Four Oxen and the Lion


This was my first time back at gamemastering after a two month hiatus. Easing back in and not really needing to follow the GPC for this adventure, I thought it would be fun to take Uther's inaction to the extreme and play a sandbox style evening. The player knights really had free rein and could do anything they wanted. Oddly enough, they chose to go to Estregales like the GPC calls out.

Sir Rhys spends much of the winter at Hertford Castle with his son, Rhogar. Duchess Diane, pregnant with child from Lord Elmar, keeps Rhys at a distance. The warm glow of childbearing long since gave way to constant discomfort. The child must surely come within the month. Diane shifts her weight again, thinking perhaps she should find her chambers for some rest.

Rhys plays vigorously with Rhogar. The mock wrestle, Rhys pretends he's an ogre coming to stomp the four year boy. Rhogar plucks up and grabs a cane as a spear. They jostle each other around the hearth.

"Rhogar, be careful. Don't get too close to the fire."

Rhys moves between Rhogar and the flame without breaking a stream of monstrous snorts. Rhys grabs a tall stool and lurches along ominously, much as the three-eyed giant did years ago when Rhys recovered the wondrous sword Excalibur. Rhogar howls a charge, half mocking anger and half uncontrolled laughter.

Diane happily watches Rhogar tousle with his father. He's a fine a boy. He's a fine father. Her face goes hard looking at Rhys. Slowly her expression softens to sorrow. She'll never have the man she loves. She reconciled with that fact long ago. Its a shame that duty demands Diane marry above Rhys. She is beyond his reach, pure and simple. Yet still she felt a pang of jealousy whenever Lilo came to Rhys. Now Lilo bore Rhys' legitimate child; and, Rhys was forever beyond her reach as well.

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Proposito 2009/4/1 by Ivan Valladares at Deviant Art

As snows melt and plows run their first furrows, riders pass through from Lindsey. Octa and Eosa make a desperate gambit. They raise their troops prior to sowing the first seeds of Spring. Lincoln is besieged. The riders go on to London to speak with the king, though Earl Aralyd believes Uther will not see them. Aralyd summons a council of his most trusted lords. Messengers go out to Berkhamstead, Hemel Hempstead, Amersham and Bushey.


"Await the word of the King. There is nothing else to it." Lord Arawine of Berkhamstead is sure of himself, pronouncing judgment as if his word is the word of the Earl.

Lord Owain of Amersham disagrees, "No, we cannot sit here idle waiting for Uther! What's to stop the Saxons from marching straight down the King's Road to Hertford? Royston? Huntington? Pfftt, that's laughable! And Lindsey already holes up behind his gates at Lincoln. I say protect ourselves."

"Lord Owain, I'm certainly one for safety; but, there's no sign that any Saxon comes even as far south as Huntington. We'll have ample warning if they move. Plus, after such a drought we can ill afford raising the knights just yet. If anything, send Bushey north to see what might be happening in Malahaut and Deira." Arawine nods tersely toward Sir Rhodri.

The jerk of Lord Berkhamstead's head makes it clear that Arawine considers Rhodri a low vassal knight; fit to take commands, not give council. The men continue late into the evening. Still no decision is made by Earl Hertford. Finally, at the suggestion of Lord Amersham, Rhodri agrees to take his eschille south to London and solicit action from King Uther.

While in London, our player knights try in vain to speak to Uther. Great men from across Logres all come to urge action from King Uther. Yet Sir Brastias is firm that no man will see the king nor will the king rise. Duke Ulfius of Silchester pleads that Uther might muster an army to strike down Kings Octa and Eossa once and for all. Even Earl Roderick of Salisbury agrees with his rival, Ulfius. But no man can lead the army save Uther Pendragon. Earls and Dukes raise petty hatreds and take offense at the mention of the other's name. The lord's congress turns into a bickering morass that eventually dissolves in mutual disgust.

At that, Madog decides to interview the physician to ensure King Uther was under the best of care. Squire Felnius, aging physician to the King, defends his care of the regent. Madog is not dissuaded and begins to call for another healer. Some peers of Logres take up Madog's call; but, there are not enough to force Brastias' hand. Ulfius eventually hatches a plot with Sir Rhodri. If Uther will not call up the army for war, at least the Duke will find allies against the saxons. Ulfius convinces Rhodri that he should take a missive to King Canan of Estregales. Surprisingly, Sir Brastias consents to bring the missive before the king. Uther blesses it with his royal seal and the eschille rushes back to Hertford to prepare for their mission.

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In Wales, King Canan was slowly bringing the rabid hill tribes of Cambria under his thumb. As the hills were subdued, King Canan's forces were freed to fight Irish seamen. They quickly cleared the waterways. This in turn opened commerce with King Idres of Brittany. Trade meant wealth and information. News from the continent brought with it all manner of wonders. King Clovis the Frank converted to Christianity after defeating the Allamani tribes. Even his chieftains were being baptized. And newly gained riches mean Canan is able to raise a strong army.

The knights plot the quickest course to Estregales, along the Ickneid Way through Rhydychan and up to Cirencester. The old Roman road is under protection of the King. Any attack upon the King's Road carries a hanging sentence. However, none of the knights trust Lord Shirburn or Sir Caralyn enough to ride through Shirburn without at least donning chain. Sir Caralyn intercepts the knights before Shirburn town. The Rhydychan knight singles out Sir Madog, landlord of High Wycomb and target of raids led by Sir Caralyn. He tries to goad Madog into recklessness; but, Madog keeps calm and avoids violence. They continue on through Rhydychan and Marlboro unhindered.

