Friday, September 10, 2010

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

With this third and final installment, the year 510 officially takes the crown as the most epic-length year so far in our campaign. Three full sessions! About 15 hours of game play! Not that I was surprised; this was obviously going to be an epic year based solely on events laid out in the GPC itself. As it turned out, Herringdale found plenty of moments to personally shine, as well.

Picking up where we left off, Herringdale was sailing for the Continent to enlist the aid of King Ban of Ganis. Sailing with him was Sir Brastias, who was bound for the court of King Bors. Time was of the essence, which made it all the more frustrating when it took four days merely to cross the Channel to Bayeux. From there, the cog leap-frogged its way along the coastline, putting in at sheltered bays and harbors with every sunset. After nearly two weeks' travel, Sir Brastias debarked at a small fishing village nestled into the rocky coast of Brittany. Herringdale stayed aboard, for his destination lay further south along the coast. Finally, 20 days after departing Carlion, he set foot on a stone jetty in the harbor of La Rochelle. It appeared to be a bustling, active port, and an old Roman castle guarded the entrance to the harbor. From that fortress had come three knights, all wearing older-style armor, each with a similar heraldic device on his shield. Herringdale watched them approach as Baldrick and the ship's crew unloaded his horses and gear.

"Good day, sir knight!" said the lead Ganis knight, a dark-haired man about 10 years Herringdale's junior. "I am Sir Gerart de Ganis, castellan of La Rochelle to his majesty, King Ban of Benwick."

Herringdale bowed in greeting. "I am Sir Herringdale, Marshall of Salisbury and ambassador on behalf of his majesty, the High King Arthur."

Gerart looked thunderstruck. "How can this be? The Sir Herringdale come to our humble town? And bringing news that the land of the Britons has a High King anew?"

"All true," said Sir Herringdale, somewhat surprised that his reputation had preceded him.

"Then come, for there is much to hear it would seem!" said Gerart. Herringdale was escorted to the harbor castle where, as a gentle sea breeze wafted in through open windows, he was treated to a rich and sumptuous feast, albeit featuring many strange and unfamiliar dishes. Over the meal, Herringdale informed Gerart of Arthur's proclamation as High King and of the unfortunate circumstances of his mission arising from that event.

"Legend of the Sword in the Stone has reached our shores," said Gerart solemnly as Herringdale finished his tale, "and it would seem to me that those who would deny the truth of one who fulfills the prophecy are blinded by their own lust for power. I will escort you personally to Benwick that you may present your case to King Ban. I shouldn't fear, however - he is a wise and just king, and I would be shocked if he did not offer you the support you seek."

"Thank you, kind sir," Herringdale said with a courteous bow.

After a night spent in the hall of La Rochelle Castle, Herringdale departed at first light, Gerart at his side. Riding with them were three mounted archers. "The roads are less safe these days," Gerart explained. "Always are we vexed by the forces of King Claudas of the Franks, who sends raiding parties into our lands and seeks to provoke a war of conquest."

Herringdale could sympathize with the Ganis folk. These Franks, it would seem, were little better than Saxons.

The first day's travel passed without incident, however. Herringdale rode through beautiful countryside: gently rolling hills carpeted with vineyards and olive groves that had been cultivated and tilled for centuries; ancient Roman manors; sleepy villages of red-tile-roofed cottages. As it was mid-June, the sun was out in its full glory, and Herringdale was sweating beneath his armor by early morning. It was much hotter here than back home!

Gerart and Herringdale were welcomed into the palatial manor of a Ganis knight, where they passed a pleasant evening trading news and stories. Herringdale found that his name was known even here, and throughout the evening repeatedly felt the appraising gaze of the knight and his young daughters when they thought he wasn't looking. It was with some relief, then, that he and Gerart hit the road the next morning.

They hadn't yet traveled far enough to stop for a mid-morning rest when Herringdale spotted some riders making their way along a ridgeline to the east. There were five of them and they rode armed with spear and shield and bore a strange style of helmet and armor Herringdale had never seen before.

"Sir Gerart," said Herringdale, indicating the riders. Gerart signaled a halt, then scanned the ridgeline, watching as the riders descended into the valley.

