It's been entirely too long since the last campaign update, and I do apologize for that. Suffice to say the usual excuses apply: real life, blah, blah, etc. So let's just gather around this bounty of Pendragon goodness and feast our turkey-sodden (here in the U.S. at least) eyes upon the events that befell Sir Herringdale and his kin in the Year of Our Lord, 514.
By mutual agreement, this was to be the year that Des debuted Herringdale's daughter, Lady Meleri, as her backup PC until such time as Herringdale takes his final bow (voluntarily or otherwise...).
In fact, we opened things up with Meleri at Carlion. She had been in residence there since Arthur's coronation, raising her bastard son Loholt under the auspices of the good King Alain. With Loholt no longer a squalling babe, Meleri was making ready to return to Salisbury and take up her rightful inheritance at Broughton Hall. Spring had come. The trees were budding and Meleri was simply waiting for the weather to turn a little warmer before embarking on her journey home.
One rainy March day, however, a visitor to King Alain's court changed Meleri's plans for the time being. The rain-soaked herald bearing the arms of King Leodegrance presented himself before Alain and his assembled court, which included Meleri.
"Your majesty, I bring joyous tidings from my lord, the King of Cameliard. He wishes to announce the betrothal of his daughter, the Lady Guenevere, to the High King."
A murmur rippled through the crowd as Alain sat up, his interest piqued. The herald continued.
"The High King has also bade me seek your leave to hold the sacraments of marriage here in Carlion, where he was crowned."
Alain smiled. "You may tell the High King that he and his bride-to-be are welcome here whenever they may come."
The herald bowed and departed immediately to bear the news back to Leodegrance and Arthur and Alain's court erupted into excited chatter. Meleri found herself in a group of ladies talking excitedly about the pending nuptials.
"A wedding will be grand!" one of the ladies enthused. "Think of the food, the visitors, the merchants with their foreign wares. I bet every knight and dame in the land comes here to feast and frolic."
"I wonder, though," said one of the older ladies, "what Arthur loves more: Leodegrance's daughter or her dowry. He's been in possession of Uther's Round Table - I wouldn't guess that grand piece of furniture will come with the wedding?"
"It has to be love!" said the younger girl, scandalized.
"Of course," the old dame said. "Our High King is entranced with beautiful things and high-minded ideals." Then, with a sly glance, she added, "Like most of his generation."
"Speaking of younger generations," said Meleri, who hadn't really been listening, "I heard that King Lot ordered all those babies killed last year on the advice of a witch who foretold that one of them would grow up to kill him."
There was an awkward pause as Meleri drifted away, her long red hair masking her wry smile.
Far away, across hill, forest, and dale, the hall of Du Plain Castle was also ringing with gossip and rumors, albeit of a more martial bent. Sir Herringdale was hosting the errant knight Sir Brastias, who was traveling with his young protégé, Sir Griflet.
"The Cornish are in trouble again," said Brastias through a mouthful of roasted rabbit, a rueful grin splitting his haggard features. "Now that King ldres is dead, all of Cornwall and Brittany are deep in a power struggle for their High Kingship."
"What of the Saxons?" Herringdale asked, wiping mead from his lips with the hem of his sleeve.
"There is no real danger this year from the Saxons," said Griflet confidently. "The garrisons are in good order, and they are having some squabbles among themselves, I hear."
Herringdale nodded approvingly. For such a young knight, Griflet was already showing the makings of a future Marshall and war leader.
As the meal was wrapping up, Herringdale's steward announced the arrival of a herald from King Leodegrance's court.
"Show him in immediately!" said Herringdale, taking his place near the hall's fire pit and fastening a fine, sable-lined cloak about his shoulders.
The herald entered, bowed, and announced the news of Arthur's engagement to Herringdale's niece, Guenevere. Herringdale felt a stab of disappointment, thinking of his own unwed daughter back in Carlion, but the news that the High King would be marrying into his family bloodline was fair compensation.
"That is welcome news indeed," said Herringdale. "Please, come slake your thirst at my table."
The herald demurred, saying he had one more piece of news to deliver first: "As the bride's uncle and kin, and as one of my lord's dearest cousins, the King has requested that you ride in escort of the wedding train from Stafford Castle to Carlion."
"Tell King Leodegrance that I would be honored to accept his invitation," said Herringdale.
The wedding was scheduled to take place a week before Pentecost, so Herringdale had about a month to prepare for his journey. He graciously invited Brastias and Griflet to stay on at Du Plain and ride with him for Cameliard, an invitation they gratefully accepted.
