Monday, February 1, 2010

[Solo GPC] 490 (Session 2): Watching the Wheels

After the high drama of last week's session, this week was quite low-key by comparison. We finished off the year 490 with a series of ominously foreshadowing events, events which, with a couple exceptions, Herringdale was largely merely a witness to rather than an active participant.



We left off last time with King Uther's army outside the walls of Eburacum. Having utterly broken the Saxon army at the Battle of Lindsey and taken the Saxon generals Octa and Eosa captive, Uther had proceeded north to meet with the Centurion King of Malahaut. Although the King of 100 Knights awaited Uther's arrival outside Eburacum's gates with his army at his back, the mood was relaxed and non-confrontational. The two kings soon made plans to retire to Catterick for a sort of "royal summit."

I had told Des after last session that Herringdale would have three choices of how to proceed from here: as a hero of the Battle of Lindsey, he could continue on with Uther to Catterick as part of the King's honor guard; he could join a punitive raiding force being arranged by Prince Madoc to ravage the now-defenseless Saxon kingdoms of Nohaut and Deira; or he could remain behind in Eburacum and mope at the side of his lord, Earl Roderick.

Ultimately, after some thought, Des chose to ride with King Uther's honor guard. She explained her reasoning as wanting some kind of action to distract her from mulling over the death of Sir Jordans, but being weary of war and bloodshed and not being particularly interested in killing women and children, Saxons though they may be. I gave her a check in Merciful for this, a trait Herringdale's well known for already.

And so Sir Herringdale set out in the vanguard of the two great kings, arriving in Catterick in two days' time. There camp was made and there was much hunting and feasting. Herringdale mainly kept a low profile, still quite subdued and distracted. He mainly focused on doing his duty as a member of the honor guard, standing watch outside Uther's tent and remaining close to the king at all times.

After a week and a half, three other worthies arrived to join the summit: Eurain, King of Rheged; Duke Cambenet, coming on behalf of his lord King Uriens of Gore; and the King of Garloth, brother-in-law to the powerful northern lord King Lot of Lothian. After a grand hunt in which several boars were taken a great feast out under the stars was arranged to mark the arrival of the nobility.

Tables were set up in a meadow outside Catterick. As the boars roasted on spits over great bonfires, Uther stood to deliver a speech. Standing nearby on guard duty was Sir Herringdale. Fortunately, he was able to make his Awareness roll and spotted a serving girl creeping close to the unsuspecting King, drawing a small dagger from beneath her cloth belt.

Herringdale sprang into action, launching himself at the girl and bowling her over the banquet table, sending goblets, mugs, trenchers, and the salt cellar flying. The girl sprang to her feet amidst the startled cries and shouts of the assembled nobility. She chucked her knife at Uther (missing badly), spat a curse at him in some barbaric German tongue, and hared off. Herringdale attempted to give chase, but missed his DEX check to vault over the upturned banquet table, and the girl had a Move twice that of most of the assembled knights anyway. She disappeared into the night, leaving Uther to thank Sir Herringdale for saving him a rather nasty scratch.

As pages righted the banquet table, Uther continued his speech, telling of the Adventure of Sword Lake (no doubt sparing Herringdale another embarrassing failure on his Orate skill) and the recovery of Excalibur and finishing his tale with a flourishing of the sword itself, much to the delight and astonishment of the assembled rulers.

That bit of excitement marked the end of the summit, and the next day Uther and his entourage decamped to Eburacum. This concluded the first part of the year's adventures. Unusually, things were due to continue on into a "Winter Court" segment, and so we pressed on.

(Truth be told, I was at a bit of a loss during the first half of the session. If Herringdale had gone raiding, there would have been some fairly direct actions initiated by that. And if he had stayed in Eburacum, I could have just skipped to the Winter Court sequence by saying, "A couple weeks pass as you mope around the castle and tend to your lord, then Uther comes back." But with the choice to follow the King's Progress to Catterick, I realized I didn't have a whole lot to work with; I had planned a little adventure for that eventuality, but it had been on the assumption that Jordans would still be around, so that was out the window. In the end, I took a suggestion out of the GPC and improvised the assassination attempt, which provided a bit of fun action at least.)

And so Uther and his lords began their triumphant return to the southern lands. The days were growing ever shorter, and one after another the King's various lords asked to be released of their duties so they could return to their lands before winter set in. Time and again Uther granted these requests--with one exception: he would not release Duke Gorlas and his wife, Igraine to return to Cornwall. Speculation ran rampant as to why this should be so. Most believed it was simply prudence on the King's part: Gorlas had hardly proven himself a loyal vassal, his recent heroics at the Battle of Lindsey notwithstanding. Yet there were others who whispered that it was not Gorlas that Uther wished to keep close, but the Duchess Igraine.

