Monday, August 30, 2010

[Solo GPC] 510: ...and Of Boy Kings (Part I)

Here we are at last; if you're familiar with the contents of the Great Pendragon Campaign, you know what's coming this year. The trick in running it is to weave the events in the PCs' lives into the grander narrative. In effect, one of the most oft-told stories in the Western lexicon becomes background scenery for the exploits of the campaign's main characters. This could be said of the GPC in general, but it's especially true for this year.

Even a campaign limiting itself purely to the events scripted in the book would find 510 to be an extraordinarily action-packed year. As this year also marked several important watershed moments for Herringdale personally, it's turned into a truly epic year - one we're still making our way through, actually. Obviously, then, this will be the first of another several-part installment.

As always, we kicked things off with Winter Phase, and I was especially curious to see how things would play out this year. This was owing to the fact that, having levied triple tribute to King Cerdic last year, all of Salisbury would be hurting economically. Herringdale's lands proved no different, and the matter was not helped by his steward failing his Stewardship roll. Adjusted for tribute, the harvest brought in from 509 proved Negligible. Fortunately, Herringdale's coffers were still well-stocked, and he was able to make up the shortfall with grain and goods wisely set aside in earlier years.

More bad news visited the hall at Du Plain castle when Herringdale returned from Rydychan, however. His elderly mother, who had been living at Amesbury Abbey ever since Herringdale first married Elaine, had disappeared without a trace. The Marshall ordered a county-wide search, and his brother and cousin were put on the case of finding her, but her whereabouts remained unknown as the new year approached.

Perhaps to take his mind off all these external troubles, Herringdale set his attentions towards the upcoming London tournament. It promised to be a major convocation of pretty much every lord and lady in Logres, and Herringdale wanted himself and his retinue to look resplendent upon their arrival in the great city. He consulted his daughters for fashion advice. They helped fit him for a whole new set of clothing in the latest styles. Gone were breeches cross-gartered with strips of leather, replaced now with close-fitting woolen hose. His old cowhide turnshoes were chucked to the pigs, replaced by fitted leather shoes that reached above his ankles. His tunic, which reflected old Roman styles, was altered so that the hem now descended to mid-thigh rather than below the knees, and Herringdale had the cuffs and collar embroidered with rich fabrics, gold thread, and jewels. His daughters even advised him on the new, proper way to knot and fasten his cloaks: off the right shoulder. In all, he spent 10 libra on a new set of superlative clothing, enough not just to justify his Superlative lifestyle but even confer a bonus to his Appearance, which had been in steady decline over the years thanks to the ravages of wounds and age.
Dressed and accoutered appropriately, Herringdale welcomed many of Salisbury's knights and lords, including Earl Robert, to his hall in preparation to depart for London after the Yule holiday. The large progress of nobility departed several days before New Year's and made its way across the snow-covered countryside.

Wrapped in several layers of furs, Herringdale and Robert rode side-by-side near the front of the procession. In an effort to stave off the cold, they chatted about matters of state and talked of events from the year previous. Eventually they came around to the point Herringdale was angling for.

"...also I believe King Alain of Escavalon will be at the tournament," Robert was saying.

"Indeed?" Herringdale asked. "I should like to speak to him and congratulate him on taking the throne. He...has not yet taken a wife, do you know?"

"I do not," Robert replied, surprised. "Did you have someone in mind?"

"My daughter Heledd," Herringdale said, motioning towards the covered cart that bore his daughters along with Countess Ellen and her handmaidens, Lady Jenna and Lady Briant.

Robert looked momentarily nonplussed, but then smiled broadly. "That would be a most auspicious marriage for Salisbury if you can arrange it, Sir Marshall!" he said.

"The king and I are friends from long back," Herringdale said wryly. "I shall see what I can do."

They rode on in silence for some minutes before Herringdale cleared his throat and spoke again. "Eh, on the subject of marriage..."

"Were you thinking of marrying yourself?" Robert asked, this time looking genuinely surprised. "Mother and I were just recently speculating whether you might take another wife. She seemed to think you wouldn't, though she wouldn't say why."

"Yes, well, I think I've decided I will," said Herringdale with a bit of an unintended edge to his voice.

"This is excellent news! Who do you have in mind? The Countess of Rydychan?"

"Well, no...I was hoping to produce a male heir..." Herringdale began.

"Ah, then perhaps you have heard of the sister of Duke Derfel of Lindsey. They say she is a comely lass and many are the suitors who pursue her."

"Yes, I'd heard of her, but I was thinking someone a little closer to home..."

Earl Robert furrowed his brow, clearly trying to think of a suitable match for a knight of Herringdale's standing and renown. "You are referring perhaps to Lady Leuned of Snodonia, King Pellinore's daughter...?"

"Actually, no, my lord," Herringdale said, shifting uncomfortably in his saddle. He glanced back at the carriage. "I was thinking of the Lady Jenna."

