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Winter by James Fitzpatrick

The death of Lord Tring, aging castellan of Hertford, foretells a grim year. The old man dies in his sleep. New Year morning Lord Tring's page is unable to rouse him. Defenders of Hertford Castle rue his loss in days to come, for the stockpiling of supplies against siege slows considerably without him.

A month later plague strikes Bulbourne Valley, the rich river valley cut out of the Chiltern Hills where Lord Berkhamstead and Marshal Hemel Hempstead vie for dominance. Over one hundred people die across the valley. Striking high and low alike, the plague kills Lady Berkhamstead and several members of the Berkhamstead household.

Word of the plague reaches Sir Morial ap Morial accompanied by more tragic news. His nine year old niece, Elwyn apf John, succumbed to the plague at Berkhamstead and died in early February. Elwyn was John's only child when he was so ruthlessly slain by Saxon raiders while defending Boxbourne Hall. With her passing naught remains in this world of John ap Morial, Sir Lewarewich's younger brother. The family will suffer another great loss this year.

To assuage his mournfulness, Morial gathers a few close kinsmen to go hunting. Winter hunting always brings with it a brisk feeling. The crispness in the air enlivens the spirit and makes one's blood flow. Some miles from home, Morial and his lineage men come across tracks of many horsemen. Their trail leads back toward Lewarewich. With trepidation, Morial mounts his rouncy and follows. Soon the horsemen's destination is clear. They travel toward Morial's manor home. Morial and his companions stop to don their armor before setting out in pursuit.

Lewarewich Manor sits on the northern shoulder of a big hill in the central Chiltern Hills. The estate overlooks a small trade road as it branches off the Icknelid Way toward the Thames River. A stream follows the trade road up into the rough interior of the hills. Across the road and stream rises Beacon's Ridge. Morial sees a clump of horses steaming in the winter cold high upon Beacon Ridge. To one side are a group of men clad in heavy cloaks against the wind. The group watches Lewarewich Manor across the vale. No insignia or coat of arms is evident upon any of their shields.

Morial spurs his horse toward the men. His kinsmen follow close behind with Morial's squire. One of the men above turns at the noise of horses and sees Sir Lewarewich climbing Beacon's Ridge. The group quickly mount their horses. Morial strains to catch a glimpse of someone's face but cannot make out any features at this distance. As the group rides off to the north Morial makes a point to count them; eight horsemen, probably four knights with their squires. Far ahead of Morial's pursuit, the group reaches the safety of the King's Road and strikes westward. Morial follows for the rest of the day until he's certain the group is indeed bound for Shirburn and Rhydychan. Then he returns home to prepare for riding to Hertford and informing Earl Aralyd.

Word spreads across the land that King Uther rises from his sick bed to muster Logres' army. People rejoice at the news. Last year Saxons conquered the northern army and are poised to storm through Huntington and Hertford counties. While Saxons pillaged Lindsey and grew strong, Uther failed to act. Finally, after two years of pleading by Dukes and Earls, Uther musters his army to beat back the Saxon menace.

Court is to be held on Pentecost as usual. The court will reside in Sarum, seat of the Earl of Salisbury. Earl Aralyd and the lords of Hertford know fear when they hear of the court. Pentecost is late this year, coming on the first Sunday of June; and Salisbury is far to the south. If Octa and Eossa mobilize early, as they did last year in the assault on Lincoln, then Huntington and Hertford counties will be overrun before Uther's army comes close enough to engage. Landlords and Barons across the county scramble to pack valuables and send their families to safety. Sir Madog of Henlow sends Morcheidys and their five children to his rustic estate, High Wycomb. Sir Rhys of Boxbourne, Sir Rhodri of Bushey and Sir Morial of Lewarewich send their families to Morial's Salisbury estate, where Morial's steward hosts the throng throughout the summer.

In far off Lindsey, three Saxon kings gather their troops for a great push southward. Kings Octa and Eossa hold a personal vandetta against King Uther for imprisoning them after the Battle of Lindsey. Now they return with a new ally, the Centurion King of Malahaut, to strike at Logres while Uther is weak.


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Uther Pendragon by Ajraan at Deviant Art

Sir Madog's harp sings gently beside a handsome young knight from Brittany. Sir Edar of Sains, fourth son of Lord Galweryn of Sains and younger brother to Lady Gwenhwyfar of Bushey, is gifted with a sonorous baritone voice. The cut of his hem and border of lace along his cuffs lend him a Continental air that turns the head of every young lady at Sarum. A damsel's heart is putty for molding with Sir Edar's fashion and rich, romantic voice. Edar enjoys the attention thoroughly.

The song ends and some tasty lass flits in to speak with Sir Edar. Sirs Madog and Lan sit to the side and watch as the ladies coo around the handsome knight. To one side the women of Hertford speak among themselves. A fiddle somewhere strikes up a lively tune.

"Don't you think we should flee now, before its too late?" says Ophelia of Knebworth.

"Easy for you!" chimes in Lady Odstock, her voice a matronly warble. "You have no estate of your own to lose. We have our homes to look to. Plus, the king is here with all the knights of Logres. We're safe".

"But do you think Uther will be able to fight, sick as he is?" whispers Ophelia, as if trying not to let others hear her state aloud what all can plainly see. "Uther hardly shows himself at court; and, when he does, there's hollowness to his cheeks and a drawn look in his eyes. The men seem uneasy with it."

"Well, I think its witchery!" confides Lady Iulia of Lewarewich. "That chirurgeon of his, Lady Nimue, she's not a Christian. She's a Lady of the Lake, make no mistake about it. Her tangled skein wraps around the king even now."

Iulia's mother, Lady Odstock, admonishes her daughter. "I dare say King Uther does better under her care than he did last year. At least he's wearing the crown in public. But if we're all that close to dying, I'm going to spend the night with Sir Sawbridgetooth over there!" The lady eyes Sir Lan boldly, forcing Sir Lan to blush and turn away.

