Monday, May 3, 2010

[Solo GPC] 501: Weddings and Warfare

Well, things are starting to accelerate now for sure. I've been looking forward to running this year because of a couple set-piece encounters; the player-driven developments of the past couple years only added to the uncertainty and intriguing possibilities. As I mentioned in my last post, part of the fun for me as a GM is not knowing how things are going to turn out in a given session. I've only become more adamant on this position as I've gotten older; thus my increased use of random tables in D&D, for instance. Pendragon tends to generate enough "random events" through its base mechanics that I don't often need to resort to random tables, but this year ended off with my first playtest of my siege rules, and they didn't fail to disappoint. So on to the action, then...

We had left off on something of a high note for Herringdale and Salisbury in general. The Saxons were distracted by infighting amongst themselves, and Herringdale had managed to secure the promise of an alliance through marriage between Countess Ellen of Salisbury and King Nanteleod of Escavalon. As Nanteleod had intentions to push his campaign of consolidation north into Norgales the following season, he set the big wedding for the year after, 502. That left this year to business as usual, which for a Marshall of the County is never that usual after all.

First up, in accordance with the new house rule, we ran Winter Phase for the previous year. Things continued to break in Herrindale's direction as the winter passed without serious incident, the worst thing being the death of Broughton's old master falconer. Otherwise, despite Sir Blaines's mortgage taking a big chunk out of their revenue, Herringdale's subjects were able to lay aside enough provisions to get everyone through the cold months in one piece and Herringdale was able to again maintain himself at Rich level.

As Pentecost approached, Herringdale made ready to head out for his time of service to Countess Ellen. As always, this would involve checking in at Sarum, where he would then take a handful of vassal knights and ride patrol around the county, staying over at the Earl's castles for several days to adjudicate local disputes in the manner of a circuit court judge.

At Sarum, Herringdale received word from abroad. King Cerdic of Wessex had finally been bested in battle, and by a fellow Saxon no less. An upstart warlord by the name of Port had landed on the southern coast near Chichester and shortly afterwords put Cerdic's army to flight. The Wessex king begrudgingly granted Port some land on the coast, and a city that the invading warlord named after himself: Portchester. Further east, the lords of Huntington and Hertford sent out urgent pleas for assistance against the marauding Angles marching forth from the remains of the Duchy of Caercolun.

But these concerns seemed so far away on that pleasant summer afternoon, and both Herringdale and Ellen chose to focus instead on the pending nuptials to Nanteleod and the security that would come to Salisbury once the alliance was secured. With such pleasant thoughts in mind, Herringdale set off on his circuit ride of the county. He hadn't ridden far from Sarum when he encountered trouble.

It came as he was riding in sight of Amesbury Abbey. That venerable complex was normally such an island of quiet contemplation in the county that it didn't necessitate a visit from the Marshall, but this time around Herringdale was drawn by the sound of the Abbey's bells, which were being rung frantically. Spurring his horse on over gently rolling fields, he led his banner to the Abbey to investigate. At the gates, he found a gaggle of sobbing nuns.

"They've taken the ladies, my lord!"

"Who? What's going on?" queried Herringdale from atop his rearing, snorting horse.

"A band of Saxons broke in and took Queen Igraine. And young Morgan as well! They rode east not half an hour ago."

Without another word, Herringdale wheeled his horse around and sped off down the eastern road. Galloping full out, the Salisbury knights coursed up and down hills and dales, through small copses and thickets. Coming out of one such stretch of woodland, Herringdale brought his horse to a sudden halt. Before him lay a most gruesome tableau.

In the center of the road, stacked like a campfire bivouac, were a dozen Saxon warriors, all impaled upon their own spears. Their horses grazed calmly out in a nearby field. Seated on a low stone wall that ran along the perimeter of that field was none other than Queen Igraine and her daughter Morgan. The Queen was pale and wore a stretched, blank expression. Morgan, on the other, seemed completely nonplussed by the whole situation and sat idly plucking petals from a posey. Herringdale dismounted and approached the two ladies.

"What happened here?" he asked.

The Queen remained silent. Morgan, without looking up from her flower, said simply, "Oh them? They were...careless."

Giving Morgan a sideways glance and a nod, Herringdale ordered the Saxons cleared from the middle of the road and left for the vultures. Their horses were taken, and the Queen and Morgan rode alongside Herringdale back to the Abbey. It had been several years since Herringdale had seen Igraine's youngest daughter, and she looked considerably more...pulchritudinous than the last time they'd crossed paths.