Bath stands a scant day's ride south of Cirencester. Both Sir Madog and Sir Rhodri feel the need to detour down to the ancient Roman city, each for his own reasons. Last year an assassin stalked Bushey Hall and nearly took Sir Rhodri's life. The assassin was to meet his sponsor in the Chapel of the Tau at Bath. Sir Madog, however, was interested in the Chapel of the Tau itself. The mystic symbol of Madog's family, some years ago the hermit Sir Deo sent Madog questing to understand the secret of the Tau and his family's fate.

Young King Cadwy rules over Somerset from a throne in Bath. Wanting to know the news of Logres and the Midlands far away, King Cadwy invites our knights to feast the night they arrive. Meanwhile, everyone has the afternoon to refresh themselves or see the city. The seneschal assigns pages to the eschille and the knights go about their separate ways. Sirs Madog and Godfrey take themselves to St. Peter's to proselytize, accompanied by Madog's squire Jocelyn. Sir Lan, now grown into his full height and reckoned a mountain of a man, is interested only in finding hearty meat pastries. A young page, delighted to be sent on an errand that could lead to a tasty snack, nearly pulls Sir Lan along to the thermopolis. Sirs Rhodri, Rhys and Gailen decide take advantage of the cleansing waters of the bathhouse.

Servants at the bathhouse scrub off the grime of the breadth of Britain. When the men are finally clean enough another servant leads them to soaking tubs. A scattering of men sit in a tiled pool. Rhodri notices one man turn slightly away from the doorway as the three Hertfordshire men enter. Despite rising steam and water trickling down a rough beard, the shape of the man's face somehow looks familiar. As they soak, Rhodri slowly comes to the realization that the man was one of the Queen's defenders at the court trial in Cornwall. Sensing the uneasy tension, the knights shortly return to the castle.

The feast that night is a fine one. If the food is forgettable, at least the company is not. A cadre of knights sit to one end of the great hall, far from King Cadwy's table. The men are all from Cornwall and clearly recognize our player knights. One of the Cornishmen shares angry stares with Rhodri. In a break between courses King Cadwy calls the men of Hertford to tell a tale of their own prowess. Sir Rhodri stands to recount a tale when the angry Cornish knight calls out, "Tell us of the Siege of Terrabil!"

A few drunken voices call out agreement. Many in the hall watch quietly, not missing the barbed edge in the Cornish accent. Rhodri stiffens, searching for a response to diffuse the air of tension. Sir Rhys, relishing the chance for a confrontation, leaps up and offers to set a story to tune. He delivers an entirely lackluster performance; but, does manage to throw out a few mild insults at Cornwall. Rather than react in anger, the leader of the Cornish knights rises to applause Sir Rhys. The leader, Lord Cador by name, takes control of the scene and disarms it with humor. After dinner, the banneret comes speak with the Hertfordshire knights.

"Gentlemen, well done. I'm glad to see that British humor can still be enjoyed across the Isle of the Mighty without coming to blows. You'll please pardon my man, he's a bit overzealous in his grudge." The man seems something of a rake-hell, willing to rough and tumble in a good natured way. His short cropped hair and tight frame tell of a life filled with hard training. He speaks earnestly with our player knights, intimating that the crass affront by his man at dinner will be punished swiftly. "After all, you proved yourselves innocent at trial and that should close the matter."

More talk with Lord Cador finds that the churlish knight is Sir Edon, a household knight for Cador and brother to his sister's husband. Cador was a knight banneret under Duke Gorlois until the Duke's death. Cador never swore fealty to Uther and considers himself a free man. A longstanding relationship with Queen Ygraine and her family manifests as patronage from the Queen. Igraine pays for the upkeep of Cador and his men. In return, Cador helps stand guard over Somerset and will fight at the call of the Queen.

Cador continues to stay with the Hertfordshire knights, providing good company far from home. Eventually Cador corners Sir Lan. Lord Cador is much impressed by Sir Lan's considerable size. Wondering what manner of mount might carry such a large knight, Lord Cador cajoles Sir Lan to the stables. Once alone, Cador makes clear his carnal intentions. Sir Lan reacts first with anger; but, shortly calms down and decides to leave the matter behind them. Cador and Lan are still friendly; but, Cador sees the lay of Sir Lan and leaves him to himself.

The next morning dawns dismal and wet. The lands about Bath are sodden fields of mud broken up by standing pools and swamp. Sir Lan takes in a hunt with a few local knights. They chase deer in the woods west of Bath, coming home plastered with black mud but proudly hoisting a stag. While Lan enjoys the country, the rest of the knights take themselves to St. Peter's. There Sir Rhodri questions the priest about what Cornish knights might come to the church, particularly any who frequent the transept dedicated to Saint Anthony the Great. The helpful priest speaks of Sir Edon, a Cornish knight who prays there thrice a week - each time leaving a few denarii to the church.

Sirs Madog expounds upon his prophesies to all at St. Peter's who will listen. The pious knight and the priest find a brotherhood in each other's devotion to St. Anthony. After long hours of speculation and discussion, Madog finally learns of an old hermit who visits the Chapel of the Tau every few years to shrive himself of sin. The hermit lives alone deep in the Campactorentin Forest. Madog questions carefully for directions to the hermitage, intending to visit the anchorite on his return from Estregales.

That night is another banquet at King Cadwy's hall. Our knights make an early evening of it. Only Sir Bushey takes any action that night. Rhodri confronts Lord Cador about the assassin's knife; but, Lord Cador claims the blade is common throughout Britain and unwilling to consider Rhodri's intimations that Edon attempted murder. Rhodri takes his leave and, in the morning, the party sets out from Bath.