Glesni apf Owain, eldest daughter of Lord Amersham, spreads her arms and ushers the ladies toward a castle servant bearing a tray of sweet breads. "Listen, darlings, Uther may be ill, but it isn’t over yet. We faced these Saxons before and we'll face them again. Whether 'tis on the lands to the north or, God forbid, our own soil of Hertford, we'll stomp their blood into the ground once more. Here! Look at these lovely sweet breads! Why, the Salisbury bakers outdo themselves with fancy novelties sculpted from British chestnuts. And they're warm!"

In another part of Sarum's great hall a cry rises for Earl Roderick's kennel master. Earl Jagent and Earl Tribruit each boast that they are the greatest huntsmen in all of Britain. The men call for a contest on the following day. The hunt continues to gather participants until there is a collection of five teams. Each team places a libra worth of goods, either small jewelry or finely graven steel knives or Roman silver, in a kitty for the winner. Sir Boxbourne convinces Hertfordshire's knights to field a team under his leadership. Other participants include: Earl Uriel of Tribruit, considered the finest tracker in all of the Forest Sauvage; Earl Tegwyn of Jagent, renown for fearlessly facing down a bear with only his side knife; Earl Earddin of Dorset, a likable fellow who has a good natured rivalry with Earl Jagent; and Earl Roderick of Salisbury, not known for his hunting prowess but as host he feels obligated to participate. After collecting goods for the kitty, Rhys leaves with the kennel master to pick out a lead bitch for the morrow.

Rhodri takes advantage of the gathered nobility to learn of any lord that might need a page. Rhodri's twin boys are seven this year and a valuable alliance can be made with another family. Jagent is a Cornish county, formerly vassals of the treacherous Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. Rhodri wrinkles his nose at the idea of his son Rhogwyn paging at a crude Cornish court. Dorset, however, is far to the south out of harm's way. The culture and prestige of a southern Earl's court would teach Rhogwyn the subtle ways of courtiers quite nicely. Rhodri speaks briefly with Earl Earddin, getting a promise from the Earl to consider Rhodri's request that little Rhogwyn page at Dorchester.

Sir Morial and Sir Boxbourne search throughout the evening for Sir Brastias or Duke Ulfius. The two knights closest to King Uther seem absent throughout most of the first day's feast. Eventually our knights find Sir Brastias taking fresh air in the bailey. Brief questions with the commander of Uther's bodyguard reveal that the King will call a war council for the following afternoon. There the earls and dukes of Logres must determine their plans to confront the pillaging Saxon host. For his part, Sir Brastias hopes to lure the Saxons south into the Thames river valley. Letting the Saxons overrun Huntington and Hertford will be costly; but, attrition will thin Saxon ranks and spread their forces across leagues of dangerous terrain. Then, even in his weakened state, Uther can easily crush the upstart northern kings. Sirs Morial and Rhys are aghast at the idea of letting Saxons overrun their dear county; but, Brastias' reasoning is sound. The two knights hope that the war council and King Uther prove themselves more eager to face the Saxons before they come south through Hertfordshire.

Late in the evening, as many of the courtiers break their last bread of the day, Sir Rhodri thoughtfully chews a crusty loaf. His eyes study a fine tapestry lining Sarum's great hall; but, his thoughts wander the hills of home. Danger hangs over Hertfordshire like a looming thunderhead. Rhydychan threatens from the west. Saxons rampage through the north. King Æthelswith of Essex rested for two long years and may strike again at any time. Now Uther seems to let Octa and Eossa have their way with the county. Rodhri seeks for some answer, some way to keep his home safe in the thrashing storm.

"Yes, they will be vulnerable once again. Salt evaporator, you say? And that vineyard of his produces grapes beyond all reason? It certainly is a fine jewel dangling before us, eh?" The voice coming from behind Rhodri is soft and genteel. Shame tinges Rhodri's cheeks as he realizes he eavesdrops on a private conversation; but, the timbre of the voice tickles something in Rhodri's memory. Sir Bushey continues to study the tapestry with his eyes while his ears strain to hear more.

"Aye, lord. And there's little to defend it." The response is more gruff, though still whispered. Rhodri stiffens as he recognizes the voice of Sir Caralyn, household knight to Lord Shirburn of Rhydychan.

Lord Shirburn chuckles, "I'm sure there'll be even less to defend it when Earl Aralyd pulls all the footmen to Royston to defend his country. Stay behind this summer with your brother while the rest of us go to fight Saxons. Two knights will be plenty to kill any lineage men left behind to defend Lewarewich. Keep the land. Let's hope for a bloody battle that lays low the men of Hertford. Then we may hold onto our little jewel. Who knows? Perhaps you may even find yourself with it as a gift in reward for loyal service."

"Yes, m'lord." Sir Caralyn and Lord Shirburn stroll away, talking of troops and marching and the Midland plains. Rhodri goes in search of Earl Hertford.

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Hard Rain by Deming at Deviant Art

Saturday morning's hunt proves a gallant affair. Four comptal teams and one team of vassal knights ride out to the brush and small wood just south of Sarum's farmland. Almost an hour into the hunt, Rhys' hounds pick up a scent and go crashing into the wood. Rhys bends to see deer tracks leading ahead. Our knights rush headlong into the brush after the dogs, hoping to run down their quarry. Shortly the sound of baying dogs comes from off our knights right. First one hound appears, then another. The dogs turn and join Rhys' pack. From behind the dogs come Earl Earddin and his companions.

"Hoy, there!" shouts Earl Dorset. "What do you men think you're doing? I'm going after those deer, mind you. Find yourself some other prey."

"Earl Dorset," starts in Sir Rhys, ignoring Sir Rhodri's baleful stare, "it seems your dogs have fallen in behind my own. With our dogs in the lead, the hunt is plainly ours. Now, if you will be so kind…" At that, Sir Rhys kicks his spurs to pursue.