"Her?" Earl Robert asked, genuinely perplexed.

"She is comely and kind, and at my age that is all I seek."

Robert looked like he was on the verge of saying something, but then gave Herringdale a kind smile. "Very well, Sir Marshall. If you would take Lady Jenna as your bride, then I have no objections."

"Thank you, lord," Herringdale said, nodding gratefully. The procession made its way on through the snow-dappled countryside.

After three days of travel, the Salisbury progress arrived at Windsor Castle, where plans were made to pause and rest for a day before making the day-long trek to London in time for the tournament. Since the death of Prince Madoc, the rambling fortress had been held in trust by a castellan, who now found himself hosting not just Earl Robert and his entourage but also the parties of the Countess of Rydychan and Earl Sanam of Bedegraine.

Herringdale hadn't seen Sanam since he'd held the Earl for ransom after lifting the siege of Stafford Castle in Cameliard, and the Earl apparently bore some ill will towards our hero for the massive levy he'd been obliged to raise to pay for his release; the reception he offered Herringdale was as chilly as the castle's drafty Great Hall. Countess Lyaze of Rydychan, on the other hand, was warmly cordial with Herringdale and the rest of the Salisbury contingent. She had brought along her son Pyrs, whom Herringdale had briefly considered as marriage material for Heledd before setting his sights on higher targets. Pyrs's eyes, however, were still set on Herringdale, who could feel the young knight's gaze boring into him as he conversed with the Countess.

At the feast that night, the betrothal of Sir Herringdale and Lady Jenna was announced to the assembled nobility by a beaming Earl Robert. Lady Jenna, blushing furiously, lowered her head to conceal her own smile. Herringdale, for his part, engaged Sir Pyrs in conversation before the feast proper got under way.

"Your mother tells me you are to compete in the tournament," Herringdale said.

"Indeed. She means for me to win, but I don't think I stand much of a chance. Still, now that our family has been restored to our rightful place, she is anxious to secure our position. She has been in talks with the Earl of Hertford to arrange my marriage to his daughter."

"And how do you feel about that?" Herringdale asked.

Sir Pyrs merely shrugged and took a sip of spiced wine from an elaborately gilded goblet.

"Tell me, Sir Pyrs," Herringdale said, "do you enjoy hawking?"

The next morning, as the wan sun rose above the bare treetops, the two knights rode out towards the frozen marshes on the banks of the Thames, hawks in hand. They had turned down the offer to take along a Master Falconer, beaters, or hunting dogs - it was to be a quiet, informal day of hawking.

Right off the bat, Herringdale's peregrine managed to bag a magpie, but as the day wore on, game became increasingly sparse. The pair made their way up from the river, towards the frozen forest. It was growing late, and Herringdale was thinking of heading back for the castle, but first he rode along the perimeter of the woods, seeing if he could flush any game from the snowy shrubbery. Instead of game, however, he spotted a radiant white light moving through the trees just inside the forest. With Pyrs following close behind, Herringdale guided his rouncey into the woods.

Picking his way among the dead vegetation, Herringdale could make out a massive white horse in a clearing dead ahead. Its head was lowered, its muzzle sniffing the snowy ground for a morsel. At Herringdale's approach, the horse lifted its head - revealing a great golden horn emanating from its head. A unicorn! Herringdale sucked his breath in, scarcely believing what he was seeing. Pyrs rode up alongside.

"What a fabulous beast!" he whispered in awe. "Think of the glory to be had by taking it as a prize!"

Herringdale turned, surprised to see a gleam of avarice in Pyrs's eyes. The young knight turned to look at the Marshall. "What do you say?" he asked eagerly.

Herringdale thought for a moment, then drew his sword. "To the hunt!"

The unicorn bolted at the sound of Herringdale's hunting cry, and the two knights took off after it. The unicorn proved both swift and sure-footed, easily outpacing its pursuers, but Herringdale was confident he could easily follow the beast's tracks through the snow. He was surprised, therefore, to see the horse hoof tracks morph into the tracks of a small woodland bird, then disappear, as if the bird had taken wing.

"Truly they are magical beasts," Herringdale muttered. The hunt had taken him and Pyrs deep into the forest, and they paused to rest in a small glade before retracing their steps. The scene was an eerie reflection of one that had taken place almost a quarter-century ago, when Herringdale had found himself alone in the woods with Sir Jordans during a day of hawking. And perhaps it was those haunted memories, or perhaps it was just the cold, but as Pyrs advanced towards Herringdale with burning eyes, the old knight felt only a pale imitation of the excitement and passion he had felt on that long-ago day in Lindsey.

[Des failed Herringdale's Lustful (Men) roll again, but didn't fumble it this time. She also failed Herringdale's subsequent Chaste roll, so she decided that there was some "fooling around" between Herringdale and Pyrs, but nothing serious occurred.]

