Tuesday, December 05, 2006

530 Adventure of the Stygian Stallions

Sir Clydno, Le chevalier Doight; of MarlboroughSir Leodegrance the Lesser, Knight of the Round Table; of SalisburySir Galonors; of SalisburySir Gerin, son of the Great Duke
Sir Cynfyn of Clarence
Sir Mynyddog of Lindsey
The Adventure
Sir Gerin and I went to London. He is so generous! He purchased a fine cloak for me worth £4! I guess that’s the difference being the bastard son of a duke and the bastard son of a count. Well, plus his brother gave him a manor and I got a mural room.
Well, I do not begrudge my brother the count of Marlborough. He honors my desire to earn my own way, and not rely upon unnatural largesse, simply because he is my brother.
Besides, I have the finger! It’s from my dear, dear sainted mother (may she rest in peace.) This wonderful relic of our dear Saint Alban, who was as everyone knows the first Saint in the whole world. Except for those twelve friends of Jesus. And his mother. And father. And Joseph of Arimathea who brought the Grail to Britain. Ah yes, first martyr. But Saint Alban was the first martyr ever in the world, you know. An I have his finger. And I’m glad, because it kept me alive against Camille, and since I am the keepr of this wonderful thing it gives me more free time. I don’t have to go to Mass like everyone else, etc etc.
Later we met with our friends in London. They had taken a tour of their lands in Sussex and were talking something about how awful Sir Jerry’s manor was, but Sir Leodegrance’s was so nice. Someday I am sure I’ll understand what that stuff about manors is all about.
We had a horse race. Sir Cynfyn of Clarence was a newcome among us. He bumped Gerin’s horse and so beat him. Those Clarence and Gloucester guys are always doing that kind of thing to each other. But Sir Galonors—always the rightout and super-just—protested and challenged Sir Cynfyn to a joust over the bump. Cynfn wanted to know why—"I didn’t bump you, did I? Is Gerin protesting? Why do you want to joust me?" But Galonors insisted, "for justice," he said, "to teach some manners."
Well, Sir Cynfyn had a couple of things to teach to Galonors! "Sir Superjust" took the fall. He took his defeat well, and Cynfyn was kind enough to accept his victory well too.
While in London we heard that the Bleoberis, the Count of Essex, was going to have a tournament. We heard, too, that the prize was going to be a trio of fabulously unusual horses, so the five of us went to see them. Count Bleoberis is a good fellow (and neither ambitious or crazy like his cousin, Lancelot, seems to be.) We went to view the steeds.
Even from a distance they were more than I ever expected to see. First, they were the biggest horses I’ve ever even seen. I’ve seen a few Andalusions around, but these were bigger yet. Plus they were all jet black. Not just "horse black" (which is really dark, dark brown) but as black as my hair. Incredible! They were gorgeous as they ran across the field in the distance, led (it seemed) by a half dozen men.
We went closer to see them and, much to our astonishment, found the earl’s groom laying wounded upon the ground! He told us he’d been ambushed by thieves who had run off with the horses. Justly alarmed, we set off immediately in pursuit. We were distracted briefly by a band of men on horseback who attacked us most foully with bow and arrow, but while we chased them away the horses escaped.
We chose to arm properly—for we were naturally wearing our lordly, but non-combat, dress. We gathered travel gear, some rations and, with out squires, set off. The biggest problem was with Sir Leodegrance, who had to decide whether to go with his proper entourage of servants, dogs and so on, as befits a Round Table knight. He decided haste was more important than protocol, and we set off.
We followed the trail late into the night. Next day, tacked some more, going late. The pursued took many evasive actions like going up and down streams, so our journey was slower than we’d hoped. It led us north into Anglia, where the trail was lost. Even the great tracker, Sir Leodegrance, could not follow it. It must have been witchcraft to fool him!
Anglia again! Those damned Angles! The only one among them that is not damned is my own dear, sweet precious wife Leofaled. It is astonishing that such a sweet creature could be born of such wretched troublemakers! Each knight as I stood guard I thought of her often.
Sir Gerin had noted a coat of arms or symbol among the thieves. We didn’t know it, nor did anyone we questioned. But we were advised to search the great horse market in Thetford, where surely we thought the steeds had been brought.