Rhodri throws out a hand to catch Rhys, forcefully pulling him back. Earl Dorset looks over to Sir Rhodri, recognizing the man who asked to page his son at Dorchester. With a slight tilt of his head acknowledging Rhodri's courtesy, Earl Earddin leaps forward after the dogs. Rhys sits atop his horse at Rhodri's side, watching the proudly held tails of Earl Dorset's horses recede into the woodland. There is nothing left to do but start again looking for spoor. By noon our player knights return to Sarum empty handed.

Outside Sarum's gate a pair of spears each impale a wolf head. The two grisly trophies stand as testament to Earl Jagent's courage. Earl Jagent's troop found a pack of wolves in the hunt. The wolves stalked the same herd of deer chased by Earl Dorset. Just as Earl Dorset came close to the deer out charged the wolves. Driving the wolves into the open were Earl Tegwyn and his son, Tegfan. Caught between the surprised men of Dorset and Jagent's noisy charge, the wolves hesitated. Tegwyn and Tegfan rode down the wolves, killing two of them and scattering the rest of the pack. Earl Tegwyn won the hunt. The five libra kitty sweetened another victory over his rival, Earddin of Dorset.

For his part, Earl Dorset takes the loss with a laugh. After Roderick declares Earl Jagent's win, Earddin approaches Rhodri.

"Sir, you showed great courtesy in the field. I applaud your decorum. I will gladly accept a boy with such a dignified father as page."

Rhodri bows, smiling happily at the day's outcome. Earl Dorset's acceptance of Rhogwyn to his court well outweighs the cost of the hunt's prize.

With the gathering of knights from across Logres, Sarum's halls and streets fill to bursting. Hertford's knights sleep outside Sarum's wooden palisade in their tents. Even Earl Aralyd and Countess Elaine sleep on a mattressed cot in their own pavilion. Camps of Logres' nobility sprawl around Sarum, creating twisted paths snaking through a colorful assortment of tarpaulin and pennants. It is easy to lose yourself among the crowds of retainers, servants, horses, guards, ladies and sundry accoutrements of title calling Sarum home for these few weeks.

Sir Caralyn sneaks through the maze in search of Hertfordshire knights. Unsure what he will do when he meets them, all he knows is hate overpowering all thought. Lord Shirburn, his liege, was roundly chastised by Sir Brastias and Earl Rhydychan for threatening to withhold knights from Uther's army. Unsure how Brastias discovered their plan, Caralyn is sure of one thing - a Hertford knight must pay for his shame. Shortly Caralyn comes upon the pavilions of Rhodri's eschille. He hangs back, hoping to spy a single knight that he might harass.

At ease outside their tent, the eschille enjoys a pleasant Salisbury afternoon. With Uther's newfound resilience, the land once again grows green and lush. A peasant girl wanders among the knights selling flowers by the bunch. Her curvaceous figure and winsome smile catch the eye of many a bachelor knight among the tents. Lan's eye lingers on the lass as she wanders off into the jumble of tents. Watching her disappear behind a red tarpaulin, Lan notices the face of Sir Caralyn. Carlayn sees Lan point him out to the rest of the eschille. Fearing what the entire eschille might do now that they've noticed him spying over them, Caralyn fades back into the crowd. Lan leaps up and follows, loosening his sword.

Caralyn tries to not draw attention to himself as he quickly moves away from the Hertfordshire pavilions. This gives plenty of time for Lan to catch up. Lan, a fine huntsman in the Hatfield Forest on the Lea, finds it easy to follow the Rhydychan knight. After some minutes, Caralyn comes to a relatively open place. Lan is just ten paces behind him.

Caralyn abruptly turns, resting his hand on the hilt at his side. "Why are you following me? Begone, miscreant!"

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Sword Fight
by McS378 at Deviant Art

"No. Uh uh." states Lan flatly. "I won't have you hang back and attack my friend's land while we're off fighting Saxons."

Lan maneuvers forward as he speaks, crouching slightly. Like a cat, he poises himself on his toes; barely able to restrain his body from leaping into motion. As he finishes speaking, Lan lunges at Caralyn.

Caralyn draws his blade about one third the way before Lan's body hits him. The giant from Sawbridgetooth drops all his weight on the Rhydychan knight, forcing the sword back into its sheath and pinning Caralyn's arm against his chest. Wrapping his left arm around Caralyn's head, Lan drops to the ground. They land in a heap, Lan pounding a fist into Caralyn's face. Caralyn wriggles his head out of Lan's grasp and pushes off from the brute. In a flash, Caralyn's blade is out and pointing at Lan. Without thinking, Lan's own sword is in hand.

The two face off, circling warily around each other. People around them rush away. Ladies shriek in fear and pull youngsters away from the two swordsmen. Lan wheels around a hitching post, slashing high at Caralyn's shoulder. The Rhydychan knight easily ducks and stabs. Steel punctures Lan's left thigh and pokes out the other side. Caralyn yanks the sword back out of Lan's flesh. Blood spurts up the blade, arcing to the ground. Lan leaps back, putting all his weight on his right leg. Men start to gather round the fight, urging the two warriors onward. Before weakness sets in, Lan lunges forward again with his blade held high. The two knights close. Lan batters his sword down over Caralyn. Caralyn, clearly the better swordsman, knocks Lan's sword to the side. As they pass each other, Caralyn twists around to cut deep across Lan's exposed back. Lan falls to the ground unconscious. By the time our eschille hears of the fight Lan is already taken into Sarum Castle. His wounds are treated well; but, Lan is summarily thrown into prison for disrupting King Uther's hospitality. Years afterward Lan often wonders what would have become of him had he not been imprisoned. Would he have earned great glory in the battle to come or fallen like so many others that summer?

