I'm starting to get a feel for running these Lady-centric adventures. As anticipated, they're much heavier on the role-playing and personal interaction side of things. This session saw nary a dice rolled in anger, but the dice that were rolled often carried with them heavy implications or repercussions. Again as anticipated, it's been a nice change of pace, but I'll be honest: I'm looking forward to getting back to a knight-centric framework. I'm not above admitting this is due in large part to simple creative laziness on my part; it's much easier to come up with set piece encounters centered around physical challenges than social or emotional challenges. This may be why our two Meleri adventures so far have both run rather quickly; about two hours of game time each. Also, there's just so much material out there for knightly adventures. I'd love to create or contribute a Book of Ladies' Adventures to rectify this situation, but I don't have enough ideas at the moment to do as such. Anyone want to come onboard as contributors?
At any rate, to the year at hand. When we left off last time, Meleri had departed for the Forest Sauvage to stay as a guest in the court of the Sauvage King for the winter...
We picked things up again with Meleri riding the Royal Road south out of Wuerensis, her dwarf servant Higgins riding along in her wake on his donkey. There was nothing overtly different about her, yet those who knew her well would have noticed a subtle change in her demeanor and bearing. Certainly, along the road she was given a wide berth by the local peasantry, and those lords that welcomed her to stay at their manors for the evening seemed fretful in her presence and were quick to dismiss themselves once the evening repast was concluded.
Spring was coming on fast as Meleri made her way south. Entering Gloucester and coming down from the Cotswold Hills, she took in the grand panorama of green fields and budding woods before her. The Severn River traced its route like a silver ribbon to the west. But ahead on the road, much closer to, she could see a lone traveler making his way on unsteady feet in her direction.
Meleri reigned in her horse and sent Higgins forth to intercept the man. The dwarf returned with the vagrant in tow. As he came closer it became apparent he was actually a knight, albeit in a pretty poor way. His surcoat was dirtied, his armor in bad need of cleaning. His battered shield bore a device of a boar's head, which Meleri recognized of being typical of Gloucester knights.
"I...am called Sir Haegirth," said the knight, still looking confused. "But as for how I now find myself before you, I cannot say. The last I remember, I was venturing into an ancient graveyard not far from Gloucester City."
"You are still in Gloucester," replied Meleri, "albeit a fair ways from the city. Come, I am need of a proper escort. Ride with me to my home in Salisbury and perhaps there you may recover your wits."
Sir Haegirth assented, mounting Meleri's spare palfrey. "I do not know what became of my horse or squire," he muttered, clearly upset.
The duo continued south. They talked as they rode. Meleri was pleased to find that Haegirth was a pagan like her, and a rather proud one a that. "I just want to prove that those of us who follow the Old Ways are as good as those who follow the Cross!" he said fervently at one point.
At Bath, while staying as guests in the old Roman palace of the Lord Mayor, Meleri heard an interesting bit of gossip: the Questing Beast had been spotted limping along the edges of the Marshes of Avalon to the south, a great spear splintered and buried in its side.
From Bath, Meleri led Haegirth along the old road southeast into the Blakemoor Wood. Somewhere among the ambling track that wound its way through the trees, Meleri knew, they would pass into the territory of Salisbury. The ride was uneventful until, as the day began to grow dark, Meleri picked out the sound of horses and tack on the road ahead. Unconcerned, she rode on, and soon caught up with a curious procession.
Two riders were leading their horses along the path, but between two other horses hung an ad-hoc pallet made of spear shafts. On the pallet reposed a third man, his groans of pain audible even from a dozen yards away. With a quickening in her bosom Meleri noted the coats of arms on the shields hung at the horses' sides: these were men of the de Ganis clan! She rode forward.
At the sound of her approach, the riders halted. The leader craned his neck around and Meleri recognized him at once: it was young Sir Lamorak de Gales, whom she had met at Arthur and Guenevere's wedding a few years previous. Looking down at the man in the stretcher, she saw it was none other than Lamorak's father, King Pellinore! He looked to have most grievously wounded.
"Sir," Meleri replied with equal courtesy. "Your father looks sorely wounded."
"Aye, indeed," said Lamorak with a heavy sigh. "I found him thus, not far from the Avalon Marsh. I had heard tell he was hunting Glatisant in that area."
"Nearly...had...him...," croaked Pellinore.
Meleri slid from her saddle and approached the wounded King. She made noises of soothing calm as she examined his wounds, which were many and deep.
"Make camp here," she said, "and I shall tend to his wounds."
And so Meleri, drawing upon some of the knowledge gained during her time with the Lady of Sauvage at the King's winter court, began preparing a variety of healing poultices and salves, which she applied to Pellinore's hurts. She also prepared a broth from mushrooms and herbs gathered in the forest, and Pellinore drank of it deeply. As the moon rose through the branches overhead, the King was at last able to sit up and brace himself against a tree.