"Soldiers of King Clovis!" Gerart spat. Two of his sergeants knocked arrows in their bows, but Gerart cast Herringdale a look, seeking his leave to engage the invaders. Herringdale hesitated. Already, three weeks had passed since departing Carlion. He didn't really want to get involved in local disputes and risk further delay due to injury or capture. Gerart sensed his hesitation.

"I understand your lands are often vexed by Saxon raiders," Gerart said. "It is in part how you earned your magnificent reputation, sir; your pride in your homeland has stood as an example to all of us who would defend ourselves from invaders."

Herringdale took the point. Unsheathing his sword, he nodded at Gerart. With a quick sequence of hand signals, Gerart dispatched his mounted archers up the side of a hillock to take up ambush positions, then he and Herringdale began to ride slowly up the winding trail through the vineyards, towards the Franks.

They came within hailing distance of each other before the Franks suddenly spurred their mounts forward, wielding their spears in the overhand fashion and coming quickly down the slope. Herringdale and Gerart responded in kind. Simultaneously, three arrows came flying from a grove of trees about 40 yards away as Gerart's men sprung the ambush. One of the shafts found its mark and buried itself in the shoulder of a Frank, who nonetheless continued to ride forward.

As the mounted warriors met in close combat, Herringdale charged two of the Franks at the same time. In a split second, he saw that there was a gap between the two men just wide enough for him to ride through. He did so, swinging his sword in a great sweeping overhand motion that described a figure 8.

The momentum of his charge carried him past the Franks. As he reigned in Smuggy IV and wheeled about, he saw two slumping forms dropping from their saddles, one completely beheaded, the other spurting blood from a severed jugular.

[Des had split Herringdale's Sword skill of 21 into 10 and 11 so as to attack both riders. She proceded to then roll a 10 and an 11, respectively, and score a Crit on both!]

Gerart was now fighting three Frankish knights by himself, and Herringdale hastened to aid him. The force of his charge knocked one of the Franks from his saddle, but Herringdale was soon following him as another Frank brought his sword crashing down in a bone-jarring blow. It would have been a mortal blow for a lesser man, but Herringdale was protected by his superior armor as well as less tangible factors. Nonetheless, he was badly hurt. Unhorsed, Herringdale charged the mounted Frank as the other fellow took off running. Unable to pull the Frank from his saddle, Herringdale settled for driving his sword up into the knight's armpit, and so dismounted him anyway.

Meanwhile, Gerart had bested his man. The mounted sergeants returned and Gerart tasked them with riding back to La Rochelle with the wounded prisoners for interrogation and imprisonment. Now down to a duo, Herringdale and Gerart rode on.  By mid-afternoon, they had arrived at Benwick.

Herringdale was immediately conveyed to the great hall of Benwick's imposing citadel, and there he waited for about half-an-hour before the arrival of King Ban was heralded by a fanfare of trumpets. The king swept into the hall garbed in resplendent fabrics and an ermine-trimmed cape. His salt-and-pepper hair was cropped close, as was his beard, and he had the look of an old wardog that could still bite. Herringdale bowed deferentially.

"Sir Gerart has told me of the reason for your mission," said King Ban. "I should like to hear the details of this young Arthur and how he came to be High King."

And so Herringdale related the tale, from the drawing of the sword at the New Year's Tournament to the Battle of Carlion. He held King Ban spellbound with his words, and when he finished a silence descended over the hall as the king stroked his beard thoughtfully. At last he stood.

"Send word to my vassals. The army of Ganis will march to the aid of King Arthur, and I shall march with them."

Gerart bowed and immediately dashed from the court. King Ban meanwhile invited Herringdale to consider himself a guest of the court of Benwick. Over the next two weeks, Herringdale relaxed as best he could, by night feasting on exotic dishes and drinking some of the best wine he'd ever had. By day he hunted, hawked, and practiced at arms. Meanwhile, the vassals of King Ban slowly assembled around Benwick. The host was mighty indeed, but that simply meant that it took that much longer to assemble. Finally, after a fortnight's wait, the army was ready to move out. It was nearing mid-July at this point. Herringdale hoped that Arthur had so far managed to keep Lot and his army at bay, or else there might not be a home for him to return to...