Intrigued by these rumors, Herringdale occupied his thoughts while on the road south with careful observation. By the time the progress had reached London, Herringdale had come to a single inescapable conclusion: Uther, despite all his recent triumphs, was deeply unhappy, and the source of this misery was none other than Igraine. (In other words, Des criticaled her Intrigue roll and found out the whole truth!) In game, Des explained this by saying that Herringdale, normally so blind to the subtleties of romance and the ways of women, recognized in Uther's gaze when he looked upon Igraine the same firey desire that Sir Jordans used to have for Herringdale. Putting two and two together...

By the time London hove into view, the first snow of winter had fallen. It was Herringdale's first visit to a big city, and like any knight he found it most disagreeable. The people did not, as a rule, show proper deference to his lordly status, he picked up a nasty hacking cough on his first day in the city, got miserably lost on his second, and had a chamber pot emptied on his head the third! Nevertheless, he  managed to see a few touristy attractions and picked up some lovely gifts for his wife: an uncut diamond from a jeweler and some fine perfume from an alchemist.

When he wasn't walking around London, hacking and covered in muck, Herringdale was up at the White Tower attending feasts and courtly gatherings. One such feast, to which Herringdale was specifically invited as a guest of honor, particularly rankled him. Despite his unfortunate experiences in London, at least he hadn't been thinking about Sir Jordans. Now here was yet another feast to honor the heroes of Lindsey, and yet another reminder of what was lost there.

As the evening wore on, and seeing that others had left (although he wasn't sure who, exactly), Herringdale slipped away as well. Emerging from the keep, he saw a great curtain of snow beginning to fall. Cursing his life and dreading having to make the three day journey home with the Earl through a snowstorm the next day, Sir Herringdale suddenly spotted a group of men and women down in the bailey, wrapped in traveling cloaks and mounting up on horses as if they were making ready to leave immediately!

Recognizing this as a great breach of the King's hospitality, Herringdale descended to the bailey and hailed the travelers. Try as he might, he couldn't quite make out their details; maybe it was the snow, but something else seemed to be keeping the men and women slightly fuzzy and indistinct around the edges, causing them to virtually blend in with the falling curtain of white. Finally, however, Herringdale drew close enough to recognize the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall!

"My lord," said Herringdale, "why do you make as if to flee in the night? The King will not like this at all--he'll sorely miss your presence." As he said this last bit, he looked directly at Igraine, who met his gaze with a scowl and a spiteful fire in her eyes. Way to go Herringdale, making friends in all the right places it seems...

At any rate, Duke Gorlas clearly caught the meaning as well. Having mounted his horse, he wheeled it around to interpose himself between Herringdale and the group, who now began to ride quickly off through the gates.

"Certain knights would do well to remember their place, Sir," said the Duke. "And if they value the King as highly as they claim, they would also do well not to pry too deeply into what lurks in the royal heart."

At this, he wheeled his horse around and rode off as well. Herringdale watched them go. They very quickly disappeared into the snowfall--a little too quickly perhaps. Thoroughly confused--and a bit chastened--Herringdale returned to his lodgings in town.

The next morning, it was later said, all of London was awoken by Uther's scream of outrage when he discovered the Duke's duplicity...

And so Herringdale returned home, laden with battle loot and covered in Glory but with a deep hole in his heart that mirrored the heartbreak that the King, Duke, and Duchess were all grappling with in their own ways and for their own reasons. Such was the anger and vengeance of Uther, war against Cornwall the following year is a certainty. As a precaution against uncertain times, Herringdale spent a large portion of his battle winnings constructing a wooden palisade around his manor to go with the moat he'd dug a couple years earlier. But he also planted a large walnut and cherry orchard as an investment for his old age and for his children. Would that he lives to see the first cherry blossoms come into bloom, eh? We shall see.

At the very least, Sir Herringdale has secured a fairly enviable legacy. With his heroics at Lindsey (plus his usual annual awards), he amassed about 1,500 Glory, a truly stunning tally. This was enough to put him up over 4,000 Glory, taking him well into the "Notable Knight" category. What this means is that Sir Herringdale can now go to pretty much any corner of Logres and expect to find his reputation preceding him. As Logres covers about half of modern-day England, that's a fair chunk of territory and a fair bit of notoriety!

Des said she really enjoyed having some choices to mull over for the next session when we last played, so I gave her a couple more to chew on this time as well. I told her that in the coming year, Herringdale could fight in a battle and win lots of Glory, or perhaps witness an Event and win none. She's leaning towards the latter choice, but won't make up her mind for sure until our next session.

[A final personal note: in an unexpected but exciting turn of events it looks like Des and I will be decamping from San Francisco at the end of the month and moving back to my home town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. So things might go a little quiet around here as we get closer to moving day, but fear not, regular updates will resume in March!]

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