Saturday, March 20, 2010

[Solo GPC] 497: The Battle of Du Plain Castle

If you're familiar with the geography of Salisbury, the title of this year's update should clue you in right away to the events that would unfold during our latest Pendragon session. The Anarchy Phase arrived on Sir Herringdale's front doorstep this year...



Events picked up in the early spring, as Herringdale and his family enjoyed an Easter feast at Broughton Hall. There to entertain them was the jongleur troupe that Herringdale had begun sponsoring a couple years earlier. In addition to providing free entertainment whenever they passed through the area, the real value of the troupe was the gossip they collected as they traveled around Logres (reflected in granting Herringdale a free check in Intrigue). This year there was much to report, as the three chief entertainers tripped over each other in their eagerness to report the news.

"The Collegium has collapsed amidst accusations, bickering, and recriminations!"

"The knights of Caer Colun have defeated a small force of East Saxons in battle. Perhaps there is some hope after all?"

"The Saxon tribute was paid by nearly everyone last year--even the Dukes of Lindsey and Silchester ponied up!"

"King Clovis of the Franks has finally fulfilled his promise and been baptized. Will wonders never cease?"

"Many kings are marching to war, and they are hiring lordless knights to fight with them. King Idres of Cornwall is on the move, as is King Cerdic of Wessex."

"And the brothers called the Three Cadlews have come down from the wild north to take the kingdom of Norgales from the ruling de Gales clan!"

"Monkey news coming up next..."

A few days later, as he headed out from Broughton Hall for Sarum Castle, Herringdale was still mulling over all the news he'd received. Clearly things were getting increasingly unstable. How long before strife and unrest visited Salisbury? What ill news would the Countess have for him upon his arrival?

In the echoing emptiness of the castle's great hall, dimly lit by the half-light filtering in from overcast skies outside, Countess Ellen met with her Marshall, Sir Herringdale.

"I have had envoys from the East Saxons and from Wessex," she said. "They both want tribute this year. Can we afford to meet both their demands? Can we stand against either?"

Herringdale considered the question. Blowing his Stewardship roll, he really had no idea what the county could bear--he was still getting to know it from the perspective of a lord, after all. But he knew in his heart what to do, logistics be damned.

"We cannot give in to their demands," he told the Countess. "Else next year there will be yet another of these blood suckers latched on to us, all of them bleeding us dry with their demands. Better to take a stand and go down fighting than to give in to barbarians."

The Countess said nothing in return, but in her silence Herringdale could tell he had made an impact with his speech.

A couple days later, while walking the battlements of the castle, Herringdale spotted a ragged rider entering the bailey through the main gate. Heading down to investigate, he learned the man was from Cornwall.

"I seek for Queen Igraine at Amesbury Abbey," said the mud-spattered messenger. "King Idres is on the march and Tintagel Castle is under siege. She'll know what to do."

Herringdale saw to it that the traveler was fed and given a fresh horse before he went on his way to the nearby Abbey, despite knowing that there was little Igraine could do to help her homeland from so far away. And the machinations of would-be conquerors still seemed so abstract and unreal. Yet how long before the wolves began showing up at Salisbury's borders?

Putting these concerns out of his mind, Herringdale departed Sarum to see to his duties as Marshall: riding patrol around the county, tending to taxation assessments, dispensing low justice. After dispatching these duties and a brief spell back at Broughton Hall, he returned to Sarum in the late summer; Duke Ulfius of Silchester was due to make a visit, his first since the fateful Battle of St. Albans.

Herringdale attended the feast in his capacity as Marshall, and was seated on Countess Ellen's right, while the old Roman Ulfius sat to her left. Herringdale studied him surreptitiously. Beneath his silver, close-cropped hair, the Duke looked pallid, his cheeks slightly sunken. Clearly he had not yet fully recovered from the injuries suffered at St. Albans. Yet his manner was boisterous, and the feast passed pleasantly enough.

After the last course was cleared away, the Duke leaned back in his chair, picking at his teeth with an ivory toothpick.

"A fine feast, wouldn't you agree Sir Herringdale? It is well to have such repasts at a time so filled with uncertainty. I suppose you've heard of what befell the Isle of Wight last month?"

Herringdale shot Ellen a quick glance, but her face was an unreadable mask.

"No, not as such," he replied.