The army of King Ban marched to La Rochelle to embark for its journey to Britain. Herringdale rode at the side of the king. At La Rochelle, another delay ensued as the requisite transportation was arranged. By this point Herringdale was nearly jumping out of his skin with nervous anticipation. At long last, he boarded a cog with his horses and equipment. It was due to set sail in the morning as soon as the winds and tides were favorable. Lying in a hammock near the prow, Herringdale drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

He was dreaming that the ship had left the dock that night rather than in the morning. What was more, it was skimming along the waves like a flying fish rather than sailing through the water. The land and harbor quickly receded into the distance as the ocean flashed by, sparkling in the moonlight. After what felt like a couple hours, land began to rise up before Herringdale's astonished eyes - he was approaching the coast of Britain.

The perspective of the dream shifted at this point. He was now flying high up in the air like a hawk, looking down on his homeland. He flew for many leagues over forests, hills, and farmland. Finally, as a large mountain range loomed up before him, he began to descend. Below him he could see a field near a large town. The field was bounded on two sides by woods and on two sides by the encampment of two great armies, their campfires flickering in the night. As Herringdale descended closer, he could see the field separating the army camps was already littered with dozens of corpses and hundreds of horse carcasses.

Herringdale awoke with a start. What a dream! Yet as his senses returned to him, he realized he was no longer on board the ship. He felt a root digging into his back, smelled the rich, thick air of a forest rather than the tangy, salt-laden air of the harbor. Far off, he could hear the ringing, clanging, shouting sounds of battle. Blearily, he rose to his feet, blinking as he looked around. He was indeed in a sun-dappled woodland, and what was more, he was surrounded by the wakening army of King Ban!

Other knights were rising to their feet in wonder as well, but King Ban was already moving about, calling for horses and mustering his troops with quick, shouted commands. Herringdale was soon at his side. Everything was moving like a whirlwind, and quickly, very quickly, the army was mounted and formed into units along the edge of the woods. Through the final screen of trees, Herringdale could make out two armies engaged in battle on a field, the very field he had seen in his dream the night before!

As King Ban signaled the forward march, Herringdale studied the two armies. He could see Arthur's banner flying proudly in the center of the boiling melee, and Herringdale quickly noted that most of the knights fighting on the High King's side were afoot. The army engaged with Arthur and his allies could only be that of King Lot. If possible, it appeared even larger than before, swollen by swarming hordes of tattooed Picts. Herringdale dimly recalled his father ranting about fighting Pictish heathens along Hadrian's Wall in the name of Aurelius Ambrosius.

"They are daft cunning brutes, son," he'd said. "Always guard your horse against them, for they are not above slitting your mount's belly to get you on even terms."

Herringdale was shaken from his brief reverie by the sound of a trumpet fanfare coming from the woods to his right. The army of King Bors was emerging from the forest as well! With a great cheer, King Ban's army surged forward, crashing into the flank of Lot's army alongside the men of King Bors. Herringdale soon found himself surrounded by a sea of Picts, and in the hour's fighting that ensued he personally split the skull of a hairy chieftan bearing a great tattoo in the shape of a bear across his chest.

By this point, the rest of Lot's army was withdrawing from the field. Herringdale, following King Ban, surged forward in pursuit, but this was quickly checked by a unit of veteran knights from Lothian, who had formed a rearguard to enable an orderly withdrawal. Although Herringdale fought valiantly and fiercely, so too did his opponents, and after an hour no ground had been gained. The Lothian knights at last retired from the field, and King Ban let them go, as he and his men were spent from the fierce engagement. Herringdale was just as happy to let them go as well; the wound he'd acquired in fighting the Frankish knights had not yet healed all the way, and he too was bruised, battered, and exhausted from the battle.

But the day belonged to Arthur! The three allied armies met in the middle of the blood-soaked field and there was great cheer and rejoicing in the victory. Arthur sought out the two Ganis kings and thanked them profusely for their timely intervention, and singled out Herringdale and Brastias for their exemplary service to the crown.