"MY THANKS, LADY," said Pellinore, his usual timbre restored.
"Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have scarcely believed such a recovery possible!" marveled Lamorak. "Tell me, where did you learn such arts?"
"The Forest Sauvage," replied Meleri simply. She saw all three knights exchange nervous glances. After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Pellinore raised his leather cup of broth and saluted her: "TO THE SAUVAGE HEALER!" he declaimed.
"Huzzah!" the other two knights chorused.
[All this is an excellent example of how Pendragon characters' fortunes can turn on a single die roll and a bit of role-playing. In this case, it all goes back to Meleri getting a Critical success when she played chess against "Higgins" the year before. I had intended to introduce the dwarf as a possible solution to the basilisk problem, but when she got her Critical (which always means something superlative) I decided to have Higgins swear fealty to Meleri. This in turn got her in good with the Sauvage King. Des's decision to send a token of her esteem to the King after the basilisk's defeat was the second ingredient in Meleri's turn of good fortune (it always pays to placate the fae). Taking a cue from a story seed in the "Forest Sauvage" chapter of the GPC, I ruled that Meleri's stay with the King over the winter would grant her the "Sauvage Healer" template: Chirurgery 20, First Aid 20, Dancing 20, Faerie Lore 15. I set up this encounter with Pellinore to give Des a chance to flex a couple of her newly-raised skills. So of course she proceeds to Critical her Chirurgery roll for Pellinore! Clearly her new role was meant to be.]
With the King in better spirits, the group talked long into the night. Pellinore gave a rousing rendition of his latest hunt for the Questing Beast, which took him from Norgales south through the Cambrian Mountains and to the Marshes of Avalon. He actually got on top of the beast at long last, but paid for his spear thrust with near-fatal injuries at the hands of Glatisant's sword-like claws and teeth.
Haegirth, clearly feeling a bit marginalized, then piped up with a tale of how he won the melee at a tournament in Escavalon the year previous.
"I was at that tournament," Lamorak said. "You fight well, sir."
"Surely not as well as you, Lamorak," said Meleri over the rim of her wine cup before Haegirth could reply, her eyes twinkling. "What brought you to Somerset, by the by?"
"I am traveling to Winchester, and lucky for me that I was, for I might not have heard of my father's plight otherwise."
"LUCKY FOR ME YOU MEAN!" bellowed Pellinore with a hearty guffaw.
"Winchester?" Meleri asked. "What takes you there?" Meleri knew that Winchester was what the Saxons called Caer Gwent, an old city in Wessex near the borders of Salisbury and Silchester, about a day's ride from Du Plain.
"Have you not heard?" Lamorak asked, his eyebrows arching. "The High King has selected it as site for his new capital! Although most of his court still resides at Carduel in the wake of the campaigns in the north last year, Arthur has come south to survey locations for some of the new buildings and fortifications he plans to erect. I've heard tell that the Round Table has already been brought there..."
Meleri saw something in Lamorak's face when he mentioned the Round Table. "You haven't...?" she asked.
"I am to be inducted into the Order when I arrive, aye," said Lamorak, unable to suppress a grin.
"To Lamorak!" Meleri said, toasting him. "My father, you know, was a founding member of the Round Table Order."
"Indeed," said Lamorak. "I am only too pleased to find myself in such august company."
The knight and lady exchanged a long, silent glance before Haegirth piped up again. "Anyway, I believe I was talking about winning the melee at the Escavalon tournament..."
At last everyone retired. Meleri had her own tent, as did Lamorak and Pellinore. Haegirth curled up near the camp fire while Higgins disappeared into the woods, off to do whatever it is that dwarfs do when mortals sleep.
Meleri's own deep slumber was interrupted by someone sliding under the blankets at her side. Rolling over, she could just see Lamorak's features outlined by the firelight filtering in from outside. They embraced...
[Meleri had made her Flirting roll earlier in the evening, so I figured a Chaste/Lustful roll was in order for Lamorak. One failed Chaste and Criticaled Lustful roll later...]
The next morning, everyone was ready to hit the road again. Pellinore was still in a delicate state and so had to ride in the pallet, but Meleri assured him that they should arrive at Warminster, Salisbury's westernmost town, before the day was out. They rode mostly in silence, but Meleri and Lamorak kept stealing furtive glances at each other, their expressions hungry.
[I figured a Critted Lustful roll was good for Lamorak potentially generating a Love passion for Meleri. Poor guy fell hard: Love (Meleri) of 23! Des asked if she could generate of Love passion for Lamorak, and she fell even harder: Love (Lamorak) of 26! Ohhh myyyyy.]