As night fell, the pair returned to the castle. Herringdale dropped his magpie off at the castle kitchens, then went to warm his frozen bones beside the hall's roaring fire. Pyrs was nowhere to be seen, and the next morning Robert and his retinue would depart before Herringdale had a chance to have any further words with the young knight.

On the ride to London, Herringdale reflected on the previous day's events, and on his pending nuptials to Jenna. In light of his recent inner conflicts, to say nothing of whatever role he may have played in Lady Elaine's madness and death, he made a resolution: he would be a chaste and affectionate husband towards his new wife. His top priority was leaving behind a male heir before he died - and as he approached his fiftieth winter, mortality was increasingly on his mind - but he also wanted to be a better husband and partner than he had been with Elaine.

As the day waned, London came into view, blanketed under a coat of white snow beside the half-frozen Thames. Robert's retinue passed through Ludgate, between the looming edifices of Ludgate Castle on the right and St. Paul's Cathedral on the left. Herringdale caught a brief glimpse of Excalibur [in my campaign I've decided that the sword in the stone and Excalibur are one and the same], driven into the anvil and stone in the courtyard of the cathedral, as he rode past. The city, which had always been such a disagreeable pit of swarming, filthy humanity to his senses, seemed somewhat more agreeable in the winter. Perhaps it was the snow that blanketed everything and muted the usual clanging, shouting, ringing noises of the city, or perhaps it was the cold weather that froze the usual sewage running through the streets into solid, inoffensive piles. Whatever the case, Herringdale was in better spirits than on his previous visits to London as the Salisbury retinue approached the White Tower, now nearly camouflaged against the surrounding snow.

The castle's bailey was a mob scene. Knights and squires milled about, and there seemed to be a long queue formed up beside a large table that had been brought out into the courtyard. Earl Robert sent a squire to find out what was going on, and the answer came back quickly.

"Some bloke calling himself the Herald of London is taking down details of every knight's coat of arms, sire!"

Dutifully, Herringdale formed up on line, and slowly inched his way towards the table. He could see a man in thick robes taking details from every knight who approached him while next to him a scribe dutifully recorded the descriptions in a massive logbook, occasionally pausing to flip back a few pages to check an earlier entry.

Finally, Herringdale reached the front of the line.

"Name?" the Herald asked shortly.

"Sir Herringdale, Marshall of Salisbury."

The scribe looked up, eyes wide behind his ink-splattered nose. The Herald, however, seemed unimpressed.

"Your arms?"

Herringdale hoisted his shield.

"Hmm," said the Herald. "Didn't we just have a knight from Norgales with a yale or rampant vert?"

"Excuse me?" Herringdale asked, completely perplexed by the mouthful of Greek salad he'd just heard.

"That yale on the right half of your arms," said the Herald. "Someone else has already taken it."

"What?" Herringdale spluttered, outraged. "Don't you know who I am?"

"Be that as it may," the Herald said, his face expressionless, "the other knight's crest is as old as his family. Is it not true that you added the yale as your own personal device?"

"Yes, but--" Herringdale said, not sure how the Herald knew such information.

"You may keep the other part of your arms, the hand appalmed or sable," said the Herald, indicating the part of the shield he was referring to with a vague waggle of his finger. "Or else choose a new coat of arms."

"Very well," said Herringdale. "Maybe it's time to make a clean break. How about this?" And seizing the scribe's quill, he sketched out a new design in the margins of the massive logbook.

The Herald peered down at the new design. "That is acceptable. Duly recorded!"

Herringdale moved off to the side and waited for the other members of the retinue to register their arms. Most had no problems, but some encountered difficulties as he had. Some, like Sir Lycus, took the matter with considerably less grace than Herringdale and nearly had to be restrained from assaulting the Herald, who claimed protection under the Lord Mayor of London.

As he ascended the stairs to the keep's entrance, Herringdale had a brief flash of memory of a time, many impossible years ago, when he had pursued the fleeing forms of Duke Gorlas and his wife, Igraine, as they fled the White Tower in the midst of a driving snowstorm. So much had transpired since that fateful night...

He was shaken from his reverie by the sound of a familiar voice. He had entered the massive, vaulted hall of the White Tower, which was crowded with knights, ladies, courtiers, and all manner of gentry and servants. Banners bearing the coats of arms of all the visiting noble families hung along the walls and from rafters, and a great fire added its warmth to the press of humanity; Herringdale was suddenly too warm in his fur cloak.

As he slipped it off his shoulders, he looked about for who had hailed him. It was none other than King Alain of Escavalon, who was smiling broadly at him from over a sea of courtiers moving to and fro. It took some doing, but the two men were able to fight their way through the crowd and take each other in a fraternal embrace.

"Your majesty!" Herringdale said with a bow that was half-respectful, half-mocking. Alain laughed.

"Never do that again!" he chided. "I have had a letter from your lord, the Earl," he said, his eyes twinkling.