"As a sign of my gratitude," Arthur proclaimed in a ringing voice, "all the plunder gained from this victory shall be given to the armies of Ganis!"

There was a great cheer, although Herringdale noticed many of the British knights exchanging glances.

Arthur noticed too. "Do not worry, my loyal vassals!" he hastened to add. "You shall have your own great reward, and soon. In the meantime, I invite King Ban and King Bors to stay with me for a time as my guests."

The kings accepted graciously, and Herringdale rode with them back to the town, which turned out to be Bedegraine, the seat of Earl Sanam, perched at the base of the Pennine Mountains. The three kings and Brastais and Herringdale were accompanied by a select group of knights, including Earl Robert, who bore a bloodied bandage around his head; the remainder of Arthur's army dispersed to the towns and manors around Bedegraine to rest up and recover from the battle, while most of the Ganis army began marching south, bound for seaports and their distant homes.

"It was a mighty battle," Robert told Herringdale as they approached Bedegraine. "We departed Carlion shortly after you did, hoping to catch Lot before he could reassemble his army. The last two months have been all march and counter-march as we've maneuvered against each other. Soon we, the pursuers, became the pursued as Lot got his army reassembled, bolstered by new allies this time. I know Cornwall sent troops, and I personally engaged some knights from Norgales yesterday.

"The first day was brutal. Lot kept his knights back at first and sent his howling Picts against us. Many good knights were killed, and many more - including me - lost their mounts. This morning, Arthur put all the knights who had lost horses into units of footmen, then interspersed the remaining mounted knights in between. It was desperate and not a little demeaning to fight on foot, but it proved effective enough to hold Lot's army for a time. But we were beginning to lose ground against his superior numbers. If you and the Ganis armies hadn't shown up when you did..."

Herringdale nodded grimly.

At the hall of Earl Sanam, Herringdale and Brastias were again hailed as heroes - although Herringdale couldn't help but notice that Sanam himself remained coolly cordial towards him. The feeling at this point was mutual, and it was much to Herringdale's relief that Sanam was seated on the other side of the high table, far away. By his side sat his comely daughter, Lyzianor, and Herringdale wrinkled his nose in disapproval when noticed how Sanam was foisting his daughter upon the High King as the feast got under way.

"Why didn't I think of that?" Herringdale muttered under his breath. He made a mental note to get his younger daughter, Melerie, introduced to Arthur at the earliest possibility. In the meantime, he watched to see how the young king would respond to the attentions of the Earl's daughter. He was favorably impressed by how comfortable Arthur was in dealing with her; courtly and decorous, yet at ease and accepting of her ministrations. This only fueled Herringdale's ambition to beat out the Earl of Bedegraine in the contest of marrying into the High King's family.

Herringdale was stirred from his thoughts by the voice of another lady. "That is a most pleasing doublet you are wearing, good sir," she said in passing. Unfortunately, it was not entirely clear who she was addressing - it might have been Herringdale, but it could also have been Brastias or Earl Robert, who were seated near him. As Brastias and Herringdale exchanged a look trying to decide, the young Earl merely smiled and said, "Many thanks!" to the lady, who returned the smile as she took a seat at the far end of the table.

Earl Robert turned to Herringdale. "Who is that lovely vision?" he asked.

Herringdale looked back at the damsel. "The Lady Uffingham, I believe." He had met her briefly when he'd been a guest of the Lord of Uffingham during his journey to Rydychan the year before. Earl Robert remained quiet, clearly thinking hard. Later in the feast, Robert turned to Herringdale again.

"Could you help me write a poem of thanks to the Lady Uffingham?" he asked, blushing slightly. "I...want to thank her for her compliment."

"Er..." said Herringdale, who knew as much about poetry as he did about midwifery or spinning wool. Nevertheless, he gave it his best shot, but mostly ended up nodding along in agreement to whatever doggerel Robert managed to come up with. The young Earl left to dictate the poem to a scribe and Herringdale breathed a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over. Honestly, this new generation! He hadn't needed a poem to woo and win either of his wives...