As the city held no castle, the Earl's court was in attendance at the great hall of the Lord Mayor. All the lords and ladies of the Earl's household were in attendance. Meleri noted too Sir Heraus de Ganis, whom she quickly discovered had wed the wealthy widow, Lady Gaille of Wilton, over the winter. He smiled vapidly at her when she caught his eye. Pellinore and Lamorak were welcomed as honored guests, and Lamorak, inspired by his new Love passion, told a rousing tale of Meleri's healing of his wounded father. The sobriquet of "Sauvage Healer" was taken up by all in attendance, and Meleri's place in local lore was fixed for good. As she looked around the hall, basking in the (considerable) Glory this tale had brought her, Meleri saw nothing but beaming faces and good wishes - with the exception of Countess Katherine, whose plain face wore an expression of cold derision. Meleri returned the look with interest until Katherine looked away and called for the minstrel troupe to begin playing.
As the various members of court began to circulate, many coming to congratulate Meleri, the great unspoken game of women's society began. This is known as the Pageant, and it is for ladies of court somewhat like the tournament is for knights. Although not announced with trumpet fanfares or heralds, the stakes of honor and glory are similarly high.
Meleri could feel the eyes of the women of the court upon her and knew she was being judged for her beauty and grace. Through subtle verbal and non-verbal cues, it soon became apparent that although Meleri had been judged a great beauty, the Countess would not be yielding her moniker of "fairest at court" this day. Meleri's plain dress and quiet demeanor meant she stood little chance to be deemed either best-dressed (that honor again going to Katherine) or wittiest (an honor won by the aging but still lively Lady Gwiona). Meleri and Gwiona, in the course of their chat that evening, took turns running down the Countess, but Gwiona's barbs were much more subtle. Sensing she might be out of her depth, Meleri shifted the subject to Saxons, always a popular subject of derision. Gwiona heaped abuse on the invaders as well, but Meleri was recognized by the others for her burning Hatred.
[The Pageant rules were a lot of fun to play out and worked really well. I'm looking forward to using them in future sessions and can see them forming a core experience for any Lady-centered game.]
Gwiona and Meleri's conversation was interrupted by Lamorak.
"My lady, a word in private?" asked the knight.
The pair stepped out into the paved courtyard surrounding the hall. Night had fallen by this point, and Lamorak's features were hidden in the shadows cast by the moon.
"I must ride on at first light," he said, his voice quavering.
"Will you return to me after your visit to Winchester?" Meleri asked, fearing she knew the answer already.
"My heart will not permit me to settle in any one place," said Lamorak. "I am my father's son. But I will carry your love with me wherever I may ride."
"Will I ever see you again?" Meleri asked, her eyes burning with tears she refused to shed.
"Whenever I am able, I will come back to you. This I swear."
Meleri moved in and planted a kiss. She then took Lamorak's dagger from its sheath and cut off a lock of her flaming red hair. "To carry with you when you are not by my side," she said, pressing it into his hand.
Lamorak, seemingly unable to speak, clutched the hair to his chest, bowed, and slipped back into the hall. Meleri remained outside, looking up at the moon, which seemed to smile mockingly back at her. She felt deeply wounded by Lamorak's departure, and she felt burning hatred seething inside her for the Countess. So many emotions tumbling about inside!
"I haven't felt like this since...since..." Suddenly Meleri realized what was going on: she was pregnant! Surely it could not be Lamorak. She would not know so soon. Her mind traipsed back to winter and the many nights she spent in the arms of the Gallant of Sauvage. She felt her belly - could it be that she carried the child of a faerie knight?
Lamorak was good for his word and was gone before the sun crested the eastern horizon. Meleri left not long after, anxious to get away from Katherine's poisonous looks. Three days later she was back at Broughton. In her absence, the peasants had been hard at work rebuilding the village and the manor house. The hall was a shadow of its former self, being built of wood and shingles, but it would do for the time being.
As Meleri had promised, she brought along Sir Haegirth. The knight had been strangely taciturn since their arrival at Warminster, not his usual somewhat loud-mouthed self. A couple days after their arrival at Broughton, Meleri asked Haegirth if anything was weighing on his mind.
"I...remembered the quest I was on...before you found me..." he said, his voice quiet and measured. "I am on the...trail...of a Roman lady. She...died. Long ago. I...must...find out...what happened to her."
"I see," said Meleri, somewhat alarmed. "Who was she?"
"Her name was...Decima."
"Well, if there's any way I can help you in your search, please let me know."
Haegirth nodded and returned to his silent brooding.