"Is that so?" Herringdale asked, smiling.

"He sent it from Windsor Castle yesterday. And in case you were wondering, I'll leave you in suspense no longer: I would be honored to take your daughter as my bride."

"Most welcome news!" Herringdale exclaimed, and the two embraced once more. As they broke apart, Herringdale gave the king an affectionate squeeze on the arm, but Alain seemed not to notice.

"Excuse me, Sir Marshall," said Alain, and he turned to talk with a knight of Escavalon who had approached him with a piece of news.

After mingling for a bit, Herringdale sought out Earl Robert and excused himself. He and Baldrick headed back into the city and found lodging at one of the public inns that offered such accommodations to visiting nobility. The room proved modest, but it at least featured an iron brazier that was filled with hot coals twice a day to provide some measure of warmth against the cold.

The next day, Herringdale was awakened by the cheering of crowds in the street outside his window. Heading to the leaded glass, he threw the window wide and shivered in his shift as he looked down into the street. A parade of some sort was going on; bears, bulls, and other animals were being led down the street as a crowd gathered along the edges cheered its approval.

"Hmpf, animal fights for the commoners," Herringdale sniffed. "What a waste of time, eh Baldrick? Baldrick?" It was then that Herringdale realized his squire was nowhere to be found. Laboriously dressing himself, it was some time before Herringdale could head downstairs to search for his recalcitrant squire.

Asking the innkeeper revealed that Baldrick had been seen leaving the inn at first light. Herringdale headed out into the crowded streets of London to look for his squire. Unfortunately, as he turned a corner, he found only the contents of a chamber pot being emptied over his head from a window above. Covered in filth, he shook his fist at the rose-cheeked goodwife who stared down at him, trying not to laugh.

In a towering rage, he stormed back to his rented room, where he stripped off his soiled garments and cast them out into the street. All that expensive fabric and embroidery, ruined! Fortunately, he wasn't wearing his best set of clothes, but at this point even his "everyday" clothes were worth more than the average peasant laborer earned in a lifetime. He sat in his room, stewing, as he watched the light outside his window grow dimmer.

Finally, as night was setting in, Baldrick came stumbling back into the room, his nose red as a turnip.

"Where did you get off to then?" Herringdale asked in cold fury. Baldrick knew immediately that he was in deep trouble and immediately threw himself at Herringdale's feet, groveling.

"A thousand apologies, my lord!" he sobbed, clutching Herringdale's feet. "I had heard there would animal fights on the first day of the tourney, and I was afraid you wouldn't let me go, so I snuck out!"

"Did you now?" Baldrick's obvious show of contrition was starting to melt Herringdale's famously Merciful heart. "Very well. For future reference, you needn't worry about such matters. All you need do is ask. But I lost a perfectly good set of clothes thanks to your duplicity. I want you to see to finding the finest tailors in London and have them come to the room first thing tomorrow to fit me for replacements."

"Yes my lord!" Baldrick said, jumping to his feet and fairly sprinting from the room, so eager was he to redeem himself.

Fortunately, if there's one place one would want to find oneself in desperate need of fine clothes on short notice, London is it. The city proved more than able to produce a veritable team of all-star tailors, and with sufficient coin, Herringdale found himself nicely outfitted by suppertime the following day. In thanks, he dismissed Baldrick for the remainder of the afternoon. The squire gratefully took his leave, saying he was going to go watch the bohort, a sort of mass scrum of squires and would-be warriors desperate to prove their worth to the crowd of onlookers.

"See if you can spot any likely candidates for garrison duty at Du Plain," Herringdale said as Baldrick left. As for himself, he was going to head up to the White Tower and seek an audience with King Alain - they had to work out details of the wedding between the King and Heledd. And, despite his recent vow, Herringdale couldn't help but think about how nice it would be to be in a room with Alain, just the two of them...

Outfitted in his finest garments, Herringdale made his way cautiously up to the Tower, keeping an eye on the overhanging second and third story windows for errant chamberpots. As it was, he was merely cursed out by a beggar, who decried Herringdale's finery. Herringdale shut him up with a handful of silver pennies, prompting the beggar to scurry off, spitting and muttering curses but taking the coins with him nonetheless.

At the White Tower, wherein all the royal and ducal guests of the tournament were staying, Herringdale was led up to Alain's private quarters, a large room in the south tower with a commanding view of the city and the countryside beyond. Alain was seated on his bed, his long red hair being combed and oiled by a personal attendant. A harpist near the window plucked out a pleasing melody while two of Alain's household knights sat engaged in a game of gwyddbwyll.

"Sir Herringdale!" said Alain as the Marshall entered his chambers. "Please, have a seat. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I was hoping to discuss the details of the wedding," Herringdale said, not a little disappointed to find Alain surrounded by so many courtiers. Obviously it was a tricky thing to get a king on his own.