"The leader was saying something about marrying us off to his lord," Morgan said as they rode along the sun-dappled lane, as if she was discussing the pleasant weather. "I suppose he thought that would give them some sort of legitimacy in their bid to rule the island. Not a bad plan, I should think. Shame they bungled it."

Herringdale merely listened to Morgan as she talked, keeping an eye on Igraine the whole time. The old Queen appeared to be in a state of shock and didn't say a word for the whole ride back to the Abbey. However, as the Abbey's nuns fussed over her and Morgan, she did step forward and bowed her head to Herringdale.

"Thank you, sir, for coming to my aid. I was rash to misjudge you all those years ago, and I apologize."

Still stinging a bit from the memories of the treason trial, Herringdale nonetheless accepted Igraine's apology before heading off on his way. The remainder of Herringdale's patrol passed without incident (although I'm starting to contemplate putting together some kind of deck of random patrol events cards or something, just to throw in some, yes, unpredictable spice). Returning to Broughton Manor after several weeks, Herringdale set to the daily tasks of manor maintenance.

I wish I'd written down the name of the children's book I scanned this out of. It had tons of great illustrations like this. Same source as the image of the knight's train in the last campaign update.

It came as a bit of surprise to Herringdale when, just as harvest was approaching, he received a message from Amesbury Abbey. Queen Igraine had arranged for the marriage of her daughter Morgan to King Uriens of Gorre. In light of the Marshall's heroics earlier that summer, the Queen had made a specific request that Herringdale be in charge of the wedding train's escort north. With a resigned sigh, he set about seeing to the logistics.

Not happy at the prospect of leaving his family and manor behind for the next two months, Herringdale hit upon an idea one evening shortly before his scheduled departure. He headed up to the ladies' chamber where Elaine sat sewing as her two daughters played with corn-husk dolls.

"How would the three of you like to come with me?"

And so it was arranged: Herringdale would be traveling with his family as well as an escort of six of his most loyal and able vassal knights.

Along with the Queen's entourage, the wedding procession constituted about three-score persons, of whom about two dozen were knights, squires, and mounted men-at-arms. Such a large procession was able to make its way safely, albeit slowly, through Silchester, Clarence, Wuerensis, Lambor, Bedegraine, Lindsey, and Malahaut. After nearly four weeks of travel, the caravan passed through a narrow neck of the Pennine Mountains and descended into the true wildlands, the untamed kingdom of Rheged. There they were met by King Uriens and his escort, who rode with them onwards to Carduel and the Wall.

And so the party crossed over the last boundary of civilization and entered the Savage North. With the addition of Uriens and his knights, they had little to fear from Pictish raiders, and although the weather was mostly overcast and a tad windier than they were used to, the days were pleasant and the nights were passed with much drinking and tale-telling around the fire. Still, Herringdale could sense the untamed nature of the land; there were precious few manors or farms, and miles and miles of empty howling wilderness pressed down on him from all directions.

It was with a sense of relief, then, that Uriens' castle, Gaiholm, finally hove into view. Surrounded by a double-wide ditch, the massive keep sat atop a triple-size motte. As they passed through the outer gates, Herringdale noted herds of auroch grazing within, so capacious was the bailey. Everything looked like it had been constructed by and for giants. Elaine and the girls marveled at it all from behind the curtains of their carriage wagon.

"Surely you don't need a castle of such tremendous size to defend your lands, majesty?" Herringdale queried Uriens as they rode towards the keep, still a quarter-mile distant. Uriens laughed.

"I'll invite you back here when next we face a horde of hillmen sweeping over the countryside and you can tell me what you think then. Methinks you'll say this castle is barely adequate to the task!"

Herringdale offered up a slight chuckle in response, but suppressed a shudder at the thought of so many marauding Picts. Suddenly the Saxon threat seemed almost nothing by comparison. Almost.

As the guests of honor, Morgan and Igraine were accommodated in the keep. Herringdale set up a tent of size sufficient to house his family in comfort and, over the next week, watched as the rest of the wedding guests arrived. Word around the campfires held that virtually all of the nobility of the northlands was turning out for the festivities. Herringdale saw Igraine's other daughters arrive with their husbands and families. First came Queen Elaine, still childless, and her husband King Nentres of Garloth; then the next day arrived Queen Margawse and King Lot of Lothian, with their four sons in tow. The eldest, about age six, already carried himself with a certain gravitas to match his regal father, and Herringdale watched bemusedly as he bossed around his younger brothers, each a year younger than the elder sibling. For her part, Margawse looked considerably older and cagier than when last he'd seen her.