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King Nanteleod

Four more days on the road brings the eschille to the legendary city of Carlion. It is here that Aurelius Ambrosius conquered Vortigern and was crowned Pendragon. Sir Madog's father, Cadog, died gloriously in battle outside the walls of the city. Sir Cadog's Squire, Rhowydd of Windridge, was knighted in the field here by Lord Hemel Hempstead, forever gaining the enmity of Lord Arawine of Berkhamstead. Rowain, sire to Sir Rhys, was a milites serving Earl Hertford when the Earl stormed the city gate. Rowain was the first worthy to scale the wall and single handedly beat off the kerns manning Carlion's portcullis. For raising the portcullis Rowain was knighted and granted Boxbourne estate.

Carlion is also an old Roman city that has seen better days. Outside the city proper stands the palace of King Nanteleod of Escavalon, a Roman fort converted to a luxurious palace without losing its defensive strength. Sir Alain de Carlion, bearing arms modified only slightly from that of Escavalon, warmly welcomes the Hertfordshire knights. Sir Alain accompanies the knights throughout their time in Escavalon, even in private discussions with King Nanteleod. The king listens sagely to the knights, showing insightfulness in the questions asked and never peering too deeply so as to cause discomfort. Over dinner, talk turns to Logres and Saxons. King Escavalon pledges to continue his close alliance with King Uther and will come to fight the Saxons next year if Uther calls and he is able.

Sir Alain escorts our knights westward from Carlion as far Kynke Kynedonne, by the Estregales frontier. The following day soldiers of King Canan meet the knights. Five days out of Carlion, Carmarthen finally comes into view. They learn that the king is in Pembroke Castle and so take three more days before they finally reach Canan's court on the Milford Haven. King Canan receives the knights graciously, if somewhat cooly, and retires to review the letter in private. Sir Orcas, steward and cousin to King Canan, is assigned to serve the Hertfordshire knights while they are at court. Sir Orcas is polite but brusque in his duties, never going out of his way to make our knights comfortable or keeping them abreast of courtly events.

The embassy stalls for several days. Sir Orcas claims that King Canan is busy and will send for the ambassadors when he needs them. After a few uneventful days the knights learn that King Canan has departed Pembroke already and left for Castle Tenby, or Carew town. Eventually the knights catch up with Canan; but, the king still refuses to give them a firm answer. The entire court then travels eastward to Carmarthan again.

While waiting for Canan's answer the knights explore Carmarthan and hunt the surrounding lands. One afternoon three days after arriving at Carmarthan, a pageant of outlandish folk parade into town. They ride shaggy ponies from Wales' rough interior. Pagan tattoos cover their bodies. The warriors wear nothing better than boiled animal hides and carry only wood axes or spears. Still, the pagans hold themselves with dignity and are well received at Canan's court. Shortly the knights learn that this is King Ystrad, the last of the hill chieftains to submit to King Canan. He's come here to parley and offer fealty.

In King Ystrad's retinue is a pretty Welsh maid who takes a fancy to Sir Gailen. Gailen watches the lass closely as she turns and wheels in the slow, simple dance of folk from the wilds. When confident he's studied the steps enough, Gailen surprises all present by deftly leading his newfound interest in a proper welsh dance. The damsel beams at Gailen, clearly smitten by the foreign knight in shining armor. Shortly after the dance King Ystrad marches up to Gailen and harangues him. Gailen is dumbstruck, being confronted by a king in a tongue he cannot understand. Ystrad becomes more agitated as Gailen continues to stare at him uncomprehendingly. Finally, a local knight comes to Gailen's rescue.

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Plentyn hardd o cymru hynafol by phoenixtattoos at Deviant Art

"He telling you that you can't dance with his daughter until you've earned the right. If you wish to show your worth, wager with him on a horse race tomorrow."

Gailen is just as confused by the demand as by the king's accent. Recognizing Gailen's confounded expression, the Welsh knight laughs heartily.

"You have to race him on the morrow or he'll be mighty upset at your dancing with his daughter. He doesn't care whether you win or lose, so long as you're man enough to wager a libra."

Gailen smiles, "That I can do!" When they hear of it, all the knights from Hertfordshire accept the challenge; though only Gailen places a bet.

After a long string of gray dawns, the day starts unusually bright and sunny. Most of the court assembles in Carmarthan's town square. Prince Dirac and Sir Hywel ap Hylled, a banneret from the Cardigan frontier, also agree to the race. Both welshmen ride a shaggy hill pony. King Ystrad calmly sits astride a stout beast that more resembles a donkey than a racehorse. As our knights come to the starting line on their finely bred rouncies the ladies from Estregales snicker and point. The race is traced out to those present. Racers may guide their horses up the nearest rocky peak and back by any path they choose. The first one to ride to the top and back to the town square is declared the winner.

The race starts out well enough. Sir Rhodri, fastest horseman in Hertfordshire, takes an early lead; but, has trouble navigating the treacherous crags. Although Rhodri reaches the peak first, he takes a wrong turn on the way back and wastes valuable time retracing his steps. By the time Rhodri reaches Carmarthan again, hillmen are applauding King Ystrad on his easy victory. The other knights simply try their best to reach the peak and back without laming their horses. Most rely on Prince Dirac's hill beast and follow its trail. Sir Gailen, hoping to at least put on a good show, follows the faster Sir Hywel up the peak. On the way back, Sir Hywel takes a misjudges and finds himself tumbling over a rocky cliff. Sir Gailen breaks his fall on top of Hywel's horse. King Ystrad has a great guffaw over Gailen's plight. The king then gives his daughter leave to do as she will with the young knight.