Pentecost court is dismissed after evening mass. Uther orders Earls Hertford and Huntington to return home and evacuate the people. Those they would save should go to the southern counties. All footmen are to garrison strongholds along Ermine Street, the King's Road leading to London. After seeing to their families, all knights are required to return to Sarum and march with Uther's host. It is with great anxiety that the Hertfordshire knights return home.

Once at Hertford Castle, Sir Rhys rides south to Boxbourne. There he sends the people off with any valuables. Rhys packs only one possession upon his sumpter, the beloved Carlion Tapestry from Bayeaux. Then Rhys rides north to Sawbridgetooth to care for Lan's estate. Within the second day after arriving at Hertford, Sawbridgetooth and Boxbourne are ghost towns. Sir Rhys and his retinue safely return to Sarum.

Earl Hertford orders his retinue to pack for London. They have three days to pack their goods before leaving. During those days, Aralyd goes north with Madog to evacuate Royston. The city is distraught with rampant chaos. The townhouses of the wealthy and noble stand vacant, all worthy folk having left the city weeks ago. Only commoners remain, without guard or constable to keep the peace. Some homes and craftsman shops are looted, their doors hanging open and interior demolished. People rush through the streets to gather their valuables and flee. The knights do their best to quickly facilitate removing the last of the families. Then the Earl leaves a token garrison and turns back toward Hertford.

En route back to Hertford Castle, the Earl's party stays for an evening in Henlow. They cluster silently around the hearth at night, none feeling inclined to sleep. Saxons are reputedly only two or three days to the north. Already a Saxon patrol on war ponies was spotted from Royston's northern gate. Henlow, being but a few hours' ride south of Royston along the King's Road, is directly on the marching Saxon army's path. Sir Madog is certain this was the last time he'll see his beloved home.

Aralyd eventually breaks the silence, giving word to everyone's thoughts. "Knights, darkness is upon us. None may say who will live to see next year's Spring. Or if we'll ever hear the songbirds on the River Lea at Pentecost again. Uther is determined to draw the Saxons over our land, to let them extend beyond their means, and then crush them with all the might Logres can muster. It was Duke Silchester's plan and I cannot fault the strategy; though it leaves us wondering what will become of our homes. The Saxon horde is strong and its kings incensed. There may be little left of Hertford after this war. Whether we win or lose this year, remember that Logres' salvation is your bloodlines. Save your families if you can. We ourselves may die; but, our sons will grow up to avenge their fathers and Logres can one day live in peace."

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Man Face by Roopfert at Deviant Art

Madog looks intently at Earl Aralyd, echoes of apocalyptic visions return unbidden to his mind. He barely notices Aralyd rising and handing him something made of metal.

"…lose this fine manor of yours. Though it isn't much, please accept it with my most heart felt sorrow."

Madog reaches out as Aralyd hands him a silver plate embossed with a grinning satyr. Around it whirls a frenzied bacchanal. It is a stamping from a grecian plaque. The Earl then retreats to the darkness to gaze upon the hearth's dying embers. Sir Rhodri sits beside him.

"My lord, let us speak only of winning and driving back the Saxon murderers. There is still much to do. Should we be victorious this year we must needs rebuild. There are still matters of state and family to attend."

Earl Aralyd gazes quietly at Rhodri for a long minute, an expression of loss and exhaustion in his eyes. He then sets his jaw and draws a sharp breath, "Yes, Bushey, you are right. Again you remind me of my duty and tireless need to forge onward. What is it that's on your mind?"

"Its a matter of family, Lord Aralyd. I have a boy that must be paged. You have yet to determine where your grandson, Lucius ap Elmig, is to be a page. Let us decide both together."

"Yes, Rhodri. My daughter told me you were keen on bringing Lucius to Bushey. He would be more safe there than anywhere else in Hertford. There's nobody in Caercolun I trust other than Elmar; and, he's been raising the boy so he won't do at all. I'm loathe to send him far away since he must spend time in Caercolun with his subjects as he can. But there are other matters here at Hertford that I must also see to."

The Earl's voice trails off. He remains silent for moment before continuing, "Rhodri, why can't you and Lord Berkhamstead get along better? My Uncle Arawine isn't a bad fellow and he truly wants what is best for Hertford. Maybe you can find some way to bring peace between you? A sign of trust, such as sending your own boy to Berkhamstead, would be a great help. Think on it."

"Aye, my lord. I will consider your words."

Aralyd stands, "I'm off. There's no good to be had staring into dead coals in the middle of the night. Good night, gentlemen."

Rhodri watches the shadow of his Earl disappear into the manor's bedchamber. Conflicting thoughts clash in Rhodri's mind. Berkhamstead wasn't to be trusted, least of all with his oldest son Rhodin. Yet Earl Aralyd's wisdom was clear. With Logres' teetering on the brink of destruction and its king without an heir, Hertford must remain united. Bedding himself down, Rhodri's last thought before sleep is a resolution to offer Rhodin to Lord Berkhamstead as soon as they met again at Sarum.

The next day our knights reach Hertford Castle. They see the Earl's retinue off the day following. On the third day at Hertford reports come from Royston that the city is attacked. From the south come more troubling reports that bands of Saxons on war ponies patrol at will along Ermine Street, raising fear for the safety of refugees fleeing southward. Not daring to wait any longer, the Earl's forces make for Sarum. They abandon their homes behind them. Only a rear guard force of loyal footmen remain at Hertford to slow the advancing Saxon army.

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Hounds of Annwn by Wodenswolf at Deviant Art

Overcast skies drizzle upon the long line of men filing up the Ickneild Way. Five thousand footmen follow nearly two thousand of Britains finest knights toward the city of St. Albans. As soon as word arrived that Kings Octa and Eossa turned off their march to London and instead sought St. Albans, Uther gave the word to march. In the days since then the army moved quickly north and eastward. Now, as they round the northernmost spur of the Chiltern Hills and emerge from the waste surrounding the holy city, a trio of horsemen ride forth from the woods west of the road. The riders approach the head of the caravan where King Uther rides among his retinue and chirurgeon. Shortly, Marshel Hemel Hempstead and Earl Aralyd of Hertford approach our player knights.