"It would seem the lord of the Isle refused to pay tribute to King Cerdic. So that half-Saxon bastard took his whole army and invaded the island! Now the lord hangs from a gibbet, and Cerdic's son Cynric sits atop his throne instead."

"Indeed?" said Herringdale, trying to sound impassive, though the implications of the Duke's news were clear.

"Times have changed. The Saxons wax ever more powerful," said Ulfius.

"Is that why," the Countess asked coolly, "you have allied yourself with King Aelle?"

Ulfius displayed not a hint of surprise at Ellen's words, but Herringdale nearly fell out of his seat.

"Indeed," said Ulfius. "The old system is no more, and the sooner we recognize this, the easier it will be for all concerned."

Herringdale's head was spinning. King Aelle! The very Saxon king that Herringdale, Ulfius, and all of Uther's army had fought against at Mearcred Creek. And now Ulfius was that old Saxon dog's vassal. Only his high senses of Honor and Hospitality checked Herringdale's tongue. Besides, he suddenly wasn't feeling very well--all those eel pies and meat tiles weren't sitting so well in his stomach anymore.

A couple days later, Herringdale was on his way home to Broughton Hall. He rode alone; his squire, Beleus, had received a missive from his home county of Rydychan--apparently, now that he was 18, he was to return home and receive his inheritance and knighthood. So Herringdale had lots of time to think during the day-long ride. Despite the hot summer sun shining down over golden fields of grain ripe for harvesting, Herringdale felt a chill. King Cerdic had finished off the Isle of Wight in one campaign season. Was Salisbury next? Times had changed, said Duke Ulfius. He was not the first to say such things. But to ally with the hated Saxons? No! Herringdale could not conceive of such a path. Perhaps the emissaries Ellen had dispatched to Escavalon and Lothian would bear fruit...

Returning home, Herringdale had much to take care of. There was the harvest to see to, of course. Then, as September wore on, Herringdale's new squire arrived; he was the younger brother of Sir Jaradan, one of Herringdale's ablest vassals, and he caught on quickly as Herringdale showed him the ropes.

It was early October when such bucolic proceedings were interrupted by a messenger who came to Broughton with ill news of the worst variety.

"My lord," said the man, who looked like he'd hiked through wild thickets and brambles to come to Herringdale's hall, "I beg to report that Du Plain castle is under attack."

"Under attack?" said Herringdale, scarcely believing his own ears. "By whom? King Cerdic?"

"No my lord," said the messenger. "It is Sir Blaines of Levcomagus."

"WHAT!?" Herringdale lept to his feet.

"He marched against us three days ago with a small army made up of his vassal knights and Saxon mercenaries. Our garrison is small, and although our walls are stout he will starve us out if we don't get outside help, I fear."

Herringdale wasted no time. He sent messengers flying to his vassals and family and issued a call to assemble the village levy. Two weeks passed as troops congregated from all corners of Salisbury. In all, Herringdale had about 50 knights under his command along with 150 foot troops. So it was that, as the first autumn leaves began to fall, Herringdale marched south towards Du Plain to confront the vile Sir Blaines.

As Herringdale's force came within sight of Du Plain, it was clear that Sir Blaines' force was at least twice his own in number. Cursing, Herringdale ordered his troops to deploy into line of battle, then sent his squire forth under flag of truce to arrange a parley. This was agreeable, and soon Herringdale was riding out into the open plain between the two forces, Sir Leo, Sir Lycus, and Sir Jaradan at his back. Riding towards him was Sir Blaines, backed by two knights of his own--and none other than Wulfhilda, the Saxon she-bitch that had cracked Herringdale's skull at Mearcred Creek and later led a raid on Broughton manor. As the two parties drew within hailing distance, she smirked at him; so she and her Saxon dogs had gone mercenary, and Sir Blaines was the highest bidder this year.

Des really wanted to pull a "movie-version Aragorn" and ride up to Wulfhilda and behead her, but knew it was the wrong thing to do in the moment. Or so she tried to backpedal. Ha ha, too late! Both her Honor and Hate (Saxons) are above 15 anyway, and in Pendragon if you have a trait that high you have to roll against it. So it was time for an opposed roll. Fortunately for Herringdale, although both rolls succeeded, the Honor roll was higher. Herringdale's hand began drifting towards his sword hilt before he checked himself, then addressed Sir Blaines.