He thought of Lady Jenna and began to worry about her and the unborn child she bore. Although he had heard that Arthur would be decamping back to Carlion in a fortnight's time, he resolved to depart on his own the next day. Besides, the sooner he was back in Carlion, the sooner he could get his eldest daughter married off to one king and begin prepping his youngest daughter to marry another. He could pay a visit to his brother-in-law, King Leodegrance, on the way. Ever since the New Year's Tournament, Leodegrance had been back in Cameliard, and Herringdale had been sending him regular updates of the progress of Arthur to the throne, as requested, but had so far received no responses. Strange, that wasn't really like Leodegrance, Herringdale mused.

Herringdale was delayed in departing the next day, however, when he was summoned to the Earl's hall at first light. Arriving there, he found Sir Brastias and two Bedegraine knights just arriving as well. As they entered the hall, they found Arthur and Earl Sanam. From the corner of his eye, Herringdale caught sight of dingy druid's robes whipping out of sight around a doorframe - Merlin!

"Thank you for responding to my summons," said Arthur. "I have asked Earl Sanam to recommend to me his two most trustworthy knights to assist in a mission of great importance. I have been recently made aware of a cache of old Roman silver in the mountains. It was stashed there by King Constantine many years ago when he was making his bid to become Emperor, and he never returned for it. I intend to use it to make payment of thanks to my army, as I gave the plunder to the Ganis armies."

"A wise plan, sire," Brastias said gruffly.

Arthur went over the directions to the cache and soon Herringdale was riding with the other three knights through the cool morning. After three hours, they'd reached a secluded glade where a mountain stream trickled in a modest waterfall over an outcrop of rock. Following the king's directions, they made their way to a cave mouth that was not visible from the glade. Inside, they took a collective gasp of awe at the king's ransom in silver that lay before them. Herringdale caught one of the Bedegraine knights making to stash a silver bar under his tunic, but admonished him.

"The king will reward us many times over for bringing back all the silver," he said sternly. The knight shyly put the bar back.

It took two hours to load the silver up on the backs of the pack horses they'd been provided, and they didn't arrive back in Bedegraine until nightfall. But Arthur proved true to Herringdale's prediction, giving each of the four knights double shares in the treasure: fully 40 libra worth of silver!

After the temporary delay, Herringdale departed Bedegraine the next day. He and Baldrick rode south along a dirt road that took them up the Trent River valley towards Cameliard. It was getting late in the afternoon when he spotted two knights approaching him from the other direction.

"Knights of the king," Herringdale mused - he must have crossed into Cameliard. He prepared to hail them when something made him pause. Their arms were unfamiliar... Then he recognized one of them: a yellow yale on a green background. The sound of the London herald's snide voice echoed in his head: "Didn't we just have a knight from Norgales with a yale or rampant vert?"

Remembering what Robert had said yesterday about Norgales sending troops to aid King Lot, Herringdale reached for his sword as the knights approached.

"Who goes there?" one of the knights shouted from a safe distance.

"I am Sir Herringdale, Marshall of Salisbury, kin to Leodegrance of Cameliard, and vassal to the High King. Who are you that trespasses upon my brother-in-law's land?"

At that, the two knights charged. A furious fight ensued as Herringdale defended himself form the dual onslaught. These knights were no mere Frankish churls, and they acquitted themselves well, landing several telling blows. Yet first one then the other went down before Herringdale's sword, and they were soon left, groaning and clutching their wounds, upon the ground.

Herringdale hopped down from his horse and put the toe of his mailed foot to the neck of one of the knights. "Now," he said, still panting from the exertions of battle and wincing at the host of wounds he had taken, "how about you answer my question?"

The knights revealed all: they were in the service of King Ryons of Norgales, and had marched with him in a surprise invasion of Cameliard over the winter. This is why King Leodegrance had had to depart from the New Year's Tourney with such haste, and now Leodegrance was besieged behind the walls of the town of Carohaise, about ten miles up the road, surrounded by the army of Ryons. The Norgales knight sneered up at Herringdale.

"You're too late to help your kin, though! The city walls have been breached and it is only a matter of days before we take it and put that troublesome king to the sword!"