That evening Sir Orcas announces that King Ystrad and King Canan have come to terms. They will ally themselves against Norgales the coming year. There is a celebratory feast and the tables are laid thick with game. King Canan stands for a toast. Prince Dirac, his young heir, hands a goblet to his father. Canan lifts it high for all to see. The assembly rises. King Canan and King Ystrad smile broadly at each other and each drain their cup in a single draught. Moments later Canan staggers up from his seat and then falls backward over it. The guard come rushing to their king. Those at the high table leap to their feet. The king grabs his throat, rolling over onto his side. Blood comes spurting out as Canan's body wracks in a fit of wet coughs, then lies still. King Canan is dead.

“He did it!” comes a shout from the crowd. Arms point at Prince Dirac, still frozen in horror at his father’s death.

“No!” chirps the young knight, “Not me!”

"The cup was poisoned. It was Prince Dirac!" calls another voice.

Pandemonium erupts. Every voice starts calling out at once. Some rush toward Dirac and the King. Others run toward the stairs. Lost in the confusion, our knights try to find their squires. Sir Lan is pushed to the side and decides to take a look outside in the bailey for the squires. Lan hears harsh voices in the thick Welsh accent. Peering into the darkness around the guardhouse, Lan sees two shadowy men pinning back Prince Dirac's arms. Sir Orcas holds a dagger before Dirac. The steward snarls at the Prince. In one swift movement, Orcas slices the helpless man's throat. Lan stares in surprise.

"Take his body out of here. Throw him into the sea."

The two guards follow Sir Orcas order, quickly disappearing from sight. Orcas turns toward the doorway to the great hall and sees Lan's hulking silhouette.

"You're one of those from Hertford, eh? Bah. You saw nothing. Get yourself back inside."

"No, sir." Lan says, simple innocence apparent in his matter-of-fact tone. "I saw you kill Prince Dirac."

Without hesitation Orcas draws his blade and lashes out at the Hertford knight. Lan has just enough time to bring up his sword and block the blow. Angry at the assault, Lan raises his sword for the attack. He pounds on the older steward, bearing his prodigious weight down with each blow. Orcas proves the better swordsman, deftly using Lan's exuberant strength to advantage. As Lan follows through on a hammering blow, Orcas steps sideways and whips the point into Lan's side. There's no armor or shield to block the stabbing thrust. Lan cries out sharply; but, doesn't waver a moment before turning and striking back at Orcas. Again Orcas dodges and brings an edge down across Lan's back. The flagstones are slick with blood when the door swings open. Rhys and Gailen charge out. Firelight streaming through the door alights on Sir Orcas. Seeing the knights rush toward him, Orcas knocks aside Lan's sword and flees into the dark.

Within the great hall a maelstrom of violence whirls. Shortly after King Canan fell, the sound of swordplay rang from the bailey. Our knights rush toward the doors, as do a score others. In the press was Squire Lak, second and youngest son of King Canan. As he reaches the doors, Sir Madog notices a glint from the corner of his eye. He turnes in time to see a knight of Carmarthan slash into Squire Lak's torso. The squire falls immediately. Without pausing to think, Madog spins and draws his blade. Sir Henlow pushes himself between the assailant and Squire Lak. The murderer lais into Madog, beating him back with another sword strike. They trade blows as Squire Lak tries to rise and flee. Seeing Madog in the throws of combat Rhodri abandons the door and joins the interior fray as another conspirator attacks Squire Lak again. This time the squire takes a blow to the head and falls; but, Rhodri runs through his man. Madog lands a cut across his foes upper arm and the man flees.

Other battles rage within the keep. Eventually the fighting ends. Loyalists retain their hold of Carmarthan, foiling Sir Orcas coup attempt. Squire Lak, heir apparent to Estregales, lies unconscious but still breathing. Hertford's knights are hailed as heroes for saving Lak's life. By morning King Ystrad leaves with his retinue for his own lands. The rest of Canan's court leave for their own demesne. Estregales was held together solely by the adamant will of King Canan. Without the king the land is sure to splinter into dozens of squabbling fiefdoms, each scrapping for dominance over the now vacant throne. Our knights are counseled to make for Escavalon as quickly as they can.

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Standing Stone, Powys by Hareguizer at Deviant Art

Once safely back at Hertford, our knights join the buttressing of Hertfordshire's defenses. Throughout the summer no word comes from King Uther to rally the disparate and bickering counties of Logres. Lincoln falls, along with the rest of the Duchy of Lindsey. Duke Lindsey dies. The northern army is no more.

A pall descends over the people of Hertfordshire. The unrelenting drought reaps another poor harvest. Yuletide is gloomy and subdued. Earl Aralyd gifts the best clothing and equipment to his vassals, trying to cheer and hearten the weary. Fear of what might come next summer overshadows Christmas festivities.