"Why have you invaded our lands, sir?" asked Herringdale, his voice steady yet firm. Sir Blaines flashed him a crooked grin.

"Your lands? I believe Du Plain castle was the property of Earl Roderick, was it not? And since the current Earl is still in his minority, by my lights that makes for a castle without a rightful lord. In these uncertain times, that leaves its residents and those who depend on it rather vulnerable. I have come merely to secure the safety and continued prosperity of these lands."

"Earl Robert may be a child," said Herringdale, "but his mother rules in his stead, and she is the rightful ruler not only of this castle, but all these lands. To strike against Du Plain castle is to strike against her, and this I cannot allow."

Sir Blaines laughed at this, then, sounding eerily like Duke Ulfius, said, "My dear sir, times have changed. The old systems no longer hold, and any castle that does not have a lord residing in it may well as be a lordless castle. This is a time that favors the strong and the bold, not those who would serve a weak and ineffectual woman."

"So you say," said Herringdale, and he wheeled his horse around, riding back to his lines. As he did so, he drew his sword. "We ride to battle!" he shouted to his assembled troops, and was met with a great cheer.

And so began the Battle of Du Plain Castle. This was Herringdale's first time commanding any troops at all, much less the assembled host of Salisbury. Fortunately, Des had been boosting his Battle skill here and there over the years, and he rode into the fight with a skill of 14. Not great, but not terrible. Furthermore, although he was outnumbered two-to-one, he was fighting on home turf (or near enough); the penalty for the former was canceled out by the bonus for the latter.

With a blast of trumpets, the charge was sounded. Sir Blaines' forces counter-charged, and the mounted waves met in the middle with a terrific crash that belied the small size of the engagement. Herringdale's unit collided with a unit of mounted sergeantry, more mercenaries fighting for Blaines. Unfortunately, they were veterans of campaigns throughout Britain and the Continent, and although the momentum of the charge carried Herringdale's unit deep into the enemy ranks, his unit ended their charge shattered and disorganized.

In the wake of the charge, as Herringdale desperately tried to reorganize his unit, he came under attack from two sides. The veteran sergeants continued to press him on his front, then from his left flank came a unit of Sir Blaines' own knights, their spears leveled. Despite fighting valiantly (Des scored a Crit on one of her rolls and felled a knight, taking him hostage), Herringdale's unit was pressed back. As the second hour of battle passed into the third, Herringdale found himself disengaged from the battle. Two of his men had fallen in battle, and Herringdale had taken a rather nasty wound in the fighting. After his squire returned from escorting the captive Levcomagus knight to the rear area, he tended to Herringdale's injury. Meanwhile, Herringdale kept a nervous eye on the battle. Spotting banners rising and falling, wavering, or moving to and fro, he ascertained from the general press of melee that his men were gradually being pushed back. By the fourth hour of battle, the writing was on the wall. Herringdale ordered the signal of the general retreat. As his bloodied units fell back, Herringdale dove back into melee, forming the core of the rearguard as he crossed swords with a unit of Saxon mercenaries.

The battle was lost, but the retreat was orderly. Sir Blaines had won the field, but Herringdale's forces had acquitted themselves ably. The Steward of Levcomagus would think twice before pressing deeper into Salisbury. Of course, now Du Plain castle was doomed to fall into the hands of Sir Blaines, and as such a chunk of Salisbury territory would now come under the dominion of Levcomagus, who would now have an ideal launching point for further raids, should he so choose.

As he rode back in defeat towards Broughton Hall, Sir Herringdale speculated as to which armed force would show up on his doorstep first: Sir Blaines or King Cerdic?

After those rather depressing events, we moved onto Winter Phase. Things actually went pretty well, in large part because there was no tribute paid that year. The treasury was further bolstered by the ransom collected for the knight Herringdale had taken in battle. Furthermore, Herringdale's geese continued to churn out golden eggs, and another gosling was born to boot! Six wonderful geese! Why won't they start dying? And what happens when Sir Blaines catches word of these miraculous geese and covets them for himself? Hmmmm...

A couple other notes: in light of the rapidly degenerating situation abroad, Herringdale opted to hire a unit of archers to man his hall's defenses. Also, this marked the last year before Herringdale has to start making Aging rolls every Winter. For the past several Winters, Des has been bulking up Herringdale's Size attribute. Clearly he's letting himself go a bit in his old age...



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