The day after Margawse's arrival was the Big Day. Herringdale watched as the nuptials were carried out (much to his surprise) in the cheap showiness of nature, rather than in a proper church (of which there were none on the castle grounds anyway, he'd noted). The priest officiating was some strange bearded chappy dressed in homespun wool robes, and the actual ceremony consisted of some rather odd rituals, including the bride and groom leaping over a broom at one point. Checked from making a scene by his well-groomed sense of Hospitality, Herringdale nonetheless shook his head and muttered under his breath about godless pagans. He was looking forward to clearing out of Gorre and returning to a land of proper knights, manors, and God-fearing men.

It therefore came as something of a surprise to him when, on the day before they were due to head out, Herringdale was approached by his 10-year-old daughter, Meleri. Somewhat shyly, the young girl confessed to having fallen in love with the countryside and Uriens' court. As she was of the age to be sent away to serve as handmaiden...well, how about it?

With a look to Elaine, who nodded, a tight smile on her lips, Herringdale consented. Departure was delayed a day so as to make arrangements for Meleri to remain behind at Gaiholm as handmaiden to Morgan. As it turned out, she wasn't the only one having second thoughts about leaving. Up in Uriens' hall, Herringdale was summoned to meet with Queen Igraine.

"I have decided to remain here to be closer to my daughters for the time being. After the shock of the kidnapping earlier this year, it is well for me to be close to family again. I grant you and your vassals leave, Sir Herringdale. I also, again, grant you my thanks for your service. Go in peace and go with God, and take this as a sign of my gratitude."

She then handed Herringdale a gold necklace as a token of her esteem and sent him on his way.

The journey home promised to be slightly more nerve-wracking than the initial trip. Lacking a royal escort, or Igraine's own entourage, it was just Herringdale and his six vassals (plus squires and pack animals) traveling along with Elaine and his youngest daughter in a carriage wagon. Uriens provided a guide to take the group as far south as the Wall, but from that point out they were on their own. All during the four-day trip through Rheged Herringdale kept his eyes peeled, his nerves on edge. But the random encounter dice were kind, and Rheged held no threats worse than a cold downpour of rain that dogged the party's progress all the way through the Penine Mountains.
Herrindale breathed as sigh of relief as the clouds cleared and he led the caravan down into the moors of Malahaut. Although this was hardly civilized and secure countryside, it was an order of magnitude moreso than whence they had just come. The remainder of the journey south to Logres passed without incident.

Ironically, it wasn't until they had passed through the Duchy of Lindsey and were approaching Lambor Castle that the group encountered serious trouble. As they were riding along the High Road out of Leicester, Herringdale picked up the unmistakable sound of a large mass of troops on the move not far off. Calling a halt, he waited to see if the troops would cross his path. Shortly, from a side road, came a column of mounted knights in full panoply of war. The first couple banners passed by Herringdale's small group without notice, but then Herringdale found himself surrounded by a group of knights all bearing the arms of Earl Sanam of Bedegraine. The Earl himself was among them, and he rode forward to address Herringdale.

"Marshall Herringdale of Salisbury, I believe? I had word that you were passing through my lands. You are welcome to do so, although I would be honored if you rode with my army instead."

"Where are you riding to? It seems a fight is in the offing," said Herringdale.

"Indeed it is. I have allied with the Lord of Lambor and we march against the intractable so-called 'King' of Cameliard, Leodegrance."

(This is an interesting example of dice rolls intersecting with Glory. At over 10,000 Glory, Herringdale is famous throughout Logres and beyond, and as such is instantly recognizable by his heraldry alone. However, I also gave Sanam an Intrigue roll to see if he'd remember that Herringdale had family connections to Leodegrance through his sister [not to mention the fact that his eldest son and daughter were currently serving at Leodegrance's court]--and promptly rolled a Fumble. So Sanam missed out on a golden opportunity to take some hostages and gain leverage over his enemy. Tough nuts for Earl Sanam!)

Playing it cool, Herringdale demurred, citing the presence of his family in yonder carriage and the need to get home to tend to his harvest. The Earl begrudgingly assented and moved along. Herringdale sat on his horse and watched the rest of the Earl's army pass, carefully counting heads. When all was said and done, the combined forces of Bedegraine and Lambor numbered in the neighborhood of 1,000 knights. Clearly, Leodegrance was in for a pummeling.

Herringdale signaled to his two old friends and most stalwart vassals, Sir Leo and Sir Lycus, and explained the situation to them. The valorous Sir Leo immediately volunteered to escort Elaine the rest of the way home, while Sir Lycus, bloodthirsty as ever, instantly jumped at the chance to ride with Herringdale to Cameliard and help defend Leodegrance from the invaders. So it was quickly settled. Leo took two other knights with him for the ride south, Herringdale bid a hasty farewell to Elaine and his youngest daughter, Lilo, and with the remainder of his vassals set off along a backwoods trail towards Cameliard.