Rumors of greater strife between Lords Berkhamstead and Hemel Hempstead deepen Hertford's sour mood. Gwenhwyfar tells her husband of private audiences between the two bannerets and Earl Aralyd. Lord Arawine of Berkhamstead accused Marshal Caramig of stealing sheep. To make matters worse, Caramig's vassal Sir Windridge impregnated Arawine's daughter out of wedlock. Arawine went so far as to slap Caramig across the face before Aralyd. Aralyd forced Windridge to marry Eleri apf Arawine and Caramig to provide restitution to Lord Berkhamstead for his sheep. It was a resounding blow to the marshal's dignity; but, Caramig bore his liege lord's justice dutifully. To make matters worse, a plague of cholera breaks out among the central Chiltern hills. Nearly a hundred persons of Berkhamstead and Hemel Hempstead perish, high and low alike. Among the dead are Lady Berkhamstead and Elwyn apf John, niece to Sir Morial of Lewarewich.

The little romance that occurs is also tainted by the strain. Glesni ap Owain, daughter to Lord Amersham, is courted by Gailen. The damsel shows a disconcerting interest in tales of bloodshed and gore, particularly when the victim is a Saxon. Gailen tries to impress Glesni with tales of his own battle prowess at Estregales; but, the lass is only interested in the death of Saxons.

If anything good came of the year it was that young Lucius ap Elmig reaches his seventh year. Earl Aralyd places the lad under Marshal Hemel Hempstead's custody while he consideres who should be the child's master. Rhodri makes a good case before the Earl; but, the Earl chooses to not name a master until the following year.


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Erlkonig by faelle at Deviant Art

"I'm lost. We should never have left the side of the river"

Less than half a day since leaving Sir Budfannon's manor estate, the trio can no longer find their way back. Campactorentin proved thick with swamp, brambles and bugs. Gnats swarm the Hertfordshire men, nearly obscuring their vision as much as the twisted thorn and blackened leaves. Sir Budfannon's instructions were to follow the southern river bank perhaps two miles into the wood, then turn right onto a low hill. A wide pool with a tiny islet of evergreens on the northern side of the Avon river marked the point where they should turn. Treacherous thickets of mud and deep puddles forced them slightly upland. Then another pool pushed them further off the path. Finally, hours from the edge of the wood and dark clouds blotting the sun, Madog and his companions are lost. Even their tracks vanish in ankle deep water that covers much of the last leg of their trek. Godfrey and Jocelyn decide to stay put while Madog walks for an hour in first one direction, then another. Hopefully Madog can strike the river. Then they can follow the Avon upriver again and regain their trail.

Alas, it was not to be. After Madog searches all four directions the light begins to wane. The three bed down where they are, sleeping on knotty roots that at least rise them above the muck. In the gray morning they set out again, trying to keep a straight line through the wood. Eventually the ground begins to rise and they trod dry earth. Jocelyn climbs a tree to see what he may; but, returns having seen nothing but trees and clouds. After lunch they set out again in the same direction.

In the middle afternoon a breeze brings the scent of tea. Odd that, among the deep herbal forest one should smell tea so far from any kettle. On their guard, the men of the Percy family walk toward the breeze. There they see cavorting toward them a trio of oddly shaped children.

"Fresh fruit! Fresh fruit! Come buy, come buy!"

The small figures prance around trunk and bough, approaching more rapidly than at first they seemed. Shortly the knights make out shapes of children, if children they truly be. One is a pig faced creature walking on all fours, the friar’s rope belted round its waist dangling down to the ground. Its hind legs longer than the fore, the create walks with its nose pressed to the ground and buttocks stuck high into the air. A second one has donkey ears and a carrot nose protruding from a red blotched face. A third saunters through the leafy undergrowth in long, graceful strides. Its long fingers twitch and bend like twigs in an autumn gale. From its head sprout green leaflets and mossy knobules.

"Fresh fruit! Fresh fruit! Sweet and luscious!" squawks the carrot-faced urchin. "Come buy our orchard fruits, come buy, come buy! Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; come buy, come buy! On frothy soil they feed their hungry, thirsty soul."

The spritely sapling reaches out to Madog. Twiggy fingers wrap around his wrist and tug him along. "Come buy, come buy! You shall not be denied. The pomegranate seeds are succulent and divine!"

Lost for words and eager for any help, Madog and his companions follow the goblins through the wood. They lead over greened logs covered in a multitude of shelf-like fungi and around bowls of trees more ancient than the land itself. The air smells of smoke and rotting leaves mingled with a hint of cloying honeymelon. A tinge too deeply purple beckons seductively from under broad leafed fronds. The mulch of countless ages sponges softly underfoot, oozing a sticky mud that coats their boots with slick algae. In a league that takes only seconds to cross the knights emerge into a clamorous clearing. All manner of rickety stalls and patched pavilions fill the meadow. From each yells a hawker more loud than the last striving to sell goods to a throng of grotesque shapes. Hundreds of the creatures wander through twisting lanes fondling the goods or squabbling over the value of decorous baubles piled high.

A short eared skank sidles up to Godfrey and offers a gorgeous peach, "Care for a taste of the finest peach within Christendom, or without? A penny brings you five. Such a steal, come buy! Come buy!"

A man all flabby jowls and slobbering lips walks on gelatinous stumps of legs. No torso or arms interceed between thighs and chin. He gibbers of mango and papaya from far off Armordicane. A wrinkled, green fellow no taller than a toddler scampers up with a cornucopia of grapes, pears, apples, tomatoes and long, trailing beans. He thrusts the basket before Godfrey and demands a purchase. Three waddling bowls of foul smelling pudding offer cherries candied in sweet aspic for what they claim is a fair price.

Jocelyn stands back from the gaggle aghast. Madog and Godfrey are surrounded by goblins climbing up one upon the other offering wares. Entranced and unable to decline, Madog puts his hand to his pouch. His other hand reaches out and plucks a peach from a bough carrying three different kind of fruit.