What great horse flesh they have there! We searched among the many, many merchants and though we saw black horses, and some large horses, they were not the ones we sought. At last we had a hint, though—Sir Galonors got a promise from a shady fellow who would sell them to us! The fellow said to bring the money, alone, to a certain abandoned barn. He convinced them that he could not come alone, but needed a groom and, of course, a squire as befitted his station. Sir Cynfyn disguised himself as a squire—a sure sign of his base origns, I think. My own squire, Bruno, disguised himself as the groom. We sat, horsed, nearby, in case of treachery. And a good thing too! We heard sounds of struggle and crashed forward to save Sir Galonors from being overwhelmed. But they were just bandit scum and we dispatched them easily. It had all been a just ruse to rob a good knight of his money, and we were glad to have delivered them to the justice of the sword and blood.
With his dying breath their leader proved his loathsome worth, for he told us the man we sought was among the knights of Duke Hervis, lord of Anglia. We went to his court, to tell the tale and search the stables. We found good reception there—the Duke remembers our past services. (Just last year we rid him of the witch Camille, and years earlier, Leodegrance was among those at the sack of Guinnon.) We found no one at court with the arms we sought, however.
We spent a day hunting. Sir Gerin proved his mettle by slaying a fierce boar single-handed, on foot! It had mortally wounded his charger. The sport was wonderful, but it achieved nothing for our goal.
We did have a tiny clue from an old knight—that Sir Gerin knows how to Intrigue! The old man thought he remembered having seen a shield such as Gerin described. It had been years earlier, at a manor down on the river marking the southern border of Anglia.
First, though, we went back to Thetford so Sir Gerin could replace his charger. Now, with more time to actually search out prices we discovered one merchant who had some excellent Andalusian stallions for sale. I spent all the libra that I had, plus some borrowed from my good friend Sir Gerin, to purchase a handsome, healthy one for myself. Nearly everyone did. Sir Gerin’s was white, but of the normal ones, my chestnut was most handsome, I think. I have named him Crusher.
[End of session. New Session, we begin again.]
We decided to set off again. Sir Cynfyn and Mynyddog decided to remain in Thetford to search some more and to watch in case the destriers were brought there. We left them reluctantly.
We spent days searching along the river. Everywhere we went we found empty villages, their villains scattered before we appeared. At last we found some of the peasants at a hamlet by the river, but they were scurrilous and abusive folk. Liars. We saw a huge horse track, and they said they didn’t know what it was. Finally with a rope, a tree limb and some simple words I did get one to speak, who claimed the tracks were of a river horse. A monster! That could be good adventure! He took us to see the lair of the monster. But he lied, and so fo course I threatened him again, and his children so that, at last, he confessed to us there was a manor nearby with the sought-for coat of arms. Sir Galonors protested my treatment, saying it was cruel and unjust. By my good Lord who died on the Cross! You know why I call him the "superjust!" It was just a peasant, a liar, and a Saxon one at that! Well, I owe Galonors my life, so I turned the rope over to him, and the kind knight released the peasant who immediately befouled the name of our great king, cursed Sir Leodegrance as "the butcher of Guinnon" and leapt in the river and swam away. (It’s moments like that when I wish I had learned crossbow!)
Ah, my good friend who saved my finger and pulled me from fire and sword, forgive me for the sarcasm I exhibited towards you. I meant no harm, but was bitter since, I daresay, I had been right.
Towards the end of the day we found said manor. It was half hidden, of the normal pathways. It appeared to be a Saxon estate, likely one still in the hands of some heiress. As usual in this land the people scattered as we approahced. We saw the arms, pained on over the doorway, much faded away.
I searched the stable and saw mostly empty stalls. Meanwhile Sir Galonors, ever the gentleman in any circumstance, spoke to the lady cowering in the manor and convinced her we were harmless towards her. Saxon or not, she was still noble after all. Her blond hair and blue eyes reminded me of my own dear wife. He convinced her to let us stay the night.
Poor meal, but generously given. The lady spoke candidly of the harsh treatment her people regularly got from the men of Duke Hervis. She knew of Sir Leodegrance, but bore no love for "the leader of the Guinnon battle," as she so delicately phrased it. Sir Gerin questioned her of the arms, and she admitted they were once borne by her husband, who had beena good man and great leader, but like all such Saxons, was a victim of our glorious victor at Mount Badon.