"Refugees from across Hertford hide themselves within the wood. Sir Rhodri, follow these riders to the refugees and see to it they are cared for. Come back and report before nightfall."

"Aye, Earl."

Rhodri quickly gathers his men and splits off from the army's main column. They follow the riders, disappearing under leaves within moments. After some ten minutes ride the eschille comes across a hastily built encampment of many hundreds of men, women and children. To their surprise, they learn that Duchess Diane of Caercolun is among the refugees. The Duchess, ranking highest among those present, led the camp and saw to its safety.

Diane tells the story of her flight. Saxons of King Æthelswith charged from the forest as Earl Aralyd's courtiers fled south along Ermine Street to London. The milites charged with safeguarding Diane did a fine job in holding off the Saxon patrol while the Earl's family fled into the waste. They eventually found their way to St. Albans, where Archbishop Tymine provided safe haven.

Little more than a week ago the Saxon army fell upon St. Albans. They came in the gloaming of evening. Thinking the enemy would settle in for a long siege, the defenses were unprepared for immediate onslaught. The Saxon army didn't break its stride. Without hesitation waves of ceorls rushed forward with ladders. By nightfall the wall was breached in three places. Fighting raged through the night under light of fires racing through the city streets. Dawn's first sun saw the Saxon standard raised high over St. Albans keep. No bells sounded from the cathedral that morning. Diane guided those who escaped into the wood while the less fortunate still in the city faced their fate.

Diane decides that the people should join the Logres' camp followers and find safety under Earl Aralyd's protection. As the knights and Duchess speak together, the sound of distant horn blasts drift through the wood. The //eschille/ quickly rides back to the road. Once clear of the wood they hear again a distant horn calling the charge. Our knights gallop toward the city as fast as their mounts can carry them. St. Albans comes into view, showing a confusing scene of unplanned combat. Archers focus their fire on St. Albans main gate, which swings close just as Rhodri's men catch up with Earl Aralyd's ranks.

"A trap!" Shouts the Earl. "The Saxons led us to believe we caught them at unawares. Their gates were open when we first spied them. Uther ordered a quick charge. The knights of Dorset, Southports and Hampshire were in the vanguard and so raced forward. As soon as they entered, the city gates slammed closed. It was a trap! Our archers shoot all they can to try to aid those caught inside; but, I fear the worst."

There was no sign nor sound from some three hundred knights lost that day. Logres' host bivouacked at all city gates. Sir Morial of Lewarewich sends his most able lineage men on a mission to sneak into St. Albans by a sludge gate; but, it is to no avail. All save one of the men perish in their desperate attempt.

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Militia by Ancalagan at Deviant Art

The next day dawns foggy and chill. A gloom dampens British spirits. As the fog burns away the main gate opens once more. Out march the Saxon armies in a thick column. They form ranks before the city walls, just at the edge of bowshot. Cymric knights hastily don their armor. Saddles are thrown across the backs of thousands of horses. Within the hour, Uther's army is suited and ready. Knights rush to form a broad front rank before the Saxons finish filing from the city gate. Both armies still gather their ranks when someone blows a charge on one flank. Answering horns call up and down the line. Haphazardly, a general charge is called. The thunder of three thousand horsemen crash into a thickening Saxon line.

Among the Saxon foot soldiers ride a few hundred horsemen. Their helms are of an odd design, pointed on the top and without adornment. They use round, painted shields instead of the kite shields used by Cymric knights. Sir Edar, Sir Rhodri's kinsman from Cornouailles, recognizes the enemy horsemen as French. These foreign mercenaries are the first to recover from surprise at Uther's hasty attack. One band forms a line of lances to gallop headlong into the British charge right at Hertford's knights. They collide into each other with brutal force, lances shattering against heavy mail and shield. Arrows rain down from the walls of St. Albans, piercing man and mount blindly from above.

Though the French are well protected they cannot halt our knights' momentum. The Hertford knights' line stays firm and straight, a knife carving into the French cavalry. The whole of the center battalion, led by Uther's battle standard, drives deep into Saxon forces. Sir Edar fights the Frenchmen with a heady lust for murder. Having lost his lance in the first charge, Edar cuts his way into the French throng. He unseats first one horseman, then another. After long minutes of fighting, Rhodri calls for a withdrawal. Sir Edar finds himself somewhat isolated from the eschille and turns to ride back to formation, wondering where his squire might have gotten off to. Once back with the eschille Edar sees his squire hanging limply over the back of a rouncy, a bloody gash across his neck and back.

There's no time for guilt as the French mercenaries regroup and countercharge. They ride hard into Rhodri's retreating eschille. Though none of the Hertford knights lose their saddle, the fighting is fierce. Both sides engage repeatedly, slowly making their way back out of Saxon second rank and into the thickest of the fighting. Still unable to regroup, Rhodri sends another squire back with Edar's boy. After nearly three hours of fighting the mercenaries are finally beaten off.

The eschille pauses to reform. Sir Madog lost a fair amount of blood but insists on remaining to fight. Two squires are lost but all the knights retain their mounts. Though few remain without some wound or blood loss, there are no grievous injuries. Rhodri takes the opportunity to survey the battlefield.

The heaviest fighting is in the center battalion, where Uther and Earl Hertford both ride. The right flank faltered early in the battle; but, has held and stopped Saxon forward progress. On the left flank Duke Ulfius and Earl Salisbury make steady progress, pressing the Saxon footmen up against the walls of St. Albans. Everywhere the battle is within bowshot of the walls. Hundreds of Saxon archers shoot an endless stream of arrows into the throng, hitting friend and foe alike. Ahead, and only two ranks deep, is the battle standard of King Eossa. Rhodri can just make out the giant Saxon king standing tall above the ranks of soldiers, roaring orders into the maelstrom.

