The old oak door creaked open. A robed, bearded figure was silhouetted in the door frame by a hunchbacked lantern bearer lurking behind him.
"Just down these stairs, m'lord," grunted the hunchback. Merlin swept down the stairs as mice frantically squeaked to get out of his way. His wise eyes swept the stacks of unbound manuscripts and leather-backed tomes as he entered the darkened chamber. He knew exactly what he was looking for, and sensed he was at last on the verge of finding it. Then he spotted it.
Pulling the stack of crinkled parchment off the shelf, he blew a thick layer of dust off the topmost sheet.
"Here it is at last!" he exclaimed. "Bring the light closer, oaf," he snapped. As the lantern loomed near, he could make out the flowering, illuminated words along the top of the page: "The Continuing Adventures of Sir Herringdale."
At last it can be told! The thrilling conclusion to the two-parter "Weddings and Warfare" installment of the ongoing chronicle of the line of Sir Herringdale of Broughton and a return (one hopes) to regular campaign updates. Yeah...sorry about leaving regular readers hanging for over a month. I've found that long-running campaigns tend to move in these sort of cyclical motions--sometimes things cook right along, other times there needs to be a period of down time, either due to in-game or Real World reasons. In this particular case, it was the Real World that intervened (nothing major, just lots of little things conspiring to drain all available free time), but at last we can return.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at these sorts of things) this update will be a little shorter than normal. This is because I'm working off of five-week-old notes and dim memories. Apologies. Regular long-winded updates will resume with the next installment.
As I've said, this year was pretty much "Part II" of a special two-parter, and we picked up right where we'd left off the previous year, with Herringdale encamped with Nanteleod's army in the Cambrian mountains. It was amongst those rugged peaks that Herringdale wintered, anxiously worrying about the fate of King Leodegrance, besieged by the combined armies of Bedegraine and Lambor. Leaving aside his loyalties to a good king and brother-in-law, there was even more at stake should Stafford Castle fall: Herringdale's eldest son and daughter had been sent to Leodegrance's court a couple years earlier, and even now were suffering through the siege with their lord.
Herringdale channeled his frustrated, pent-up energy into picking up some skill with the mace. It had been the favored weapon of Sir Jordans, and Herringdale had heard much praise of its ability to crush flesh and bone even through a stout hauberk. Otherwise Herringdale kept King Nanteleod company and anxiously counted the days. Nanteleod proved true to his word; as soon as the roads were clear enough, his army marched east for Cameliard.
Of course, clear roads is a broad category, and as it was only mid-March the army's progress was hampered by muddy, rutted trails and constant rain. It was a miserable journey down from the mountains and into the forests of Leodegrance's lands, and Herringdale muttered many a silent, waterlogged prayer that Nanteleod's forces would arrive in time.
Prior to our session I had sat down with my siege tables and rolled up the fate of Stafford Castle. It was entirely possible, therefore, that the fortress might have fallen within a month of Herringdale's departure. Fortunately the dice were on his side. Or so it would seem at first glance, at any rate...
It was nearing April when Nanteleod's hillmen scouts brought back reports of having sighted Stafford Castle. The forest had been cleared for several acres around the fortress, and the open ground was occupied by the camps of Earl Sanam of Bedegraine and his Lamborian allies. Stafford Castle still held, albeit barely--the outer palisade wall had been breached at one point, and only a desperate defense had allowed the defenders to fall back to the inner bailey. Even now, it appeared that Sanam's forces were massing for a final, all-out assault.
Despite the fact that it was early afternoon and the rain was pouring down in sheets, Nanteleod ordered his lines to form for battle. Herringdale steeled himself to save his children or die trying. With trumpets blaring, Nanteleod's army advanced quickly through the woods, sweeping aside Sanam's pickets and emerging in sight of Castle Stafford to the complete shock of the besiegers. The castle garrison, which until that moment had been watching the assembly of the enemy forces with trepidation, threw up a ragged cheer when they caught sight of Nanteleod's banner, sopping wet and flapping in the stiff storm wind.
With a final fanfare, battle was joined! Herringdale charged, his lance leveled, across the muddy campground as Earl Sanam's forces quickly about-faced to meet the onrushing army. Soaked to the bone, his grip on his lance unsure, Herringdale crashed into a line of Lamborian knights. Whether he took an enemy lance blow or simply slipped from his soaked saddle, Herringdale knew not; only that before he knew it he was hitting the sodden ground, unwounded for the most part but also without a horse.
As he struggled back to his feet, he was quickly surrounded. Barefoot Irish kerns, mercenary footmen in the service of Earl Sanam, closed in around him from all directions, their mad eyes glinting at the idea of capturing a prosperous knight. Only the prospect of capture and ransom saved Herringdale from being immediately cut down, and that was to prove the doom of the Irish, for it gave Herringdale enough time to recover his wits and draw his sword.