"What a marvelous turn. This one I’ll try." says Sir Henlow.

Jocelyn leaps forward and grabs Madog’s arm, "No, Master! No, I say. We must not look at the Goblin men. We must not buy their fruits. Who knows on what soil they fed hungry, thirsty roots? One taste, I fear, and the stuff of faerie will we become."

Shaken out of reverie by Jocelyn’s grip, Madog hears his distant cousin and obeys. As if from a stupor Madog rubs his eyes and looks anew at the rude merchants proffering their poisoned goods. He forcibly pushes the goblins aside to clear a path through the throng. Temporarily beaten, the goblins mutter and curse as they follow the knights through stalls. Now intent on finding their way to the hermit, Madog and Godfrey question the proprietor of each stall in turn. Most sell gaudy trinkets or useless cloth made of flimsy gauze and spider’s web.

At last they find one who will speak, a grungy man with a red, pointed nose and sad, water-filled eyes. "Aye, master, I know the way. Though it I cannot say. You must partake of goods and wares ere I’ll speak the way. Take this, see here, the wares I sell are finest all round. A blade, a sword, a mace held strong no prouder shall be found.

"Take this, for stance. A finer tool you’ll ne’er find if you wish to stab your liege lord’s heart before he turns around." The goblin holds up a crude dagger with no sheath and a straight, unadorned hilt. The dull gray metal seems to hold no edge at all. Madog takes the blade and digs into it with his finger. The metal leaves a sickle moon div where Madog pressed his thumbnail.

"What’s this? A blade so soft it cannot hold an edge! What garbage are you selling me?" Madog tosses the dagger back onto the goblin’s counter. As Madog’s hand falls back to his side he notices that his purse, once thin with but a few denarii tucked inside, now bulges thick and heavy as if with a hundred coins.

"Ah, my lord, this stabber is more than meets the eye. For if its murder that you want no better shiv will do. And, if you please, I think you’ll see your purse has much to give for it."

"I want none of this!" says Madog.

"Wait! Wait, dear lord. Here’s something you may want. Ah, a gorgeous sword fit for a king. Look! Diamonds, rubies, with golden shining geld! All things a dandy man may want. And its sharpness ever held!" The goblin holds a bejeweled sword high over his head. A proud, sly smile creeps across his face as he sees Godfrey turn and reach out for the blade.

Godfrey stares covetously over the sword, "I could never afford such a royal sword, even if it were dull and never held an edge."

"Sir, as your friend you also hold good trade!" The goblin points down at Godfrey’s side, where his light purse now waxes heavy. Godfrey marvels at the pouch at his side. He loosens the drawstrings and peers inside. Inside jingle bulbous, red globules instead of coin. Pulling out a slippery discus, blood coats Godfrey’s finger tips.

"It feels like tears and the soft stroke of a maiden’s hand." whispers Godfrey in amazement.

"Observant to the last! That’s exactly what it is." says the shrewd little man. "Silver! Gold?! None of this mortal dross to buy my fine goods, Sir!"

"What, then, merchant, will you take in exchange for these goods?"

"I see by the weight of your purse that you have a few bits of forgiveness, Sir. Only four of those coins are needed to buy my goods!"

Confused and repelled by the unspoken meaning of the goblin’s words, Godfrey drops the red globule and wipes his bloody fingers over his trousers. He brusquely hands back the sword and the men move along.

goblin_by_danez.jpg
Goblin by danez at Deviant Art

At last they reach a wooden hut made of ramshackle boards and rough hewn limbs. Inside they find a sagely hobgoblin with one bulging eye. The other eye follows the knights with a squinty glare. His protruding chin pointed to a wondrous clockwork box hung on the wall.

"Watch this!" says he. At his word the box on the wall struck three. A little door up toward the top opens and out walks a tiny knight in fair armor. His arms are sable with a boar of gold. The knight paces purposefully out toward Madog and swings high his sword thrice, then promptly sheathes it. The knight turns back round to stomp back inside his box.

"He be one who’ll trouble me. I’ll catch his soul and spirit free. I sell souls and sundry things. What is it you bargain for?" The goblin points his chin directly at Madog. The knight feels somehow threatened by the forked protrusion.

"I need to find a hermitage here 'bouts. A man with a Cross of Saint Anthony lives there. He’s dear to me and I would find him."

"Ah, so that’s the way if it. I see. I see. Well," says the goblin, greedily peering down at Madog’s swelling pouch, "you have what pay I need." At that the gnarly kobold turns to a wall piled high with books and scrolls in countless tongues. He sifts through piles of sheaves until finally finding his quarry. He pulls out a folded, greasy page and peels off the noxious crumbs of some unsavory meat. Unfolding the page he peers over it carefully, nodding to himself and smacking his lips.

"Aye, aye, this is it. This is what you need! Let's see…" reads he. "Madog! Madog, that be your name, eh?"

The goblin peers suspiciously at Madog, who stares back in consternation. Flashing a word on the page quickly, he then snaps it back and folds it in half.

"It will cost you. That it will! But you have coin to pay." Again the goblin smacks his lips, peering down at the purse on Madog’s side. "Three of those are what I need."

Madog looks at his purse, thick on his hip though seeming light as a feather. He pulls three silver pillows from his pouch and holds them out in his palm.

"A trusting soul you are, good knight. A trusting soul. You’ll see, you’ll see. This map is just the thing you need." He snatches the golden pillows, dropping the map in Madog’s hand in one swift movement. He guides the knights out of his shack with an insane cackle. They find themselves in a grimy lane on another other side of the hut.