"We shall see about that," Herringdale said. After binding their arms, he and Baldrick slung the wounded knights over their own mounts and dispatched their squires to carry news of their capture home so that ransom could be collected.

"Looks like we're riding back to Bedegraine," Herringdale said to Baldrick, and so they did. Around midnight, he arrived at the town gates and within the hour was in the hall of Earl Sanam. Arthur, summoned from his chambers, listened to Herringdale's tale with mounting alarm.

"I will muster the army - or what remains of it that can march and fight - in the morning, and we will ride to the assistance of King Leodegrance."

"Why not begin the muster now?" Herringdale asked.

"Oh, well, I'm...entertaining someone at the moment..." said Arthur. Herringdale said no more. "But don't worry!" Arthur hastened to add. "I do not forget those who have shown allegiance to me from the beginning, as you and the good king did, and I owe him my help."

Arthur was as good as his word, and the next day he was on the march with about 600 knights, Herringdale at his side. "This isn't the way I thought I'd be marching to Carlion, but the road is blocked and we must clear it!" he said to Herringdale as they rode, a wry smile twisting his young face.

Herringdale chuckled and then winced at the pain this caused. The combat with the Norgales knights had nearly gone against him, and he had the wounds to prove it, on top of the hurts he had sustained over the course of the summer. He had done his duty to Leodegrance by summoning a relief army; there was little he accomplish by riding to his death in the vanguard.

"Sire," he said, still wincing, "I wonder if I may request the honor of commanding the reserve element in the coming battle?"

Arthur looked surprised, but instantly granted Herringdale's request.

As evening fell, the army came within sight of Carohaise. The proud city was indeed suffering mightily under the boot heel of King Ryons, whose army encircled the breached walls. To Herringdale's relief, it looked to be about the same size as Arthur's.

"We rest tonight," Arthur announced to his commanders. "Tomorrow, we ride to battle!"

The next day, Herringdale sat atop Smuggy IV, well to the back of the army, and watched as Arthur's men marched down the gentle grade towards Carohaise. Ryons had formed up his own troops to meet the advance, and soon battle was joined on the plains outside the city. Over the course of the morning, Herringdale watched as Arthur pressed the forces of Ryons, aided by about 50 knights who emerged from the city proper. Even from a distance of a quarter-mile, Herringdale could mark out Ryons, who towered above the troops around him and wielded a great two-handed axe in the Saxon style.

"They say his father was a giant and his mother a sorceress," said Baldrick in a horrified whisper as he watched Ryons carve a path of devastation through a unit of hapless footmen.

"I believe it!" Herringdale said, and he felt increasingly glad that he had not marched into battle this day.

Despite the personal exertions of Ryons, Arthur's army gradually began to gain the upper hand. Shortly after noon, Ryons signaled the retreat. Arthur let him go; his army had been exhausted to begin with, and was now nearing collapse.

Leodegrance welcomed Herringdale and Arthur to his court, though it was also in a sorry state.

"We were eating our shoes," said Leodegrance, who was clearly two or three stone lighter than the last time Herringdale had seen him. "Thank you, my king," said Leodegrance, kissing Arthur's hand.

"Enough of that!" Arthur said, laughing and clearly embarrassed. "I see to the welfare of all those who support me."

"Is my niece about?" Herringdale asked Leodegrance.

"No, she is safe in Stafford Castle. I was able to lure Ryons away from my family and draw him here. I think the long siege it kept the rest of my kingdom safe, at the least."

Arthur and Herringdale rested at Carohaise for a week, but were soon on the road again; there was much rebuilding to be done at Carohaise and it was not the most welcoming environment to stay in. Especially not when Carlion beckoned! Soon, Herringdale found himself marching south with Arthur's entourage, out of Cameliard and through the counties of Lambor, Brun, Wuerensis, and Gloucester. In every stop, they were welcomed with great feasts and much fanfare; whatever reservations these lords may have held earlier in the year, they appeared assuaged now, or at least willing to show proper levels of deference.

