. Soon they find themselves in Caercolun's contested southern frontier.

Scouts at the vanguard of the train spot Saxon horsemen watching over Hertfordshire's movements on a nearby ridge. With Rhodri's leave, Sirs Gailen of Chesham and Bleger of Shefford ride crossways up the ridge to meet the Saxons on equal footing. Some Saxons come down to meet the knights. A bloody exchange of blows leaves the Saxons dead on the ground. Enemy horsemen remaining on the hill flee.

English Hillside Path by unknown credits
Rising atop the ridge crest, Bleger scouts the land about. On the road a scant mile or two ahead lays an expanse of tilled soil and the tiny dots of homes. Rejoining Rhodri below, the column departs along the trade road once more. Coming to Sir Mandar's estate, Rhodri calls a halt and rested his men for the evening.

Sir Mandar, vassal of the dead Duke Caercolun, shows hospitality even in these troubled times. Happy for the added protection, Mandar relates local news to our player knights. Saxon marauders travel through the countryside taking what they will. A small army encamps to the south of Mandar's village. The knight expects the army to overrun his lands as they have done so many of his neighbors. One by one the Caercolun estates fall, with no concerted effort by the bickering lords to stave off disaster. Mandar's household and lineage men gather to die facing the Saxon threat rather than cowardly flee. With Hertford's knights here, Mandar now has hope that they can send the raiders scurrying home.

To learn the enemy's moves, Bleger and Sir Lan of Sawbridgetooth set out together once more. They spend the night watching over the encamped Saxon army. In the morning as the Saxons gather up arms and head toward Mandar's estates, the Cymric knights rush back to warn their fellows. Soon Rhodri and Mandar draw up their forces and march to meet the Saxons.

Mandar's knowledge of the land puts the Saxons at a disadvantage; but, the Saxons attackers nearly triple the defenders in size. Two armies meet on a gently sloping meadow bisected by a small brook. The Saxon troops are mostly footmen armed with spear or sword. Scouts among them ride smaller war ponies that are no match for British chargers. Rhodri prays that superior forces and favorable terrain can overcome numbers as he lines up the eschille to attack. To one flank are Hertford's trained footmen and sergeants. Mandar's lineage men and levy form the right flank.

The Saxons barely have enough time to form ranks before Rhodri calls the charge. A horn blasts and battle is joined. The knights of Hertfordshire account themselves well, crushing several units of Saxons. Sir Mandar's peasant levy cannot withstand even conscripted Saxon ceorls and fall back. Only intercession from Hertford knights prevents a group of Saxon archers from chasing down and devastating the panicked commoners. Even Mandar and his lineage men call a retreat halfway through the day. Again, the Hertford eschille come to Mandar's aid and halt the pursuers. Hertford's sergeant proves his worth by holding back the main Saxon army long enough for the knights to return. At the close of day British forces make an orderly retreat to Mandar's palisade. Madog has a countless series of lacerations and bruises compounding the gashes from the boar earlier that year. Gailen falls unconscious but is saved as his squire takes him back to the manor. Bleger also sports serious wounds and is barely able to stay conscious for the retreat. Our player knights wait nervously for the following morn.

Though victorious, the Saxons also suffered heavily. They retreat with their wounded back to the wood. Next day dawns behind a low mass of dark rain clouds. After more than a year of drought, Saxons see the welcome storm as omen that Wotan is well pleased by the bloodletting. The Saxon chieftain takes the army south to rejoin a larger force marching on Norwich.

Grateful to the Hertford knights for driving off the Saxons, Mandar pledges support to Sir Rhodri's cause. He accompanies the column northward, speaking to every knight and lord along the way of Hertford's courage. Their force slowly grows as first one landlord and then another takes up the sword to unite Caercolun. Together they rise for kith and kin.

Sky of Doom by Komoria at Deviant Art

Here begins the second session for the year 493. Madog is weak from many small wounds. Bleger seems hale and hearty even though his wounds from the Battle at Mandar Meadow fester. Gailen is slow to heal as his wounds slowly weep a yellow puss.

Refugees of Caerwent crowd Norwich's narrow streets. The southern reaches of Duchy Caercolun were long ago overrun by King Æathelswith's forces; but, the refugees have yet to find a home in the hard pressed manors dotting Britain's Eastern Midlands. A lady on a palfrey leads a small party come to greet our player knights. It is Duchess Diane, younger daughter to Earl Aralyd of Hertford. She recognized the pennant of Hemel Hempstead in the distant column and rides to meet her dear friend.