She was so sad! I was touched, for she reminded me, as I said, of my own dear wife. I thought, it was clear, that the Saxon women are so good, and the men so bad! If only, I thought, they could have been raised under the aegis and morals of our good King Arthur!
I can not see a lady in distress without offering some kind words. She seemed sceptical of me, but I then told her of my dear Anglish wife. I even asked if, perhaps, they were related. They are not. But she asked, "Do your love her, and she you?" and surely the love between us showed in my eyes for she was clearly touched.
That was when her young son, a bright and cheerful lad named Evan, dashed forth. Cheerful young lad, perhaps eight. Having been touched by her sorrow, the hopeless plight of her future, chatted with the boy. He told us he’d be a knight some day, and blurted out his other ambitious and innocent hopes. I saw promise in the boy. We asked further information about him, and she sent him from the room on some idle errand. She confessed, in shame, that her husband was dead twelve years, this boy but eight. I was moved by her shame, and explained that I was a bastard. Sir Gerin, that he was too.
I offered to take the lad into the household of my own, and to recommend him to my brother the Count. I thought privately to test my idea that these Saxons might be raised properly to serve our good king. I swore an oath to her to give the lad a chance, making it clear it would be up to him to prove himself. No guarantees! I swore on my dead father, my God and the finger I bear in the silver case about my neck. She agreed, and Evan was excited in the way that only an eight year old boy can be.
She looked happy for Evan, but some sorrow lingered. I told Evan, "You are now my servant, and you must go now to bed and leave us adults to discuss important matters." He left, happy. It was then that she confessed that her older son was the bearer of the arms we sought. That he was a thief and enemy of the Duke and of our King, and that he lived in a ruined manor of his father nearby.
Sir Gerin, apparantly, has a weakness for weeping women stronger than mine. He offered that if she would help us find her son then he would do his best to take the young man alive and bring him to King Arthur’s court instead of Duke Hervis’ for justice. She recognized that her son was an evil doer, but sought some solution to this plight. She saw in Gerin’s promise the only chance that he might live. She knew the fellow, Gerant or whatever his name was, was outlaw, thief, a wanted criminal and likely to be killed for his deeds. She wept yet again. Gerin promised, and swore, to take him alive if at all possible.
Oh, the plight of women! So helpless before a cruel duke (for indeed, now I see that Hervis is such!), and even before her wayward son.
Gerin got from her a sleeve of her dress to let her son recognize that he came from her.
The next day as we prepared to set off young Evan came to me, eager and anxious to please. I told him to take care of his mother, and he brandished his toy sword. I gave him my dagger, and said, "Use a real weapon now, Page. Take care of my charger in the stable, but don’t go close—he bites!" Then we set off, guided by an old charcoal burner to the hidden estate. After several hours of travel we reached it. Close timing! We saw that the horses were being loaded upon a barge. We wasted no time, but dashed towards the thieves—they were many, but they were just bandits.
I myself dashed right through them, striving to capture the stallions before they were aship. I grabbed one, and withdrew, and my squire Bruno was there at my side to take it from me quickly. Well done, I say, for I saw that Sir Gerin was engaged in combat with many of them and I rode upon them with sword. I killed one, and many broke and ran and I ran them down easily, striking softly to capture them rather than kill. They surrendered and I saw that Sir Gerin, the son of the duke, was having difficulty defeating his foe. That must have been, I correctly surmised, the son of our lady host, and so I rode up behind him and Crusher knocked him to the ground.
By that time I saw that the other stallions had also been captured, thanks to the efforts of Sir Leodegrance and Sir Galonors. We had four prisoners, one being the son of the lady; and all three horses.
We took them all back to the lady’s manor. She wept with joy to see her elder son again, alive. She begged him to do whatever we told him to do, for the sake of justice and his life. Evan was pleased too, but unsure of what to do until I carefully explained that he had opportunity to do better than his brother, if he learned the ways of King Arthur and lived a life of justice and chivalry. (Galonors gave me a strange look then.)
We set off then, with prisoners and stallions, to London, for the tournament drew nigh. I sent Bruno ahead in haste to bring me my best clothing to arrive in London in proper station. The other knights did the same.