After making all the necessary arrangements, Herringdale departed Salisbury on the road for Cameliard in late April. The spring rains had abated and the roads were once again dry and easy-going. Herringdale rode with a small party made up of knights, squires, and attendants, and they made good time, coming to Stafford Castle a week before the wedding.
As he slipped from his saddle in the court of Stafford Castle, his bones weary from the journey, Guenevere came running forth from the keep, her arms flung wide to take her uncle in an embrace.
"It is good to see you," he said, his throat somewhat constricted. Brastias seemed likewise at a loss for words, while Griflet was openly staring, his mouth hanging somewhat agape. If Guenevere noticed these extreme reactions, she did not show it, instead taking Herringdale's hand and leading him back towards the keep.
"Come! Father has been most anxious to welcome you back to his hall!" she said, her eyes dancing.
[I'm using the alternate house rule from Greg Stafford's website for generating a Passion for Guenevere upon first beholding her; the Passion is called Adore. It could easily be called Devotion. Des ended up generating an Adore (Guenevere) of 18 for Herringdale.]
Leodegrance welcomed Herringdale's party warmly to his hall. After a small feast, the King bade Herringdale and Brastias follow him into a neighboring chamber. They entered a large circular room with a high vaulted ceiling: the ground floor of the castle's great tower. Dominating the room, filling it almost entirely, was a mounstrously large round table, actually a large circle hollow in the center.
"This belonged once to King Uther and I intend to return it to his son," said Leodegrance, staring at the table's rich finish glinting in the refracted sunlight streaming in from the open door. Herringdale and Brastias remained silent; the whole room seemed filled with a respectful hush.
"I will also be sending along 100 hand-picked knights to sit at the table," said Leodegrance. At this point, Herringdale gave the King a quizzical look and Leodegrance motioned for them to return to the hall.
"When the High King stayed with me over the winter, we talked much on the subject of chivalry and the brotherhood of knights. Over the course of those long evening talks, King Arthur developed an idea to form a sacred band of knights who exemplify the ideals of chivalry and all that knights should aspire to be. He has dubbed this membership 'Knights of the Round Table' and the table shall be where the group assembles when they meet.
Having reached the hall, Leodegrance stopped and turned to face Herringdale and Brastias.
"The High King has asked that I pick 100 knights to form the core of the table's membership. The two of you are among those favored men."
Brastias nodded as if he'd been expecting this, while Herringdale bowed in thanks.
"I've also decided on King Alain, Sir Cynrain of Cornwall, Sir Baudwin, and Arthur's foster father and brother, Sir Ector and Sir Kay. The rest will be summoned in time for the wedding."
"What duties will I be expected to fulfill as part of this order?" Herringdale asked.
"You shouldn't expect your life to change significantly," said Leodegrance. "The way you've conducted yourself thus far is what qualified you for membership, after all. The main thing is that you'll now be united in true brotherhood with your fellow members, as with any order. A Round Table knight must attend Arthur's court at least once a year, unless he is upon some quest or important business. He must acknowledge Arthur as his lord. He must perform every deed with a mind towards the betterment of Arthur's name and the glory of Britain.
"Knights of the Round Table act as leaders in war, especially as officers over other knights, war councilors, bodyguards to the Pendragon, and as an elite battle unit. Knights of the Round Table act as leaders in peace. Their duty is to deliver the High King's justice across the land, and to act as models of behavior for all to emulate. They carry the king's messages, conduct his business, and protect his roads, people, and property."
This actually sounded like quite a lot of extra duties to Herringdale, but he could also see the great honor that came with membership, so he remained silent, simply nodding and smiling.
The next few days were a whirlwind of activity, organizing the wedding train and making arrangements for transporting the massive Round Table south to Carlion. Finally, two days before the wedding, the train set out. Guenevere and her ladies rode sidesaddle atop golden mares, their hair bedecked with flowers and ribbons, chatting, laughing, and singing. Herringdale rode at the head of the procession, leading several dozen knights, each carrying a fluttering banner bearing their individual arms.
With an early start on the third day of travel, the procession was able to ride into Carlion as the sun was coming up over the eastern hills. Their arrival was greeted with a fanfare of trumpets and the citizenry poured form their houses to cheer the High King's bride, who smiled meekly, somewhat overwhelmed by the outpouring of adulation and attention.