The map shows a simple path from the Goblin Market out into a green wilderness where, on a hill marked in brown, was a large red 'X'. Twisting the map round until it matches the route of the lane, Madog and companions walk a furrowed rut behind a row of stalls. They leave the market's din behind. A short jaunt up a slope and around a bend where ahead they spy a crude lean-to built into the side of a shallow hill. Sitting before the shelter is an old man, keeping off the evening mist with a small pile of glowing coals. The man stands at their approach, gazing at them with doleful eyes.

As the family of men stride up to the hermit his eyes fall upon Sir Godfrey. The graven tau burns dark brown lines across Godfrey's right cheek. The hermit's eyes grow wide. His jaw drops as he emits a soft, guttural gasp. Trembling hands reach up to a rough-sewn collar and pull it down, revealing the man's own birthmark - a blue tau stretched across his breast. He sits back hard upon the ground, jaw still gaping in amazement.

"But how is this? Who are you?"

"I'm Sir Madog ap Cadog, lord of Henlow and High Wycomb. These are my kinsmen, Sir Godfrey and Squire Jocelyn. We come in search of the secrets you hold in your heart." Madog crouches low by the old man in the dirt. "We are kinsmen, too, it seems. I seek the Secret of the Tau."

"The secret is dead. Nothing remains in this world but sin. It is of the body, wholly corrupt" intones the ascetic. "Love, bled forth from the Good Shepherd, redeems us. This is all I know."

The hermit sits back on his haunches. Jocelyn and Madog now sit cross legged beside the holy man. Godfrey stands off to watch over the three, unsure what to make of the stranger.

"Who are? Where are you from?" Madog's words show an acceptance of the man he sees before him.

Ogham_Sculpt_by_subedei.jpg
Ogham Sculpt by subedei at Deviant Art

"I'm lowborn. Of low means and lineage."

"We are of one blood. No matter what station in life we share our fate. Tell me of your father."

"My father talked always of war, the scourge of man! Ignorance is our bestial nature! We destroy ourselves with war." The old recluse tells of how his grandfather was killed, trampled under the wheels of a chariot. And his father's grandfather, Serlo of Percy, was murdered in the night by Cumbrian Picts. All the way back to Wearmouth abbey, where Serlo served as abbot, family men died of violence and hatred.

Serlo's brother, William of Percy, founded Wearmouth as a bastion of truth and knowledge in a heathen land. Built in the Roman style, it was the first stone chapel so far to the north. There Serlo kept close to his heart the secret of their fate. William of Percy grew strong and sent his sons south to take up manors of their own. One day barbarous hordes of Picts overran Northern Cumbria. Like an unstoppable tide, the Picts crushed everything in their path. William of Percy, Warden of the Tau, died defending his land. Wearmouth was burnt to the ground. Serlo never shared the secret with his children, or they had no eyes to see the Truth. Serlo's line vanished from the world.

In turn, Sir Madog describes his own trials and visions from the Lord. The hermit remains silent, listening.

Godfrey steps into the circle of firelight from evening's growing gloom. Still standing, "Aye, the world suffers from sin. We are strong men, from a strong line. We can fight for righteousness. It is our right and our obligation. Why do you rot here in the forest doing nothing? The land outside is burning. Will you not help us douse the flames?"

"I am a lowborn man. The glorious past died with Serlo. His sons perished as conscripts in battles fought by would-be emperors. Our line is broken and penniless. So I find solace far away from the world. Here I worship Saint Anothony in a way most full and earnest, until rapture takes me from this lonliness and pain."

Madog turns to the hermit, his face half-lit in a dim, fever-red glow, "Well, then. What of the world outside this forest? I told you of my visions. What then?"

"I am simply a man, no dream reader. If you must know what I think of your kingdom, here is a tale my father told me. It comes from a Greek sage long ages past:

A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen dwelt. Many times he tried to attack them; but, whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another. Whichever way he approached he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves. Each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

"Stay here if you wish to live a solitary life of peace and piety. Or go back to your world of suffering. Who knows? Perhaps you may indeed relieve the pain of some pour soul."

Madog sleeps ill at ease that night, under the eaves of a rudely cast shelter deep in wilderness. The hermit's words replay themselves in Madog's mind. The Abbey of Wearmouth bore the Secret of the Tau. Perhaps, were he to build an abbey at Wearmouth again - dedicate it to Saint Peter and Saint Anthony, he would find purpose in a meaningless world. At least he would build a Chapel of the Tau on his own estate and sponsor a priest to minister it. He would do so immediately, God willing they all live another year.

TheTau.jpg
The Cross of Saint Anthony

Manor Events

Sawbridgetooth

Across Hertfordshire everybody plants more draught resistant plants. In the heat of late summer a fire breaks out from a peasant's hearth that burns 1 field and 2 houses. +2 hate. Break even with harvest, after accounting for extra 1£ to feed Earl Hertford's footmen.

Bushey

On the plains the heat was unbearable and the crops withered regardless of planting more draught resistant strains. -1£.

Stowemarket

The newly resettled town of Stowemarket was gifted to Sir Rhodri of Bushey by Duchess Diane of Caercolun for service in the year 493.

Rhodri's second cousin, Gewaine, accompanies him to Stowemarket in the fall of 493. Gewaine aged some years since last he was the steward of Bushey, before Gwenhwyfar came to oversee Bushey's landholdings. Even with Gewaine's many years of experience, he pales at the site that awaited you.