After a fortnight's travel, the progress reached Carlion. Herringdale was anxious to see his family again, and hurried to his rented flat as soon as the formal welcomes at King Alain's palace had been completed. There he found his wife and daughters as well as he had left them. In his three months of absence, Jenna had ballooned in size to a startling degree. Herringdale was forcibly reminded of Elaine's first pregnancy, when she had borne him twins. Could it be that it could happen again?

That night, Herringdale took Melerie aside and told her of his aspirations. To his surprise, she did not seem enthusiastic about the idea.

"What if I don't want to be a queen?" she asked with a petulant stamp of her foot as the discussion reached its uncomfortable crescendo.

"What you want is what's best for this family!" Herringdale shot back. "Tomorrow your sister will wed King Alain and I will introduce you to the High King. You are to be on your best behavior and do your best to impress him, do you understand?"

Melerie nodded, but as Herringdale swept from the room he could hear her crying into her pillow. No matter, she would do what he asked of her. It was a daughter's duty, after all.

And so, at long last, the following September morning Herringdale was gathered along with a host of other worthies to witness the wedding of his daughter to King Alain. The ceremony, in deference to Alain's pagan beliefs, was to start in the cheap showiness of nature, a wooded grove down near the River Usk, before making its way in a grand procession back to the city proper and into the Church of St. Julius. With the wedding ceremonies completed, everyone then proceeded back to Alain's palace, where the bride and groom were ushered off to private chambers and a grand feast was put on.

As father of the bride, Herringdale was given pride of place at the High Table, and he made sure that Melerie was seated at his side, near to Arthur.

"My lord," said Herringdale as a troupe of fire jugglers traipsed and entertained the assembled revelers, "I don't believe you've met my daughter, the Lady Melerie of Broughton."

"Indeed I have not," said Arthur, inclining his head to Melerie with a gleam in his eye. Herringdale was most pleased by this, and he nudged Melerie under the table so that she'd start engaging Arthur in conversation. Dutifully, she did so, and Herringdale began to eat, casually keeping an eye on the progress of their conversation. The king seemed quite captivated by Melerie's beauty, and she made a great show of fussing over the wounds he had acquired at Carohaise, despite the fact they were by now nearly all healed.

After two hours - which Herringdale noted with some chagrin was twice as long as he'd taken with Jenna - Alain and Heledd returned to great cheers and applause. Herringdale was a bit alarmed when a couple of Alain's men emerged from the private chambers bearing a white sheet stained with a bit of virgin's blood, but the crowd cheered and Alain laughed heartily. 'These earthy pagans,' Herringdale thought ruefully...

As the feast wrapped up, Melerie and Arthur were still talking animatedly, and Herringdale departed the palace in good spirits. He left instructions with Heledd to see to Melerie and send her home later in the evening and, whistling a jaunty little tune, walked back to his flat and fell into a deep, satisfied sleep. He therefore slept through the fact that Melerie did not return to the flat until very late indeed...

Over the next week, Herringdale began making preparations to return to Du Plain. Again, however, he found his plans were interrupted by a summons from King Arthur. Could this be it, an offer of marriage?

Herringdale fairly skipped to La Tor Gigantic, where Arthur was in residence, expecting to arrange a betrothal - but instead found the High King talking with Sir Cynrain.

"Ah, Sir Herringdale," said Arthur. "Good Sir Cynrain here has just arrived. I have sent for many of the best knights in the land - Sir Brastias, Duke Ulfius, Sir Hervis de Revels - for I wish to hold a winter court here at Carlion and seek knowledge from your collective pool, as it were. I look forward to some time for each of you, to learn what you bring here, what you need and would like to have."

Pursing his lips, Herringdale bowed. "It would be an honor, my liege."

So he would not be returning home this winter after all. What an odd request to make, though! What could Arthur possibly want to know? Perhaps he wanted to collect information on Herringdale's holdings - how many hides and herds he controlled, and so forth. Perhaps, but unlikely. Puzzled, Herringdale left the castle and returned to his flat to convey the news.

In the end, it was for the best. Lady Jenna was happy to stay put and have the baby in Carlion, and Heledd was happy to have her family around for the winter to help ease her transition to married life (not to mention the life of a queen!). And as for Melerie - well, she had a little surprise for Herringdale as well...
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