The procession's destination was La Tor Gigantic, the ancient tower-fortress that anchored one corner of Carlion's city walls and overlooked the Usk River. The Round Table, when it was delivered and assembled, would reside on the ground floor of La Tor. Today, however, the ground floor was filled with scores of nobles and ladies, all turned out for the grand wedding.
Herringdale, having seen to the safe delivery of Guenevere, made his way through the court, mingling. He spotted his daughter Meleri, who gave him a nod and smile but did not immediately come to greet him.
"Inscrutable as ever," Herringdale thought to himself. He then spotted Sir Gawaine, who was waving him over. Gawaine was standing with his kin from the Orkney clan, his brothers Sir Agravaine and Sir Gaheris. As Herringdale approached the Orkney brothers, he sensed a definite air of tension about them. Agravaine and Gaheris, in particular, barely acknowledged Herringdale, so busy were they with shooting evil looks across the hall.
Herringdale followed their collective gaze and spotted a group of young knights returning the favor.
"That's Pellinore's litter of bastards. The De Gales boys," Gawaine said through gritted teeth as he saw where Herringdale was looking. "It's particularly galling that we'll be on the same team for the tournament melee."
"Yes, it would be a shame if an 'accident' befell them during the fighting," said Agravaine, his face twisting into a dangerous smile.
Herringdale immediately understood the source of the hostility; he had personally witnessed Pellinore split the skull of King Lot, scion of the Orkney clan, at the Battle of Terrabil the previous year. His eyes flicked to the clenched fists of the Orkney knights, their drawn lips, their fierce stares. He could see trouble brewing.
"It must rankle you to be so close to those you would consider enemies. But I must ask you all, for the sake of the event we have all gathered and for the respect of our host, King Alain, that you refrain from physical violence while in Carlion.
"Gawaine?" Herringdale asked, putting his hand on the young knight's shoulder. Gawaine looked up, his hateful gaze broken. "Can I count on you to set the example for your brothers and kin?"
Gawaine blinked, then nodded. "Aye, you are right. This is not the time," he said.
"I knew I could count on you," said Herringdale, smiling.
After chatting a while more with the Orkney clan, Herringdale excused himself. Moving slowly, seemingly without direction, he made his way across the great hall to where the De Gales knights were clustered. Suddenly, his daughter Meleri was at his side.
"Good day, father," she said, smiling at the De Gales knights, who were now all giving her appraising looks. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting these friends of yours."
Herringdale was a bit taken aback at his daughter's forwardness, but he introduced her to Sir Lamorak and Sir Aglovale, and to young Tor, still a squire. Herringdale awed the young knights with his august presence and was able to extract from them a promise to refrain from violence against the Orkneys as well.
Further discussions were pre-empted by the appearance of Merlin. Although he had not said or done anything to attract attention, he was suddenly there in the middle of the hall and everyone was quieting down and looking at him. He scratched at his great shaggy beard, then cleared his throat.
"The marriage of the High King to this queen fulfills the oldest laws of the land. The mighty Ancient Ways will be fulfilled when the King of the People marries the Queen of the Land."
There was a smattering of applause. Herringdale shook his head; the old wizard was speaking in riddles and nonsense as always. Meleri, however, stroked her chin thoughtfully.
"I'm surprised to hear him speak so highly of the marriage," she said. "I've heard he tried to talk Arthur out of this union, having seen bad things come of it."
"Just because he didn't pick you for his bride is no reason to snipe jealously like that," said Herringdale reprovingly. "It doesn't become a lady of your stature."
Meleri gave her father a sulky look and swept away, the De Gales knights watching her closely.
Presently, the fanfare was sounded for the beginning of the wedding procession. Guenevere appeared, resplendent in a dress of the finest furs and fabrics. King Arthur made his first appearance, Alain and Ector at his side. Beaming idiotically, he took Guenevere's hand and walked her out of the hall, unable to take his eyes off her. The remainder of the people in the hall filed out in order of precedence, forming a procession behind the royal couple.
They proceeded from La Tor to the Church of St. Aaron, where Archbishop Dubricus was waiting at the doors. There he performed the wedding ceremony, then opened the doors and led everyone inside for mass. After mass, the procession again departed, this time making for Alain's palace just outside the city walls for the feast.
As Herringdale and the great assembled crowd filed into the hall, however, Arthur and his new bride took a seat on a pair of thrones set up on a dais. Before the feast could commence, the gift-giving had to take place. As High King, it was Arthur's duty to show his largess through giving gifts to each of his guests.