As Rhodri watches he sees Earl Hertford's standard turn and rush headlong toward the Saxon king. Recognizing that his lord charges into battle, Rhodri commands his eschille to form a line and blows the charge himself. The knights once more join the fray, driving toward Earl Hertford's pennant.

A mass of howling madmen surround Earl Aralyd's unit. Hulks with hides and clubs as thick as a man's leg scream incoherently as they throw themselves at the Earl. Rhodri's troop crashes into the morass. British lances skewer the crazed warriors. Horses trample them into the ground. Still the Saxons show no fear and throw themselves with abandon on Cymric blades. By sheer savagery the Saxon berserkers grind our knights down to a halt but yards from Earl Aralyd's eschille.

Rhodri dispatches a Saxon madman clinging to his leg trying to pull him down off his charger. With a moment to breath, Rhodri takes stock of his knights. The line is broken and poorly formed. Saxons push their way between the horses and separate the knights. Rhodri cups a hand near his mouth to shout a withdrawal just as he sees a Saxon grab Earl Aralyd from behind and drag him off the saddle. Wasting no time, Rhodri spurs his horse to a sprint toward the Earl.

Earl Aralyd lies on his back, a Saxon berserker raising a club high over his head. Before the club can crash down on the prone earl, Rhodri spears the Saxon from behind. Sir Rhys of Boxbourne breaks free of his foe and also comes rushing to Earl Aralyd's aid.

More Saxons pile into the fray. A nasty looking, two-handed axe cleaves into Morial's hauberk, catching the links and yanking him off the saddle onto the ground. Three heathen warriors crowd over the fallen knight. Sir Madog tugs at his spear caught between the ribs of a hapless Saxon. Madog pulls the spear free and whirls his mount, trying to scatter the men gathering over Morial. he is too late. Madog turns just in time to see the axe come crashing down on Morial again, splitting his skull with a wet thump.

Still more berserkers come. Sir Hugo, who served Sir Madog as squire on his travels in Manche, falls. A club lands squarely on Sir Rhys' chest, lifting Rhys out of the saddle. Sir Boxbourne lands hard on his back, sending a jolt of pain up his spine. Baron Landry, seeing his cousin unseated, charges toward Rhys. A pile of Saxons intercept Landry, pushing him back and separating him from his kinsman. Lost in the fray, the Baron was not to be found again that day. At last, Earl Aralyd rises to his feet. Rhodri's calls his squire to give the Earl a horse. Now mounted, they drive the Saxons off Rhys. Madog and the rest of the eschille find their way together.

Breathlessly, Earl Hertford thanks Rhodri. "You saved my life, Sir Bushey. That I shan't forget!" (Sir Rhodri's player happened to be the only player to know what was in store for Logres later that evening after the battle.)

Rhodri calls a withdrawal and the eschille pulls back. British footmen run forward past the knights as they regroup, claiming the ground won by Morial's life. The soldiers recover Sir Rhys' and Sir Hugo's body, sending them back to hospital. Earl Aralyd joins the eschille, having separated from his own unit. The Earl gives our knights a moment to catch their breath before forming up the line again.

The horses begin to cantor forward just as a great shout roars up from the battlefield ahead. King Uther's standard now flies nigh on King Eossa himself. Uther draws Excalibur and a blinding light shines forth. Eossa cannot withstand the might of Excalibur. He falls and his standard is beaten into the mud. The Saxon line begins to falter.

Elated, Earl Hertford signals a charge into a squadron of Saxon footmen in chain. Their great spears set for the charge, the Saxons bristle with deadly intent. Sir Harold is unhorsed; but, the tide of battle is too strong and the Saxons overrun. Sir Harold's body is left behind as Earl Hertford pushes deeper into the Saxon line. Pinned against the walls of St. Albans, the Saxon stand is desperate and brutal. Sir Rhodri falls to a great, two-handed axe. Sir Edar, his young heart overcome by sickness, disappears into the throng. Despite these losses, the eschille breaks through. They cleave through the Saxon army, separating and enveloping the right Saxon flank. Battle turns into cruel slaughter as thousands of Saxons die without mercy. Peasants within the city revolt and climb the walls, casting Saxon archers down to their death. Bodies litter the fields of St. Albans. Kings Octa and Eossa lie dead. The Saxons are utterly vanquished.

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Four hammers by Wodenswolf at Deviant Art

The time for killing ends. Sir Madog slowly dismounts. His tired muscles ache more than he thought possible. Lacerations mark his arms and legs. Though clots slow the loss of blood, Madog finds it hard to stand on his feet again. A firm grip on the reins keeps him from falling to the ground in exhaustion. More than the weight of armor drags him down. All about him is death, somehow less vivid but more disturbing than his visions ever were.

Madog follows Earl Hertford toward the city gate, meandering around groups of men fallen in piles. Fighting still continues on the far left flank; but, Madog is too shocked to recognize much of his surroundings. Sir Godfrey falls in alongside Madog, a palpable presence upon whom Madog can lean for emotional support. Even Godfrey's face is drawn, his eyes focused on memories of butchery. Madog stumbles over a body laying face down, an axe cut ripped across the spine so that chips of bone can be seen on the lips of the wound. Together the two kinsmen make their way through the gatehouse.

Everywhere in St. Albans people rejoice. Victory is sweet for Logres' army. Dazed, Madog makes little sense of the hubbub around him. Earl Hertford speaks to the people of St. Albans. Madog hears the voice but does not understand the words. King Uther walks past surrounded by Sir Brastias and his bodyguard. Madog sees the Archbishop embrace King Uther and the two walk away to the cathedral. Duchess Diane of Caercolun attends her father, though the Earl waves her away. Still mindlessly following Aralyd, Madog barely notices Diane approach him and speak. Godfrey nudges Madog, shaking him out of reverie.