Alain gave a dismissive wave of the hand. "There will be time enough to work that out after the Grande Melee. I can't wait until tomorrow!"

"What exactly is going on, then?" asked Herringdale, a bit stung.

"Well," Alain said, clearly relishing the thought of the upcoming event, "essentially it is like a mock battle. There are to be two teams, but it's also each knight for himself. You can bring your vassals and retainers on the field with you, though, so in essence each knight is commanding a banner of men."

"I see," said Herringdale. "And what do we do in this mock battle?"

"The object is to capture knights from the opposing team. Each team will have a safe area where they cannot be attacked. If you take a knight captive, you have to bring him back to your safe area. Guard him well, though - until you get to the safe area, the captured knight can legally escape at no detriment to him or his team. But, once he's back in the safe area he has to forfeit his horse and armor! How's that!" Alain exclaimed, slapping his knee.

"It's certainly something," Herringdale said, not sure if he approved of all this gamesmanship being mixed up with the manly art of war. "Do you know which team I'll be on?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," said Alain. "I'll be commanding one team, King Leodegrance of Cameliard will be in charge of the other. I specifically requested that you fight on my side."

"You are too kind," said Herringdale, smiling slightly. "Well then, it sounds like there is much to do to prepare. Forgive me, I will take my leave of you then," he said, rising.

"I won't hear of it! Join me in a game of gwyddbwyll before you go?"

To be courteous, Herringdale agreed, even though he wasn't much for games. Predictably, Alain mopped the board with him, and soon Herringdale was rising to leave again, shaking Alain's hand and congratulating him on a game well played.

"I will see you tomorrow at the 'battle'," Alain said, grinning. "Our safe zone is also our point of assembly; have your banner out at St. Brigit's Church at cockcrow. After the Melee we can meet to discuss marriage plans."

"Very well," Herringdale said, bowing himself out.

The next morning found Herringdale assembled on the frozen grounds around St. Brigid's Chapel, a stone church outside the London city walls near Ludgate. He could see the spires of St. Paul's towering over the walls, still swathed in a wintry morning mist. Around him milled several hundred other knights and squires, as well as foot retinues, waiting for the signal. Everyone bore red tassels on their shield arms so they could tell friendly teammates from the enemy. The Melee was to take place over a patch of land about 10 miles on a side, bisected by a small river that fed into the Thames, so there was plenty of room for roaming about and picking fights.

At last, a roll of martial drums and a trumpet blast gave the signal to move out, and with a great excited cheer, the assembled knights rode forth. The other team's safe zone, Herringdale knew, was outside the walls of the city cemetery north of Newgate, so he guided his banner northwards. After about a half-hour of searching, he spotted a gaggle of knights all bearing blue tassels tied around their shield arms. He sounded the charge and put spurs to the flanks of Smuggy IV.

Herringdale's banner easily outnumbered the opposing knights, and Herringdale crashed in amongst the startled unit barely before it had time to react. Prior to setting out, Alain had advised everyone that they were to withhold their blows, or else use the flats of their blades, and Herringdale did as he'd been told, using the momentum of his charge to barrel into a knight in the enemy unit. The force of the collision more than Herringdale's checked sword blow sent the opposing knight tumbling from his saddle. Herringdale loomed over him, blade lowered.

"Surrender!" he shouted.

The knight acquiesced. Most of the rest of the unit had scattered as well, but two more knights had been taken captive along with Herringdale's prisoner. Cheering, his unit turned back towards St. Brigit's to return and claim their prizes. They made the safe zone without any of the knights escaping, and Herringdale took his captive's chainmail and charger as ransom. Maybe this tournament fighting wasn't so bad after all...

As Herringdale was regrouping his men and preparing to head back out onto the field, he spotted a commotion down near Ludgate, about 200 yards off. Knights and commoners alike were streaming off the field and through the gate, back into the city. There was a great deal of shouting, and Herringdale could just make out something about a sword. Other knights nearer to him, also noticing the commotion, were starting to abandon the field as well and head toward the gate to see what the to-do was all about. Delegating a group of footmen to guard their prisoners, Herringdale led his fellow knights back into the city as well, his curiosity piqued.

As soon as he passed through Ludgate, Herringdale could see a massive crowd forming in the courtyard in front of St. Paul's. Using his horse, Herringdale forced his way through the milling commoners, then dismounted and joined the ring of knights and noblemen that formed the inner circle, which was ranged around the sword in the stone. Many of the land's greatest rulers were here: King Lot of Lothian, Duke Derfel of Lindsey, Earl Sanam of Bedegraine, Sir Brastias. There too was Archbishop Dubricus and Merlin, each standing near to the other yet distinctly apart. A strange tableu greeted Herringdale as he sidled up next to King Leodegrance. Several knights were jostling with each other around the stone, each taking it in turn to try and pull the sword out and meeting with no more success than any had in the previous 15 years. Yet they seemed convinced they would be able to do so all of a sudden.