Riding all out and making his Hunting rolls like a champ, Herringdale was able to cut cross-country and enter neighboring Cameliard (I used a modified version of the Raid scenario to adjudicate Herringdale's progress). Friendly locals, recognizing Herringdale (and this time actually knowing about his family connection to the kingdom) informed him that King Leodegrance was holding court at Stafford Castle in the Arroy Forest. So directed, Herringdale arrived at Stafford well ahead of the invading force.

He was warmly greeted by his twin son and daughter and by Leodegrance, whose manner quickly changed once Herringdale told him why he had come.

"I've been dreading this day," said Leodegrance gravely. "I will be hard-pressed to hold out against the combined armies of two great lords."

Herringdale set to doing what he could to help out with preparations for a siege. As he did so, however, he couldn't help but wonder what it was all for. Leodegrance stood alone, as did so many others during these troubled times. There was no one to turn to, and in such a situation the advantage decidedly lay with the besieger.

Lost in such thoughts one afternoon shortly after his arrival, Herringdale was jolted back to reality by a tiny hand tugging on his tunic. Looking down, he met the eyes of a little girl with the unmistakably deep, soul-penetrating gaze of his deceased sister, Obilot. So this must be the niece he'd never met.

"Are you a knight?" she asked.

"Yes I am," said Herringdale. At that the little girl skipped away, singing. He watched her go, missing his sister more than ever. Thoughts of family, however, quickly turned to a desperate plan. How could he have forgotten? Nanteleod was campaigning in neighboring Gomeret this year!

Herringdale hastened to find Leodegrance and tell him of his plan.

"I will ride for Gomeret and locate King Nanteleod. He is betrothed to my liege, Countess Ellen, and will therefore be disposed to help. It is our only hope for relief, majesty."

Leodegrance quickly agreed to the plan, and soon Herringdale was riding west, Sir Lycus at his side. They rode the path to Whitechurch, thence on to the City of Legions, before entering the hilly coast of Gomeret. Arriving at Degannwy after a week's hard ride, they set off into the mountains, acting on directions from the locals. In time they located Nanteleod's army, camped in a mountain vale. Upon identifying himself, Herringdale was rushed to meet with the King.

In Nanteleod's sumptuously-appointed tent Herringdale laid out the situation as the King listened, thoughtfully stroking his goatee. When at last Herringdale had finished, Nanteleod spoke.

"Cameliard. I was hoping Leodegrance would see to joining my coalition once I was done with these meddlesome Cadlew brothers. And this is indeed a worthy cause to fight for. The problem is that I have been chasing the Cadlews around these cursed mountains for the whole season, and my army is exhausted. In a fortnight's time we march again, and if I have set my ducks in a row, as it were, we will have the Cadlews cornered once and for all. But I do not expect them to give in without a fight. My army will be in no shape to march and fight again, not for the remainder of this season at least. How long can Leodegrance hold out?"

Good question. Herringdale dispatched Sir Lycus, who rode hell for leather back to Stafford, arriving just ahead of Earl Sanam's host, who had been held up by delaying actions and supply train raids along their march through Cameliard. Leodegrance informed him that he had provisions to last enough for six months, but beyond that he could not be sure. Lycus galloped back to Gomeret and gave his report just as Nanteleod was preparing to march his army out of the vale.

"Very well," said the King. "I will march to Cameliard with the first snow melt next year. In the meantime, Sir Herringdale, I would be honored if you rode with me and helped put an end to these meddlesome Cadlew brothers once and for all."

Herringdale agreed, and soon found himself riding under Nanteleod's banner as the army made its way up snaking mountain pathways, guided by steely-eyed, dark-browed hillmen who walked barefoot through the rough terrain.

Presently, the army descended into another vale, where lay the army of the Three Cadlews at camp. Nanteleod drew up at the far end of the valley and prepared for battle on the morrow.

The time came, and battle was joined. As the result of the battle was more or less preordained and I just wanted to see what would become of Herringdale, we ran through an abbreviated version of the battle system. In the end, Herringdale came out okay, although his warhorse was wounded by treacherous Irish daggermen who slit at the poor beast's belly and cut the strap of Herringdale's saddle, sending him crashing to the ground. As such, Herringdale was in the rear areas when he received word that Nanteleod was victorious and the Three Cadlews had been slain.

And so it just remained for Herringdale to anxiously wait out the winter, camped high in the Cambrian Mountains while off to the east his kinsmen desperately defended themselves. Would he and Nanteleod arrive in time to save Leodegrance, his children, and little Guenevere?
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