Meleri took Haegirth on as a bachelor knight. Along with a garrison of 8 soldiers, she felt well protected. Haegirth seemed a good knight, but his personality was also strangely mercurial. Some weeks he was his usual boisterous, pagan self. Other times, he was quiet and brooding. Occasionally, he would turn downright hostile, disappearing for several days at a time.
It was getting on for harvest time when Meleri, her belly heavy with child, went for a walk in the nearby woods, her children Loholt (age 10) and daughter Nest (age 5) in tow. Haegirth accompanied the family, armed in case of bandit or wild beast.
"Sir Haegirth," Meleri mused as they strolled among the trees, "may I ask why you disappear at times? It is not behavior befitting a knight of my house."
Haegirth looked startled. "Have I been--?" he began, but was cut off by the sound of a voice coming from up a great elm tree.
"Pride is the fault of the Pendragons. Tell King Arthur."
"Haegirth," Meleri said, "ride immediately for Winchester and seek for Arthur. Bring him back here as soon as you are able."
Meleri returned to Broughton as Haegirth set out at once. Four days later, she spotted a small royal procession making its way up the road from Du Plain. The High King's banner flew proudly in the autumn wind as Meleri came forth to welcome the Pendragon to her humble home, her hair uncovered and blowing just as proudly as the King's banner. Proving herself properly Hospitable and Courteous, she saw to the needs of Arthur and his men. It was a small group, consisting of the King, Sir Kay, Sir Cynrain of Cornwall, Haegirth, and another knight introduced as Sir Ontzlake.
"I came as soon as I could," said Arthur, a flash of recognition in his eyes, as Meleri brought him within the hall and gave him the seat of honor at her table. "Your man tells me there is a talking eagle seeking for me in the woods nearby?"
"Aye, majesty," Meleri said as she filled Arthur's goblet with mead. "As soon as you are refreshed from your travels, we may go to see it."
Arthur stood at once and drained his goblet. "Then let us go!"
The party made its way back into the woods. The eagle was still on its perch in the elm tree. As they approached, Meleri distinctly saw that the eagle appeared to be smiling.
"Is that bird grinning at me?" asked Arthur, his neck craned back.
"Pride is the fault of the Pendragons. Tell King Arthur," the eagle repeated.
"I am he for whom you seek. Who are you?"
"And who are you to come into the forest and command an eagle?"
"I am Arthur Pendragon, King of Logres and High King of all Britain, Emperor of Rome and Defender of the Faith."
"Such pride! Pride is the fault of the Pendragons."
"And how do you know such things of the Pendragons, eagle, who lives in the woods so far from
"I am your cousin, Arthur. I am Eliwlod, the son of Madoc, your brother."
Meleri dimly recalled a tale her father had told, of his quest to find the rumored son of Uther's bastard son Madoc - and the answer he had received from the Sauvage King: "Madoc's son is in the forest where lost men find, where only eagles roost."
"Then well met, cousin!" said Arthur. "Had I known you were here I would have come years ago to converse."
"Our business is brief. Since my death and transformation we are no longer truly kin. I am here to warn you. Pride is the fault of the Pendragons, and you must curb your pride or fall. Furthermore, I will tell you five things to prove my powers. Listen clearly.
"You will almost die, and then find yourself lost among a field of stones.
"A boatload of children will make you marvel and fear.
"A white knight will also be a monk.
"You shall sit on a throne in Rome.
"Your son will be King of Britain."
Meleri's ears pricked up at this last one. She thought immediately of Loholt. Could it be...?
The eagle stretched its wings out to their considerable span. "Pride is the downfall of the Pendragons. Son of my grandfather, humble yourself or all these things I have named will be evil for you. Now I am off to serve the King of Eagles, a truly ancient and wise old bird. P'CAAAAAWW!!"
And with that it took wing and flew off. Everyone watched in silence as it flew away.
Arthur stayed one more day before departing. Meleri noticed Loholt watching the various knights curiously, clearly awed by their presence. Meleri saw to her guests' needs as best she could - entertaining even a small royal party was hard work! She was particularly impressed with Sir Ontzlake, who seemed a very chivalrous knight. He was also quite impressed with her [she critted her Flirting roll, but he still managed to make his Chaste roll - these Christian knights, I tell ya...] and told her if she ever had need of his services to call upon him at his manor in Silchester.
On the morning of his departure, Arthur bestowed a gift upon Meleri of 3 libra-worth of silver coins. A month later, Meleri delivered her baby, a girl. The baby did indeed seem to be the issue of the Gallant - her eyes sparkled like dark gems, and she arrived with a full set of teeth and rich head of dark hair.
And so winter came again to Broughton Hall and Meleri, gazing into the hearth fire as she nursed her baby, wondered at what the new year was to bring...