The source of this confusion appeared to come from a trio of men standing nearby - or more accurately two men and a boy. The two men were armed and armored as knights, but their arms were unfamiliar to Herringdale. The boy was clearly a squire of not yet 18 summers, beardless and wide-eyed. Strangely, the focus of many of the assembly seemed to be on him. Herringdale turned to Leodegrance.

"What's going on here?"

"They say that squire, that boy...but it is impossible!" Leodegrance said. "They say he pulled the sword from the stone!"

"" Herringdale asked, bewildered.

"That's what we'd all like to know," Leodegrance answered. Then, in a raised voice, he called out: "Let's see the boy pull the sword out again!"

The bickering knights stepped away from the sword as Leodegrance's call was taken up by others in the crowd. The elder of the two knights accompanying the squire gave him an encouraging nod, and the boy stepped up to the stone. Almost prosaically, he pulled the sword forth, but as he did a great WHUMPH radiated out, passing through the assembled crowd like an electric shot. Simultaneously, the leaden sky overhead suddenly broke up, allowing a beam of sunlight into the cathedral's courtyard, glinting directly off Excalibur's blade and sending motes of light refracting off. A flock of pure white doves nesting in the eaves of the cathedral took wing, flying low over the assembly.

A voice rang out from the crowd: "Just who is that boy?"

The older knight stepped forward. "This is Arthur, squire to my good son Sir Kay," he said.

There was a moment of shocked silence. Then, the voice of King Lot rang out.

"WHAT!? Are to be ruled by a beardless bastard?"

A ripple of similar indignant outbursts spread through the crowd, but several other lords were already kneeling before the boy king. This included both the knights who had come with Arthur, Sir Ector and Sir Kay, as well as King Leodegrance, Sir Brastias, and the well-known knights Sir Hervis de Revel and Prince Lanceor of Estregales. Seeing his brother-in-law bow down, Herringdale did the same, although not totally convinced of what he'd just seen.

These knights and lords were in the minority, however. The Duke of Gloucester began to loudly take King Lot's side, and other outland kings similarly voiced their support. The crowd of commoners began to grow angry, voicing their opposition to the nobles' doubts; they had seen all the proof they required. Herringdale turned towards Leodegrance for advice - he didn't like the sound of the crowd. But Leodegrance was listening intently to one of his knights, who was whispering something in his ear. Leodegrance straightened up and immediately began pushing his way back through the crowd, making for his horse.

Herringdale followed. As Leodegrance mounted his horse, Herringdale caught up. He caught at the king's cloak and Leodegrance looked down.

"I must fly for my kingdom. My enemy, King Ryons, has mustered an army against me it would seem. Stay here and watch after our new king and send me dispatches on the developing situation."

Herringdale nodded and began fighting his way back through the crowd as Leodegrance and his entourage rode off. By the time he'd reached the stone, Merlin and Dubricus had managed to calm the commoners and Lot and several other lords had stormed off in a huff, yelling curses and obscenities. Dubricus was in the middle of a speech that was barely audible above the lingering shouts of the departing lords.

"--and there shall be another drawing of the sword from the stone!" Dubricus was saying. "Send word forth to all corners of the land that we shall meet back here on Candlemas in one month's time and we shall all see Arthur pull the sword from the stone again and all doubt shall be erased!"

A murmur ran through the crowd. Some knights grumbled. The Duke of Gloucester scoffed openly. "And how do we know that Merlin won't simply perform more of his sorcerous chicanery between now and then?"

"We shall appoint an honor guard," said Dubricus. "The ten best knights here shall form the guard, and they in turn will each select ten knights as well. These hundred knights will guard the sword day and night for the next month until Candlemas."

Naturally, Herringdale, as one of the most famous knights in the British Isles, was among the ten knights first chosen, along with Sir Brastias, Sir Hervis de Revel, and seven other worthies. The guard was then filled out and the crowd broke apart, ablaze with excited chatter. Herringdale watched as the young lad, Arthur, was led away by Dubricus and Merlin, Sir Ector and Sir Kay following behind at a respectful distance.

Herringdale took it in turn to watch over the sword with the others. During his downtime, back in his rented room, he dictated letters to Cameliard as well as back to Du Plain and Sarum, staying in communication with his sheriff and his castellan, as well as arranging the final details of his marriage to Lady Jenna through Earl Robert.

At long last, Candlemas arrived, and another convocation of nobles gathered 'round the sword in the stone. Present this time were the knights who had still been fighting out on the melee field, including King Alain and Duke Ulfius. As before, Arthur drew the sword from the stone, this time without the accompanying pyrotechnics. It was almost anticlimactic, in fact. Many of the assembled nobility, including Earl Robert, Alain, Ulfius, Duke Derfel, Bishop Bedwin, the Earls of Hertford and Dorset, and even the mercenary lord, Sir Cynrain of Cornwall, stepped forth and knelt before their new king. Most of the nobility, however, still held back, refusing to believe that reality could be so very different from their expectations.