Curiously, one night, while Sir Gerin was standing guard, our prize prisoner—the son of the lady—escaped! We quizzed our friend, who said he had fallen asleep on his watch. I swore it was not young Evan who had helped the prisoner escape, for he had been with me and Bruno all night. I thought Gerin was (and I blush to say this in private) lying. But he’s a good man, a good knight, the son of a duke and my friend. I won’t question him. If I am asked, I’ll simply repeat what Gerin told me: the prisoner escaped while Gerin slept.
After this, though, I did get permission to question the other bandits. Without too much threatening and persuading they confessed to me that they’d been in the hire of a foe of the Earl of Essex, who is Brandeoris de Ganis. They only knew badge of their employer, but I recognized it immediately—it was the King of Soissons, one of those damnable French kings who hate our own King Arthur, but hate the de Ganis clan more.
When arrived in London the first day of the tournament was nearly over. In our best raiment and leading the coal black stallions behind us we entered into the tournament ground and galloped before the astonished eyes of the people of Logres. Sire Leodegrance, naturally our spokesperson, related the adventure in simple language. The earl of Essex was especially pleased, of course, since he had his magnificent horses back. King Arthur praised us profusely. The earl declared that the steeds had been intended to be prizes at the tournament before they were stolen—he had hastily substituted some jewels. He proudly announced that he would now present one to the champion of the day’s jousting.
I was then struck by inspiration—we were late, I admitted, but I asked if we could not, nonetheless, joust with the champion of the Joust event of that day, since perhaps the earl and king might make exception considering the circumstances. They agreed.
The champion was, of course, the great knight Sir Gawaine. Perhaps the only knight who might beat him is that marvel, Sir Lancelot, but as usual, he had gone from court again. Mad and crazy, some say. Poor fellow. Great fighter, but not very steady in the head.
So we jousted. I, as the least of the knights present, went first. I actually successfully broke one lance against the great knight! On the next pass, however, I was struck from the saddle with a mighty blow. Knights told me afterwards that I spun through the air spread-eagled, like a star falling to the turf. I woke up as my dear Leofaled was stitching up my shoulder where the splinter of wood had penetrated.
Now I see the wisdom of the lesser knights jousting and falling out of the contest early. I’ve never jousted so great a fellow. I could have been killed by his rebated lance, so strong is Sir Gawaine! (Oh, Saint Albans, make me so great some day!)
Next day, beczasue my dear Lady Leofaled begged me to respect my wounds, I sat out the melee, encouraging my good friends to greater Glory. They did well. Of course, the Round Table knights were the most magnificent in the fight. Some strangers also did well. At the end the day the melee champion was chose, as usual. The King, earl and heralds all agreed, and declared it to be a stranger knight who had borne a blank shield through the day. The stranger was presented with the prize, the second stallion. The king then asked him to emove his closed helmet and show himself, but the knight refused to take off his helm. Instead he put the halter upon his lance tip and presented the horse to Queen Guenever, then spun and rode away without a word so quickly no one could react. From that gesture we all figured it was Sir Lancelot anonymously grandstanding again.
The third horse was given to the overall champion. Since the melee victor had gone, it was given to Sir Gawaine, who had won the jousting and received second prize in the melee. He looked magnificent as he circled the arena on his horse.
I am confident I will heal quickly, over the winter. My brother was proud to receive me back at his court in Marlborough, a proven adventurer.
My greatest worry after all this is about Sir Galonors. Surely we expect that Sir Leodegrance, an elder among us at 40, would be weakening from the ravages of age and the many wounds he has suffered in the service of King Arthur. But Sir Galonors is not so old, yet seems older that Leodegrance. No disease is apparent. What a strange mystery. Even his wife is worried.
530 Adventure of the Stygian Salions 100 Glory
Got new Chestnut Andalusian, Crusher (£15)
Tourney of Essex 45 Glory
Annual Glory 88 Glory
Winter Updae, +1 STR (now 5d6 damage!)


And you know, while everyone was milling around after the tournament, congratulating the winners, if you caught a glance of Sir Galonors standing next to the crusty old Marshall of Salisbury, you'd swear that Sir Galonors was ten years older than Sir Mortimer.
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