Pages show the knights their place in Norwich's donjon. Word has come that a large Saxon force marches toward Norwich and all the town is active. Farmers bring wagon loads one after another to stock the town with food for siege. Many of the commoners remain when their wagons are unburdened, not willing to leave the safety of stout city walls. Craftsmen and women of all castes cart large stones in from the surrounding plains. They pile stones at intervals for casting down should attackers try to scale the walls. Throughout the keep servants bustle to and fro preparing a hospital for the wounded.

After our player knights have a chance to refresh themselves, Diane takes them to a private chamber to explain relations among Caercolun's lords. Elmar ap Lucius, the late Duke Elmig's younger brother, is Lord of Norwich. Lord Elmar commands about twenty knights and advocates paying off the Saxon invaders with tribute. Diane explains that Lord Elmar loves his son and should he gain ascendancy over the quarreling bannerets of Caercolun he will defend Lucius' life with his own. Elderly Marshal Haveshim leads fifteen knights. Considered a man of honor, Marshal Haveshim commands the loyalty of a host of footmen. Wanting safety and life for his people, Marshal Haveshim also counsels paying tribute. Thirteen knights swear fealty Lord Marely, a brash young banneret from Thetford who longs to meet the Saxons on the field of glory.

With Marshal Hemel Hempstead febrile and unable, our player knights must negotiate with the three lords and bring them together to face the Saxon army marching upon them. Three fates must be decided: who will act as regent for young Lucius, who will lead the defense of Norwich, and will anyone win the hand of Duchess Diane. Each role carries with it power and responsibility. Any one of them could lead to elevation by King Uther to General of the Saxon March and Duke of Caercolun.

A hasty council among the eschille leads to unanimous decision that the Saxons must be fought. Nigh on seventy knights are mustered in Norwich, along with many hundreds footmen. The peasant levy alone could overwhelm a large force if the commoners' courage could be trusted. They might meet the Saxons man for man. With a strong defense and better equipped troops Britain was sure to take the field.

Sir Morial and Godfrey gain an audience with Bishop Cerdrig. The worldly bishop shows much fondness for delicacies and fine drink. Later Morial learns that Bishop Cerdrig extorted Marshal Haveshim's eldest by claiming the lad looted of a church. When young Haveshim refused to pay, the bishop excommunicated him. Marshal Haveshim agrees to join Hertford's knights if they can reinstate his son's honor in the church's eyes. Morial makes an offer that Cerdrig cannot refuse, with both threat and coin to cajole the cleric. Bishop Cerdrig quietly reinstates Haveshim. Marshal Haveshim is greatly pleased.

Lord Marley rides in from the hunt. He sees the Hertford knights and does not fail to notice the symbolism of the stag thrown across his squire's rouncy. Our knights dine with Marley. Duchess Diane shows distaste for the man and leaves the table early. Rhodri lingers to negotiate. The two knights finally agree that Marley can become Marshal Caercolun; but, will not wed Diane nor be regent to Lucius.

SB+4 by crmacternan
Bleger accompanies Duchess Diane from Marley's table. Seeing the lady back to her chambers, Bleger speaks of love of family and devotion to one's children. Diane sets herself to ensure Lucius is well protected. She resolves that Lord Elmar must become regent, for he loves Lucius enough to ensure the tyke grows to manhood and receives his rightful inheritance. Diane openly takes herself to Lord Elmar's room and thrusts herself upon him. For the second time she forces her father's hand. The Duchess Diane will marry Lord Elmar, younger brother to her late husband, and secure the regency for him.

With all bannerets aligned, all that remains is to prepare for battle. Gailen, Madog and Bleger rest to recover as much of their strength as they can. A knight whose lands are near to Thetford accuses Lord Marley of thievery against a caravan. When proof is brought forth, Sir Rhodri negotiates a truce. Lord Marley is denied command of the army for this last battle and is promised the position of Marshal once the Saxons are thrown back to Essex. Lord Marley storms out of the council; but, still remains to help the people of Norwich prepare for siege.

Five days later the Saxons camp beyond bowshot outside Norwich's walls. Britain's knights and footmen array their camp before the walls. As dawn breaks the eastern horizon both armies form facing ranks. A hot summer sun quickly burns morning mists off the green plains. Through clearing air the Hertford knights spy the enemy. An eschille of heavily armored knights sits among the Saxons. It is Lord Marley of Thetford! In the night Lord Marley, angered at the slight of losing command, snuck across the field and offered himself to the Saxons.

Rain by sadwintery24 at Deviant Art
A seething wave of hatred swells among Sir Bleger of Shefford. "I want that one" he spits, pointing across the field directly at Lord Marley. Despite swollen wounds from the earlier battle, Bleger refuses to stay safely behind Norwich walls. A vague premonition arises that today may be his last. He is in his fifth year of marriage with Lady Obilot and the Knebworth curse was due to strike him dead. That premonition shortly proved true.