"Because there are some who are not convinced, and others who would not come to this convocation," Dubricus announced, "we shall have another drawing of the sword on Easter day, and let any who still doubt the fulfillment of the prophecy come!"

Herringdale reluctantly agreed to stay on, but on the condition that he be relieved of his guard duty after the Easter sword-drawing. He then dispatched a letter for Sarum setting the date of his wedding for a week after Easter, at the end of March.

Again, he wiled away the days in London, standing watch over the sword when necessary. He had plenty of time to ruminate, and he for one was convinced that Arthur was, unbelievable at it may seem, the new king. He could personally testify that the sword had remained untouched between New Year's and Candlemas, and that it had been firmly rooted in the anvil during that time - he himself had tried to draw it forth and had been unable to.

Easter arrived, and with it came yet another convocation of nobles. Many of the so-called "Eager Vassals" who had sworn allegience on Candlemas did not bother to show up this time, as they had no need of further proof. For the nobles who did come, they witnessed Arthur yet again draw the sword from the stone as Merlin, Dubricus, Ector, and Kay looked on. A sizable chunk of the crowd bent their knee at this point, including the Earl of Wuerensis, the Duke of Clarence, and the Earl of Jagent. Herringdale departed with these "Good Vassals" the next day, heading for home. Before he left, however, he gave his word to Archbishop Dubricus that he would return to London on Pentecost, where a fourth sword drawing had been scheduled.

Herringdale returned home after his three month absence and immediately began setting to the task of his wedding. He was pleased to find that his steward had been busily laying away provisions for the past couple weeks and that much of the logistical work had been done. Soon, all that remained was to await the arrival of the wedding guests and Lady Jenna.

They began to filter in three days before the wedding, and soon a veritable tent city had sprung up around Du Plain castle and its adjacent village. Most of Salisbury's nobility had turned out, and many notable knights from neighboring realms as well: the Earl of Marlborough, King Cadwy of Somerset, Sir Uffo, son of Duke Ulfius, Sir Cynrain of Cornwall, and even Sir Brastias, who greeted Herringdale warmly and offered his most sincere congratulations. Bishop Bedwin was on hand to perform the wedding ceremony itself.

Yet as the guests piled in, Herringdale became increasingly uneasy. He kept looking for falsehoods behind the flattery offered him, looking deep into the eyes of his well-wishers for a trace of sniggering duplicity. He knew of the rumors that circulated about him at Sarum and other courts, started by Prince Mark of Cornwall and spread by malicious gossips. Earl Robert's words from four months previous still rang in his ears: "Mother and I were just recently speculating whether you might take another wife. She seemed to think you wouldn't, though she wouldn't say why."

Herringdale knew perfectly well what Ellen had meant. He also knew perfectly well that the Countess couldn't care less who her Marshall dallied with as long as he kept the county safe and led its army ably in battle. He appreciated her pragmatism, but still felt stung by the knowledge that even she had heard the rumors. How far and wide had the talk spread? His name was known as far away as the Out Isles - had the rumors also reached those rainswept rocks, where blue-painted chieftans huddled around campfires in their rude peat moss hovels, laughing at and mocking him?

The day of the wedding arrived, and Herringdale saw his bride up close for the first time since they had danced together at Sarum Castle's hall the previous summer. She was as lovely and pure and kind-looking as he remembered; the moreso, in fact, for she wore a beautiful gown of richly embroidered blue, red, and white silks and fine linens. Her face, framed by a chaste wimple and barbette, flashed a glowing smile at her betrothed as he took her hand and led her to the castle's modest stone church. There they were met by Bishop Bedwin, and there they exchanged their pledges of dower and dowry. Jenna, as niece to the Castellan of Mildenhall, brought with her a fine dowry of two demesne manors and four enfeoffed manors. Of course, in return she was marrying one of the most famous knights in the land and Salisbury's richest outside of Earl Robert. Herringdale hoped it would be enough to win her loyalty despite their difference in age.

After placing a ring on Jenna's finger, the couple proceeded into the church. Kneeling before the altar, a white blanket was stretched over their heads and Bishop Bedwin performed the marital mass as Robert, Ellen, and as many of the assembled worthies as could be squeezed in to the tiny church looked on. When the mass was finished, Herringdale and Jenna emerged into the bailey, where they were greeted with raucous cheers from the remainder of the assembled wedding party and townsfolk. Smiling broadly, they led everyone across the bridge that connected the bailey to the castle's keep, then up to the great hall, which was soon filled to bursting with guests.

Herringdale and Jenna were conveyed to their bedchamber by the revelers, the door shut behind them. Smiles fading, they regarded each other. Jenna blushed and moved to a window seat overlooking the Test River. Herringdale followed and sat beside her. He had never been with a woman like this - Elaine had been two years his senior and married once before. What was he supposed to do?