"Forgive me, Duchess. I'm weary."

"I can see that." Diane replies curtly. "Now then, let's get you to hospital. Your face is pale and your hands are cold. You look like walking death."

"Lady, it is but exhaustion." Madog says. "But I will do as you say."

At the thought of going to hospital Madog feels vigor return. Many of his comrades fell this day. Madog cringes once more, seeing the Saxon axe crushing Sir Morial's skull as Madog helplessly watched. At hospital Madog can once more be of use. The toil at least will also distract him from raw memories of the day.

They reach the hospital pavilions. Many men, most with bandages tied around limbs or body, wait outside. Once inside someone hands Madog a wineskin, from which he drinks deeply. A maid approaches with a crusty loaf and a hunk of cheese. Madog eats quickly, knowing that food now will help him tend the wounded much better through the night. The food, thoughts of his own health and the musky smell of warm blood root his thoughts in the present. It is said that a healer's work is woman's work, or else it is for the clergy. Chirurgery is beneath the station of knighthood. Yet here among the dying Madog knows differently. Compassion to those in need, love to the hurt and solace to the dying, are the greatest gifts a Christian can give. Such gifts ennoble the knight, though it may sully him in others' eyes. Refreshed and with renewed purpose, Madog stands to labor again.

First he looks about for the men of his eschille. There are Rhodri and Rhys, unconscious side by side. A young girl sits beside Sir Rhys washing his wound to put on a fresh bandage. Quickly examining them Madog sees that they are not in mortal danger. He moves on to others. By nightfall the worst are addressed. Many will not survive till dawn. Priests move among the pallets to administer last rites. Long after the sun sets Madog finally leaves the hospital to allow himself some rest.

The sound of revelry drifts down from the city. All who are not too wounded feast with the people of St. Albans. In the great hall of the palace King Uther celebrates with the peers of Logres and heroes of the day. Weary and uninspired, Madog resolves to simply get some food and find a quiet place to sleep. He enters the city and begins searching for his companions.

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Study in Flesh 3 by Sick Snowangel at Deviant Art

The smell of roasting meat and bread wafts through the city streets. Commoners commingle with soldiers from across the kingdom. Rough looking warriors carouse through the bricked square in front of the cathedral, a tankard in one hand and willing wench in the other. Men collapsed from drink lie in scattered corners, a mockery of the wounded convalescing outside the city. The debauchery only serves to further exhaust Madog as he searches for his friends.

Madog's search is cut short by a horrified shriek from the keep. He hears more shouts. Most of the people on the street ignore the sounds, lost in drink or a lover's embrace. Modog races to the keep, where he finds the huge double-doors thrown open. Inside can be heard the wailing of many voices. Two other men, still dressed in hauberks, rush by with spears.

A man comes stumbling out of the darkness within and falls to his knees. Madog rushes in to crouch next to the man. The man heaves violently, spewing forth gobbets of food. Spasms wrack his body, now on all fours at the base of the drawbridge. His back arches and once more gushes a putrid stream. Madog clasps his arms round the man to steady him. The man looks up at Madog's face. Blood streams from his nose and eyes. His lips are swollen and contorted in pain. Wide eyes show the insanity that comes from utter terror. It takes a few seconds before Madog recognizes the face, Sir Aragore ap Gerdig, brother-in-law to Godfrey and household knight of Earl Hertford. Aragore convulses. A surge flows out from his mouth again. Bloody chunks of flesh drop to the ground. With horror, Madog realizes Aragore vomits up pieces of his own innards.

"Christ's Blood! Aragore…" Madog starts.

Aragore looks up once more. His eyes roll back and he collapses to the ground, blood trickling out of his mouth and nose onto the wooden boards of the drawbridge.

More shouts arise from inside the keep. Someone yells that King Uther is dead. Another lady screams. Terrified, Madog rushes into the great hall. In all his days of gory battle, never had Madog seen so grisly a sight as what met him that night. The flower of Logres lay heaped in the hall, covered in their own foul discharge. The roster of dead brought many men to tears in the years that followed. King Uther is dead; as is Duke Clarence, Earl Salisbury, Earl Jagent, Earl Tribuit, and on and on. Nearly every great lord of the realm, every peer, every hero of Logres is dead. The wine served at the high hall brought death. Even a blessing by Archbishop Dubricus was not enough to quell the magical poison.

"Daddy!"

The cry comes from behind an upturned table. Sir Madog's oldest son, just this Spring paged to Earl Hertford, sits weeping on the ground. Beside the boy Earl Aralyd of Hertford lies in a fetal curl, his feet twitching uncontrollably. Madog rushes to the Earl; but, Aralyd is unresponsive. Madog clasps his son to him, thanking God the boy only served his lord instead of partaking in the feast himself.


"I'll not swear fealty to a woman! We need strong men to lead Hertfordshire. With Saxons to the East, chaos to the South and Rhydychan harassing us from the West, what can a woman do to help?"

Lord Arawine shouts furiously, limping back and forth across the flagstones of St. Alban's council chamber. At the table round which he paces sit Sir Rhodri, Countess Elaine and Lord Blelyd ap Caramig, heir to the late Marshal Hemel Hempstead. A handful of worthy knights stand around the room interjecting.

"Could you see a woman on the battlefield? That's laughable!" snickers Sir Ad Ansam. Sir Rhys snorts at the jest. Others around the room nod in agreement.

"Lord Arawine, you exactly restate my point." Countess Elaine continues unabashed. "This is an age when we must remain united. My son, Ardden, is six years old; but, seasons pass quickly and soon he will be a man. We must work together to weather the storm until Ardden ascends to county seat. Swear your fealty to me now. This is the way to ensure our safety."