Marshal Haveshim sounds the charge. Lord Marley's treasonous eschille spur their mounts to a gallop. Hertford's flower of knighthood crashes mightily into Thetford horsemen. God shows favor to those who are loyal. One after another of Thetford's knights fall to Hertford lances.

Rhodri grant's Bleger's wish, letting Sir Shefford face Lord Marley in single combat. A scream of bloody rage passes Bleger's lips as he rides headlong into Lord Marley's lance. Lord Marley catches Bleger in the chest. Lord Marley's lance splinters on the Hertford knight's chain hauberk. The blow carries Bleger backward from his charger to land hard on his back. A long spike reaches skyward from Bleger's prone body. A lung is pierced. Bleger painfully gasps for breath as he lies on the ground. The eschille wheels around to face Lord Marley. Outnumbered and outmatched, Lord Marley quickly falls. Bleger's squire, a loyal lad to the end, quickly rides in to scoop up his master's body. Draping Bleger's body across the rump of his horse, the squire rushes back to the city. Knebworth's curse catches up to Sir Bleger as the knight drowns in his own blood.

For many hours battle rages before Norwich's gates. Again Hertford's knights prove their worth with the death of many Saxons. Still, the fighting grinds to a halt. Neither side gains the upper hand. While British forces eventually retreat behind the city walls, the Saxons have lost too many men to assert their victory. After killing wounded defenders abandoned on the field, the Saxons retreat to Essex to fight another day.

The eschille takes leave of Norwich. Sir Gailen, showing prudence by remaining safely in Norwich as his wounds healed, marches beside the coffin of his fallen friend. The young knight feels guilt that he did not fight and die that day beside Sir Bleger. Gailen carries the sheaf of notes and quills of which Bleger was so fond. With a heavy heart, he rides to Shefford Manor to give the papers to Lady Obilot and bring her the sad news.

Quill and Ink by quicksilvermad jenn at Deviant Art

Manor Results

  • Shefford (Sir Blegir): A meager harvest. The fish bite well at least. Break even.
  • Knebworth (Sir Blegir): As though they know the world is in desperate need of beauty, wildflowers provide riotous color in outstanding growth this summer. The apiary provides a bountiful harvest of honey and mead flows freely. Otherwise the harvest is damaged in the heat and is only meager. A carpenter refugee family from Essex takes up residence at Knebworth. In exchange for the task of continual upkeep, the family builds a hunting lodge in forest to the west of Knebworth proper. Break even and build a hunting lodge this year.
  • Sawbridgetooth (Sir Lan): The drought nearly destroys the crops and sends Sir Lan deeper in debt. He has to beg food from Earl Hartford to feed the footmen. -3£.
  • Hatfield House (Sir Morial): The drought in Salisbury is worse than anywhere else in Logres. Precious little is harvested. -3£.
  • Lewarewich (Sir Morial): Lady Iulia outdid herself and proved wiser than most wives this year. She planted a hardier and more drought resistant oat (trying to hedge her bets given her many years of dismal performance as a steward.) Break even. Still need to roll for sheep herd, apiary and vineyard.
  • High Wycomb (Sir Madog): Brush fire does no damage. Still, the rye withers on the vine. -3£.
  • Henlow (Sir Madog): Sheltered by the cool shade of the forest, much of Henlow's crop remains intact. Break even.
  • Bushey (Sir Rhodri): Pestilence strikes along with the summer heat. Much of the miraculous herd of past years is afflicted and must be slaughtered to spare the peasants' livestock. The commoners take pity on Sir Bushey and provide breedstock for his herd again. Lady Gwenhwyfar, thinking to have a bit of extra fruit this year, sowed wild strawberries in the spring. The strawberries thrived in the summer heat and provided much needed preserves for the winter. After expenses, +3£.
  • Boxbourne (Sir Rhys): The steward shows his ingenuity by planting a wide variety of vegetable crops this year, as well as rotating out the rye for oats on a bit of a lark. This luck results in a surprisingly good harvest despite the summer heat and lack of water. +3£. Rhodri is also betrothed to Lilo ap Uren of Betlowe.
  • Chesham (Sir Gailen): The drought caused a minor withering of the crops but the steward was able to salvage most of the grains and vegetables. Herds suffered some deaths from exhaustion and exposure; but, again, most of the herd made it through the harsh summer months. Even with the light harvest, there was a good enough harvest to stockpile food to survive winter months. Break even.


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