Then he felt Jenna's small, silken hand slip over his grizzled, calloused fingers. Her hand was almost childlike in size compared to his. They smiled at each other and kissed.

An hour later, the happy couple emerged into the Great Hall to tumultuous applause. They were shown to their seats at the High Table and presented with a deliciously enticing panoply of rich dishes, which they ate lustily, smiling at the troupe of jongleurs who performed daring balancing and tumbling acts in amongst the tightly-packed tables.

The feast seemed to be going well until it was nearing the final course. At that point, during a lull in conversation, Herringdale happened to hear a bit of conversation drift over from a group of ladies seated near the high table. Theirs was the manner of giggling gossips, and the words he heard seemed to confirm all his worst fears: "I heard he's marrying his daughter to King Alain - might as well have married the King himself and had done with it! I don't know what the Lady Jenna was thinking! What happened to his first wife - such a scandal!"

Abruptly, Herringdale rose. Earl Robert, who was seated to his right, rose immediately, holding out a hand to steady the Marshall, but Herringdale waved him off.

"Upset stomach," Herringdale mumbled, and he stumbled off towards the door to his quarters as the entire hall looked on in shocked silence. After a moment of confused hesitation, Lady Jenna rose as well and followed her husband. As the door closed behind her, Herringdale could hear Earl Robert commanding the minstrels to play on and calling for the next course of the feast.

Herringdale sank down in his bed, his head bowed. He felt Jenna sit beside him. He felt her hand brush his thinning hair, still cropped in the Roman fashion as it had been since his youth. He melted at her kind touch and collapsed into her arms, sobbing like a child. She held him and caressed him and comforted him. He had at last, after so many years, found true comfort in the arms of another.

[Des wants it known that, yes, she did get a bit choked up at this moment. She went ahead and generated a Love passion for Jenna that came up as 8. And so the seed has been planted in Herringdale's heart.]

Jenna saw to seeing the wedding guests off the next day as Herringdale continued to brood in his chambers. But over the next month, the newlywed couple found their affection for each other growing, and Herringdale's mood improved with it. As Pentecost approached, he made plans to travel back to London. But he wouldn't be going alone - his whole family was coming with him. For he meant to ride for Carlion after this latest sword-drawing ceremony, where he would give his daughter away to become the new Queen of Escavalon. Heledd was excited, as was Jenna, who had never been to either London or Escavalon.

"Don't get too excited about London," Herringdale cautioned her the night before their departure. "It's overrated."

"Easy for you to say!" she chided. "How many times have been there? Remind me."

"And how many times have I had excrement dumped on my head? More times than I'd like to remember, I'll tell you!"

And so Herringdale rode with his ladies and his entourage of four knights and ten footmen and soon arrived in London, which was all achatter over the impending sword-drawing. Many commoners had come in from outlying estates and villages to see "their king" draw the sword, and many were the nobles who did not attend, for they had already made up their minds one way or the other. But a modest turnout of "Reluctant Vassals" was on hand as, once again, Arthur drew the sword from the stone. The crowd of commoners went wild with adulation and applause, but only a few of the nobles knelt in obeisance. Some tried to raise objections again, but the crowd would have none of it. Chanting Arthur's name, they picked up the boy and conveyed him inside the cavernous interior of St. Paul's.

Waiting inside, as if this had been planned all along, was Archbishop Dubricus, a bishop standing nearby with a gold circlet on a red velvet pillow, ready to crown Arthur king. Dubricus raised his hands for silence, then addressed Arthur directly, his voice ringing out through the great space of the cathedral.

"Before you can become king, you must become a knight. Who sponsors you?"

"I do!" Sir Ector called out from the crowd.

"Then come forth and knight him," Dubricus said.

"I will not," said Ector, causing a slight stir of murmuring to ripple through the crowd. "I am not worthy," he explained, "being just a country knight from Norgales and merely Arthur's foster father. I say the best knight here should do the honors."

Herringdale was suddenly aware of many eyes in the cathedral fixing upon him. [Des earned a real life Modest check here as she tried to demure, saying she didn't want me to "Mary-Sue" her character. But I assured her that this was straight out of the GPC, that Malory doesn't name the knight who knighted Arthur, and that 'there is a perfect justification' for having a player knight be the one, as the text of the GPC puts it. She acquiesced reluctantly at this point.]

Herringdale came forward and Arthur knelt before him. "Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath." He then cuffed Arthur, though not as hard as he'd hit Robert. "And that's so you remember it."

Dubricus stepped forward and handed Arthur his sword, Excalibur, then placed the circlet upon his head. "Arise a knight and King of Logres."

Arthur rose and the crowd gave a great, echoing cheer. With Dubricus on one side and Herringdale on the other, he waved out at the crowd, a nervous smile plastered across his beardless face.

Coming up in Part II: Carlion!
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