The room erupts in bickering. Some see the wisdom in Countess Elaine's words and promise to serve her. Others are less certain about the Countess' leadership. Sir Rhodri, one of the chief councilors to the Countess, characteristically speaks of unity in the face of adversity. Others around him side with Arawine, calling for the leadership of a knight instead of a lady.

Shortly the council breaks up and Rhodri meets with his friends. Together they determine that only in unity will they find safety. None trust Lord Arawine of Berkhamstead, who was wounded at battle and so escaped death at the Infamous Feast. The estates of our player knights are scattered throughout the four corners of Hertfordshire. Lewarewich, masterless with the death of Sir Morial, is threatened by Rhydychan. Boxbourne, Sawbridgetooth and Stowemarket sit exposed on the frontier to King Æthelswith of Essex. A possible ally in Caercolun, Diane's vassals threaten rebellion. Danger lurks at every border. Our knights decide to consolidate their strength. They will serve Countess Elaine until Ardden can rightfully claim his place.

Christmas is a sad affair this year. Countess Elaine holds Christmas court at St. Albans while Hertford Castle is repaired. Defenders forced the Saxon army to pay dearly for every stone of Hertford Castle. The fighting caused much of Hertford town to burn and left gaping holes in the walls of the keep. Elsewhere Countess Elaine spares no funds in rebuilding what the Saxon horde destroyed. Little money is spent on gifts to the nobility.

What good news comes this season is of Sir Lan of Sawbridgetooth. Queen Ygraine declared Uther's dying wish was that all prisoners be set free. Sir Lan rejoined his fellows at Christmas. Also at the Christmas festivities, Sirs Madog and Rhodri pledge their fealty to Countess Elaine along with a handful of other knights. The shrewd Countess seems adept at consolidating power under her and assuring a good chance that her son will assume the earldom, if only they can survive long enough.

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Song of the Rohirrim by Merlkir at Deviant Art

Glory Awards (for entire year, including courtly awards)

  • Morial - Died gloriously at the Battle of St. Albans for 1340 glory.
  • Rhodri - Served admirably as eschille commander at the Battle of St. Albans for 912 glory.
  • Madog - Only knight to make it through the session without going unconscious for 852 glory.
  • Bledri - Backup player knight for 732 glory.
  • Godfrey - Backup player knight for 732 glory.
  • Edar - Backup player knight, went missing from the Battle of St. Albans for 682 glory.
  • Rhys - Served well but went down earlier than most in battle for 672 glory.
  • Landry - Backup player knight, went missing from the Battle of St. Albans for 340 glory.
  • Lan - Imprisoned early, 20 glory for participation in court events.

Manor Events

All numbers do not include investment costs or income. In addition, any who participated in the Battle in St. Albans receive an additional 10£ of booty. Sir Morial's widow, Iulia, receives his 10£ share.

Boxbourne

Æthelswith's men torched the manor house and bakery. Most of the foodstuffs and herd were taken as well. Still, the fields were not burnt and many of the peasants fled into the wood to survive. 3£ income, 3£ debt, +3 hate. Bakery and manor house destroyed.

Betlowe

The commons of Betlowe long held the belief that the gentle folk of the forest need to be appeased with sweetmeats on the full and new moons. Though the sweetmeats were never eaten and always given to the destitute of Betlowe, still the people kept alive their tradition. With the Enchantment now coming into play, the legend becomes reality. To their surprise, sweetmeats this year were found nibbled upon every fortnight. Sometimes only crumbs remained. In return for the favor, the faeries near Betlowe sent silver lamps floating over the fields during harvest. More was harvested than expected because of the late night work. Alas; but, the steward was duped of all Betlowe's gold by a traveling tinker and so still Betlowe is poorer at the end of the year. 3£ income, 2£ debt.

Sawbridgetooth

The food stores are plundered, much of the herd taken and many homes in the village put to the torch. Luckily the steward survived and returned to harvest what was possible. Most of the commoners also survived. There is no need to support the Earl's footmen any longer; but, upkeep on the moat and rampart will cost Sir Lan now (1£). 3£ income, 3£ debt.

Bushey

Hoof and mouth spreads through southern Hertford, Silchester and northeastern Salisbury cattle. Bushey is hit by it; but, this only results in less livestock for the Saxons to steal. Most of the foodstuffs are plundered. The commons once again bonded with their lord and shared all they could with the notable knight. 2£ income, 4£ debt, care increased.

Stowemarket

Though the crops did passably well, the harvest was still poor due to no steward being present to coordinate the peasant's work. Moreover, most of the sheep were lost. Who is the scoundrel that gave away Steward Gewaine to the Saxons? 2£ income, 3£ debt.

Lewarewich

Distracted by the death of her husband, Iulia was unable to serve well at her distaff duties. The harvest partially rotted on the stalk. 3£ income, 3£ debt.

Heytesbury House

Hoof and mouth disease struck the cattle. Luckily cattle from Hertford and Huntington refugees were very cheap as they sold what they could not keep. And with the arousal of Uther came a welcome fertility to the land. Love for the kingdom also inspired the peasants and they gave all they could to the landlord and Uther's troops. Overall this was a fine year for Heytesbury,. 9£ income, 4£ surplus.

Chesham

Plundered by Saxons, who also burnt down 1/4 of the village, the commons of Chesham begin to resent their lord for not protecting them. 3£ income, 2£ debt, +3 hate.

High Wycomb

Spared Saxon villainy and nurtured by the fine weather, High Wycomb had an excellent harvest. 12£ income, 7£ surplus.

Henlow

Knowing what was coming, Madog hid all his valuables and took the herd to High Wycomb. All that could be taken was spared. Though some of the crops were torched and some of the food taken, the Saxons were more interested in continuing through to greater prey. This left Henlow surprisingly unmolested. Earl Hertford's silver medallion gift was still very appreciated. 7£ income (counting medallion, 1£ surplus.)

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