As an inaugural member of the Round Table and one of the most respected knights in the land, Herringdale was among the first called forth.
"Good Sir Herringdale, what can your King offer you in thanks for your attendance on this happiest of days?" Arthur asked. Behind his throne stood Sir Kay, ready to make note of Herringdale's request.
Herringdale could think of nothing material that he needed or desired, and told Arthur as much. "I only ask," he said, thinking of the feud between the Orkneys and the De Gales, "that this day serve as a model for all days to come, that the love between you and your bride be as a healing balm for wounded hearts everywhere."
These words were greeted with silence from the assembled crowd, but Guenevere gave her uncle a gracious smile and Arthur said, "Well stated!"
"Sir Kay, present Sir Herringdale with a small material gift as a token of our esteem."
Reluctantly, Kay signaled for a bearer to come forth with a small sack of silver. Kay took the sack and held it out to Herringdale, who was still smiling back at Guenevere (having rolled under his Adore passion while in her presence). Kay had to clear his throat loudly before Herringdale noticed what was being proffered him. When he took the bag from Kay, Herringdale thought that he felt as slight tug, as if Kay wasn't entirely willing to part with the 30 libra-worth of silver.
The gift giving went on. And on. Every nobleman in the hall came forth and asked for a gift. Some embarrassed themselves by asking for something far above their station. Others, like Herringdale, asked for too little, or demurred, and were presented with a small token of the High King's esteem. Towards the end of the process, an old man came forth and asked that Arthur make his son, Tor, a knight. The old man explained that Tor was actually Pellinore's son by birth. Arthur gladly granted the request. Herringdale noticed the Orkney lads whispering among themselves, but they confined themselves to dark looks only.
At long last it was time for the feast. Liveried servants carried long tables out into the hall and set out tablecloths and place settings. Herringdale, of course, was seated at the high table, albeit down towards the end, so many were the worthy guests assembled that day. Meleri was seated at a lower table, although at a place close to the high table. She was, however, delighted to be seated next to Sir Aglovale, one of the De Gales knights she'd had her eye on. Before they could get to chatting, however, the doors of the hall were flung open by a white hart running rampant. The source of its distress became apparent immediately as a single white hound, baying and yapping, came running into the hall, hot on the hart's heels. Then sixty black hounds came pouring into the hall, running up, over, and under the tables, knocking over guests and goblets. Herringdale managed to keep his seat as the black hounds went pouring over him and watched as the white dog caught up with the hart and bit it in the haunches.
The hart launched itself through an open window, and the dog leaped after it, but managed only to land on a guest - who promptly stood and walked out through a side door, holding the hound to his chest. The black hounds flowed out of the hall behind him, and as they went a lady atop a white charger rode in through the main door.
Stunned silence reigned over the hall. Arthur finally broke it.
"Thank goodness that's over!" he said, rubbing his temples in irritation. "Her shouting was giving me a headache!"
"No, no, that's not how you do it!" said Merlin, appearing at Arthur's side and grasping his arm. "If you wish your fellowship to be the best in the world, then your
knights must be inspired to do great and unusual deeds. Here we have seen a marvel, unlike anything you will see in an ordinary court! You must send knights off on a quest to resolve these mysteries."
"Very well, Merlin. I will be advised by you," said Arthur. "Let us call forward first Sir Gawaine, and send him to recover the white hart. Also, call Sir Tor who was made a knight today, and let him bring back the brachet and the knight, or else slay him if he will not come. Finally, call Sir Herringdale, for he must bring back the lady and the knight, or else slay him. And these knights will all do marvelous deeds before they return again."
Dutifully, the three knights rose and departed to arm themselves. After the mess caused by the hounds had been cleared up, new place settings were laid out and the feast got under way.
[We switched focus to Meleri here and busted out my deluxe Fest Tables. Unfortunately (or not, considering how long this is running), since it's been a while since the session and my notes aren't as detailed as they could have been, I'll just hit the highlights. Overall, it was a nice dry run for the tone that we'll be setting when Meleri becomes the central character, with lots of NPC interactions and role-playing.]
As the wedding feast got under way, Meleri found herself somewhat overwhelmed by the great spectacle before her: the dozens of lords and ladies, all dressed in the finest garb, the seemingly endless procession of delicacies and fine brews, the entertainment in the form of a somersaulting knife juggler...