Stowemarket is a ghost of what it once was. Situated on the strategic road from Ipswich to Thetford, Lord Stowe and his vassals all were destroyed in successive invasions by Æthelswith. The thriving town that held market for all the villages around was in ruins. The market itself long since ceased. All about the town were burnt homes and tumbled walls. Few remained living in the town until word arrived that Duchess Diane gifted Stowemarket to a heroic knight from Hertford come to drive off Saxon marauders. The braver souls who once fled Stowemarket return eager to rebuild their town and serve their new landlord. Gewaine sets them working on clearing fields or rebuilding homes. Before Rhodri leaves for Bushey again the manor house foundations were clear and wall frames erected. Rhodri is sure that come next year crops will be planted and in two years time the village will begin to prosper once more.

After a busy spring and summer, Rhodri finally has time to return to Stowemarket in August. There is still much concern that Octa and Eossa will turn south before the year is out; but, Earl Aralyd insists Rhodri review his new holding. Duchess Diane travels home with her newborn daughter, Ilaine. The earl sends Sir Rhodri along to guard his daughter and grandchildren, at least as far as Stowemarket.

Progress made at Stowemarket surprises Rhodri. Many homes now stand, including a fine stable and barn for the manor house. Hearths smoke in preparation for the evening dinner. Still, Rhodri is embarrassed by his inability to provide adequate hospitality to Duchess Diane as no harvest yet has come. Diane, in her turn, is forgiving and understanding to Sir Bushey.

"Sir Rhodri, have no care. We carry victuals enough to last until Norwich. My heart warms just to see the homes and hearth anew where once there was nothing but bones bleaching on empty lanes." Diane pauses, her mischievous smile returning as she eyes Rhodri with a twinkle in her eye. "Rhodri, you know the sheep herd my father gave me as a gift for my newborn daughter? Well, we have fleece aplenty in Norwich and no need for more ewe's milk. I see your own barn empty and pastures in need of cropping. Take them. They are yours to replenish the fields of Stowemarket. I ask only that in two years time, when Ilaine is old enough to know, you gift her with a newborn lamb from the herd. Then we shall account ourselves even. Is it a deal?"

Two months later Rhodri receives word of Stowemarket's harvest. The drought of Logres was strong in Caercolun and barely enough grains to last the winter was had. But the sheep from Diane brought food and wool for spinning. The town will survive its second winter thanks to her generosity. Although no gains come from Stowemarket, at least it will not drain Bushey's treasury. Next year, however, Rhodri will be required to provide a knight to Earl Hertford for Stowemarket. So you must needs have a better harvest.

Lewarewich

Scorching heat killed the older villagers and touched of forest fires. Still, Lady Iulia seems to be coming into her own and the harvest is enough to last through the winter. Break even not counting investments (cost or income.)

Heytesbury House

It seems the closer to the throne the more intense the summer heat. The steward collapsed in the fields and perished, leaving no one to drive the peasants to collect the harvest efficiently. A harvest of 3£ leaves the land lord 2£ in debt. A new steward is needed.

High Wycomb

The hills shimmer in the summer heat. Crops withered and livestock perished in the summer heat. Still, the extremely talented steward saved every possible kernel of grain. Break even not counting investments.

Henlow

The herd seems sterile this year and no calves or born. Otherwise the harvest is fine. Total income of 3£, so -3£ in debt.

Chesham

Sensing trouble in the land and feeling kinship with their young landlord, the peasants pitch in a share all their goods with Sir Gailen. This results in a good harvest (9£) for a net gain of 4£.

Boxbourne

Hunting is extremely poor and much of the wildlife perishes or is driven off in a forest fire. The crops suffer but much of the harvest is brought in. A meager harvest (5£) does not cover living expenses with the new family and Earl's footmen (7£.) -2£.

Betlowe

Sir Rhys married Lilo apf Uren late in 493. Lilo's dowry included Betlowe estate.

Lady Tring passed away some 7 years ago. Since then Lord Uren of Tring left his station to his oldest son, preferring a quiet life commanding the defense of Hertford. As castellan he's modernized the defenses of the castle significantly, including constructing a wooden palisade around Hertford town and reinforcing the keep's gate house to better withstand battering rams. With the new Lord Tring leaving his former residence of Betlowe to take up the title of banneret at Tring, Uren set aside Betlowe as dowry for his daughter Lilo. Betlowe estate languished without its lord. In the year just before Lilo's marriage to Rhys, Lilo took it upon herself to get the manor in shape, hoping to convince Rhys to live in her childhood home. The fact that Saxons continually raid Boxbourne help instill a healthy fear in Lilo to also convince her that Betlowe is a better residence.

After Lilo wed Rhys and gave birth to a daughter, Sir Uren seemed to more content than any other time in his life. He happily upbraided the garrison at Hertford Castle, though his heart was more joyful than angry at any imagined slight by the footmen defending the castle. Late one evening, after a particularly rousing argument with the steward in which Uren once again got his way, Uren passed away in his sleep. The life of a knight is hard and short; but, Uren lived better than most and died satisfied in service to his lord. Though Lilo weeps mournfully, Rhys can't help but think it was a fine end to a good life. Alas; but, with the Saxons threatening to storm Hertford, Uren's presence will be sorely missed in the coming year.

The harvest at Betlowe suffered just like the rest of Logres. Heat and drought crippled the flock and withered the crops. The harvest could not keep the larder stocked throughout the winter and Rhys had to invest 2£ of his own treasury into Betlowe. 3£ income, 5£ cost = 2£ debt.

Mother_and_Child_by_v5design.jpg
Mother and Child by v5design at Deviant Art

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