Carving his way through his unarmored opponents, Herringdale was able to fight his way free. Pausing for a moment, he spotted Nanteleod's banner deep in the thick of fighting. Without a horse and squire, there was little Herringdale could do to rejoin the action, so he headed for the rear ranks to find either or both.
As it was, he found Baldrick first. Baldrick still had his war pony, but Herringdale wanted something a bit better. There were plenty of loose horses running about, and it was only a matter of finding one suitable for a knight. After a bit of searching, they were able to corral a charger, which Herringdale quickly mounted and turned back towards the battle. By this point it was beginning to grow dark and the rainfall was only intensifying. From the sound of Nanteloed's trumpets, it sounded like Earl Sanam's army was beginning to break.
Herringdale rode back towards the main battle lines, but before he reached them something unusual caught his eye. A crit on his Battle roll brought about a special event: A lone knight was riding towards the woods, his shield thrown away so as to hide his identity. But it was clear from the rich furs and elaborately-wrought armor that this was a high-ranking noble of the enemy's army. Having missed out on most of the glory of the battle so far, Herringdale decided to win some for himself, and so dug his spurs in and charged towards the fleeing knight.
Caught unawares, the knight was quickly knocked to the ground by Herringdale's charge. Lying in the mud, flinching under the rearing hooves of Herringdale's charger, he begged for mercy. Herringdale dismounted and told the knight to rise as his prisoner. As the knight rose, Herringdale caught clear sight of his face for the first time, and his stomach dropped: it was none other than Earl Sanam of Bedegraine! (Yup, the special battle roll yielded a chance to attack the army commander; Sanam fumbled his roll, and the rest was history. Ah, how quickly things can turn on a couple dice rolls.)
As darkness quickly gathered, Herringdale finally met back up with King Nanteleod, and presented him with his gift, Earl Sanam himself! Nanteleod roared with laughter.
"Let us bring this rogue to King Leodegrance and see how his majesty would see fit to repayment for this past winter's travails."
And so Herringdale and Nanteleod rode side-by-side into Stafford Castle, leading Sanam by a rope tied about his wrists. Leodegrance was there to welcome them, gaunt and bearded but with eyes twinkling. Herringdale could see other residents of the castle were similarly wan, and a many new graves dotted the yard of the bailey's church. After clasping Leodegrance in a great hug and presenting him with Earl Sanam--who was promptly dispatched to the keep's donjon--Herringdale looked about for his children. It didn't take long to spot the beaming face of his 15-year-old daughter, Heledd, and he beckoned her to him. She greeted him with tears streaming down her face, mixing with the now-drizzling rain.
"It warms my heart to find you well, daughter," said Herringdale. "But tell me, where is your brother Hyfaidd?"
At this, Heledd's tears redoubled and she hung her head. Herrindale did not need to hear her reply to discern the answer to his question. As he would find out later, disease had swept through the garrison for most of the duration of the siege and Hyfaidd had expired last month.
(The siege table gave me the "disease" result a couple months in a row, and so during the Winter Phase I applied the Impoverished Knight modifier for the Child Survival rolls for Hyfaidd and Heledd. One made the roll, the other didn't.)
Needless to say, this cast a bit of a pall over the ensuing events. Nanteleod granted Herringdale the full share of Earl Sanam's ransom, a whopping 1,100 Libra! Some of this Herringdale gifted back to Leodegrance, who had also sworn allegiance to Nanteleod. The king also sent for Countess Ellen, declaring that they would be married at Stafford Castle on Easter. Naturally, Herringdale's wife and other children would come along. Lastly, Nanteleod granted Herringdale the ceremonial title of Warden of the Southern Marches. In essence, this was a recognition that Herringdale's status as Marshall of Salisbury gave him jurisdiction over Salisbury and any other southerly counties Nanteleod might add to his growing kingdom, and placed him in the capacity of military commander for the South in Nanteleod's absence.
And so, as rain clouds gave way to sunshine and budding trees, Herringdale watched Nanteleod wed Countess Ellen, tying Salisbury's fate to Escavalon. The wedding feast was held at a great round table that Leodegrance had ordered constructed in honor of the defeat of Earl Sanam and the wedding of Nanteleod and Ellen. It was a grand piece of furniture, seating 100 persons around its great gilded circumference and a worthy addition to Leodegrance's court.
It was May when Herringdale returned to Salisbury. The county was now an exclave of Escavalon, surrounded by enemies on nearly all sides. Herringdale could only hope that his new king honored his obligations in case one of those enemies decided to come calling. In the meantime, Herringdale began seriously considering putting some of his new-found wealth towards constructing a castle...
After the game, I took a map of Britain and delineated the current power blocs. It really helped illustrate who was who, where was where, and the precarious position that Salisbury now finds itself. I think Des's reaction when I showed it to her was something along the lines of "Yikes." Yikes indeed.