She at last found her voice and began chatting with Aglovale, seeming to make a good impression on the Cambrian knight. At the end of the feast, none other than Queen Guenevere invited her to provide some entertainment for the few guests who had not departed or passed out.
Meleri produced her recorder and led some of the Queen's ladies in a rousing roundel that met with tremendous approval.
"I would like it very much if you joined me in the royal viewing box at the tournament tomorrow, dear cousin," said Guenevere when Meleri had finished playing. Meleri accepted gratefully.
The next day was the first day of the grand melee. The teams were Logres knights versus non-Logres knights. As most of the action was taking place off over the expansive melee grounds, Meleri was left to sit in the covered grandstands, watching as the High King and his bride conversed with Dukes, Earls, Kings, and other grand movers and shakers. Arthur for his part gave her no indication that they had met before, which she supposed was to be expected.
Aglovale's brother Sir Lamorak led the non-Logres team that day, earning much praise for his daring actions on the field. At the feast that night, Meleri joined in some May Pole dancing and made eyes at Lamorak, who returned the favor.
The following day, Meleri made her way back down to the tournament grounds, passing a pair of pickpockets who had been lynched at sunrise, dangling from the branch of a mighty oak. As she took her seat in the royal box, a knight was spotted riding from the nearby woods. Over his pommel was draped a dead lady. The knight identified himself as Sir Ablamor of the Marsh, and as Arthur and the other nobles in the stands listened raptly, he described how "the Knight that Follows the While Hart" slew the white deer, which was his pet, given him by his ladylove. Consequently, Ablamor fought that knight, but was conquered by him. He tried to surrender, but the Knight that Follows the White Hart would have slain him - except that his lady interposed herself to beg for mercy, and took the blow instead. Thus, she was murdered by the Knight that Follows the White Hart. Everyone gasped in shock; Ablamore was talking about Sir Gawaine!
After these shocking revelations, the melee got under way again. Sir Hervis de Revels led Team Logres in a comeback, capturing many knights single-handed. The feast that night was just getting under way when Sir Gawaine appeared, looking rather the worse for wear. With great shame he then related his deeds and misdeeds. His story was the same as that which Sir Ablamor of the Marsh told. He then continued, telling how he and his squire were attacked by vassals of Sir Ablamor after the lord had left the castle. He would have been killed, but four women begged for him to be saved, and he was spared.
Queen Guenevere stood, her face a mask of cold fury. Before the assembled court, she chastised Gawaine severely, reminding him that he lives because he got the mercy he did not offer when he slew a lady. Gawaine, weeping openly, expressed his terrible grief at slaying the woman.
"I hearby take a solemn oath to never harm a lady and to always help a woman in need," said Gawaine through his tears.
At this point Arthur stood and placed a calming hand on Guenevere. As she sat, he turned to address Gawaine and the assembled feasters.
"Sir Herringdale was right; this is a time to change our ways. We are devoted to restoring some balance to the world, and I will work with my dearest wife Guenevere toward that end. The world of men is clear: We slay and die, with poets and accountants to record our passage. But women? Where is their realm so clearly set forth? The good woman, our Queen, will be seeking the expression of this testament in our good court."
At the mention of her father's name, Meleri began to wonder about where he could be. Seated next to her was Sir Lamorak, and she distracted herself by chatting with him. With a well-meaning laugh, Lamorak asked, "Did you understand anything that lovesick king of ours was talking about?"
Meleri smiled and listened to the entertainment, five priests intoning the Life of St. Patrick in perfect harmony.
The following day, Team Logres at last won the melee...and Sir Tor returned, the white hound following him on a long lead. He told how he took it from some ladies, and the next day fought with a Sir Ablellus for it. He tells that he would have spared the knight, but a lady demanded his death.
As the final feast got under way, Meleri was again distracted by thoughts of her father. The other two knights had returned, but there was no word of Herringdale. Was he still alive? Had he succeeded in his quest? This night she was seated next to one of the Orkney knights, young Sir Gaheris, and she made a good impression on him despite her distracted mood.
As the final course, a tremendous cake containing hundreds of tiny whistles, was being wheeled out, a guard burst in to the hall.
"My lord! Sir Herringdale's banner approaches!"
[This is where we left the session off; the next session would backtrack to find out how Herringdale fared in his quest. And since I have to run, we'll leave things here for this post, too. But fear not! Part II will follow tomorrow, so you won't have to worry over Herringdale's fate for too long...]