Monday, November 28, 2011

[Solo GPC] 524: The Knight of the Lake

My recent break from running the Solo GPC campaign came at a good time. I was starting to feel a little uninspired in terms of running adventures for a lady-centered game and wasn't sure how I wanted to handle certain emerging themes and story arcs. After re-reading Steinbeck's Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights during the break, I came back refreshed and full of ideas. Frankly, I can't wait to see how things play out over the next few years. This year's adventure would be a brief respite after the high drama of poor Sir Haegirth's quest and the beginning of new challenges for Meleri. Of course, in Pendragon, respites aren't exactly free of drama...

We'd left off with Meleri returning to Levcomagus minus one loyal vassal knight. Upon arrival back at home, Meleri realized she was carrying a child. She and Ontzlake welcomed a daughter into the world as the last leaves fell and chill winds began to blow amidst an air of uncertainty. Two days' ride away, the city of Silchester remained in rebel hands. There was little doubt that Arthur would send an army against Count Uffo and his brothers come the spring.

Sir Haegirth's loss still troubled Meleri, but she hoped to add another knight to her retinue over the winter. On the way back from Gloucester, you'll recall, she'd met Sir Melodiam, a kinsman of her lover Sir Lamorak. Meleri's half-sister Feunette, at 13 years, was old enough for a betrothal to the young bachelor knight, and so Meleri arranged an Easter marriage at Levcomagus. Sir Melodiam arrived in the company of his brother Lamorak a month before the nuptials, and the halls of Sir Ontzlake rang with manly conversation as the last of the winter snows melted and the sun began to shine brightly again. And at night Meleri hosted Lamorak in her chambers for intimate conversations of rather a different sort.

As they lay in each other's arms before the fire, Lamorak bemoaned his fate: besotted with love for Meleri, he still felt shame in going behind the back of such a just and noble knight as Ontzlake. "I would proclaim my love for you from the highest towers if it would not bring such shame on his name," said Lamorak woefully. "I must set my mind to a way of showing the depths of my love for you but discretely."

Meleri sighed, irritated by these Christian knights and their strange ideas of romance and fidelity. Two days later, offering his apologies to his brother and the bride-to-be, Lamorak left, clearly troubled.

As anticipated, just before Easter a company of knights flying the royal standard came to Levcomagus. The eschille was led by Sir Gawaine and he was gathering forces to march against the Silchester rebels. Ontzlake immediately pledged his service and made arrangements to depart after Melodiam's wedding, insisting Gawaine and his men stay for the ceremony. [Incidentally, all of the preceding came about through a couple rolls on the Yearly Events table that indicated "Affair" and "Wedding" - a fine example of random events driving excellent gameplay.]

Melodiam and Feunette were wed in the chapel of Levcomagus keep and a great feast was laid out. Meleri impressed Gawaine with her masterful command of dancing (learned from the fae Gallant of Sauvage) and she spent the evening dancing and feasting until she was nearly ready to retire from overindulgence. Throughout the festivities, her gay mood had been somewhat soured, however, by Melodiam who, she noticed, was continually shooting filthy looks at Gawaine. When the latter approached the former to offer his congratulations, Melodiam finally snapped. Throwing a goblet-full of wine in Gawaine's face, Melodiam leapt to his feet.

"You cur!" he shouted. "I have barely tolerated your presence here out of deference to my host, but I cannot hold my tongue any longer! My father, King Pellinore, has been murdered and I accuse you, Gawaine of the Orkneys, of perpetrating this foul deed!"

The hall fell immediately silent, stunned. Meleri, her hand clapped to her mouth, remembered how she had set Melodiam on the path to the Isle of Fees that he might learn of the death of his father. What evidence had Melodiam uncovered since visiting the Isle that would lead him to make such an accusation?

Gawaine was clearly wondering the same thing. "And what proof do you have to back up this ridiculous claim?" asked Gawine, wine dripping from his shaggy beard.

"The proof of my body against yours with the God of Battles as our judge!" spat Melodiam.

"So be it," said Gawaine. "I shall meet you on the field at sunrise." With that, he turned and left the hall, many of his knights following. Meleri tended to Feunette, who was white as a sheet.

At sunup, all of Levcomagus had turned out on the market grounds to witness the fight. Melodiam and Gawaine stood, fully armored, swords in hand. At a signal from Ontzlake, they began to fight. Melodiam proved himself an able fighter and the two knights battled for some time, neither managing to score a telling blow. But as the sun rose higher in the sky, Gawaine at last gained the upper hand. He knocked Melodiam to the ground with a mighty stroke that sent the accuser's helm flying.

"Yield!" came Gawaine's voice from within his own helmet. Melodiam drew himself to his knees, staring defiantly up at Gawaine.

"I will never yield to my father's muderer! Coward!" he screamed. Gawaine took Melodiam's head off with a swift swing of his sword.

Feunette screamed, tears gushing down her cheeks. Meleri hurried her away, speaking soothing words as she herself fought back tears. An hour later, Ontzlake came to her chambers. She had given Feunette an herbal draught that had put her into a deep sleep; Ontzlake spoke quietly.

"We have buried Sir Melodiam in the church grounds," he said. "I make ready to march to Silchester."

"Under the banner of that murderer?" Meleri asked, her cheeks flashing. Ontzlake held up a conciliatory hand.

"He prevailed in trial by combat," said Ontzlake. "Whoever killed Pellinore, it was not he. I have heard that King Arthur himself has set up a royal inquiry to look into the death."

Meleri was somewhat placated by these words, but still felt ill at ease.

"I wish you wouldn't go," she said, embracing Ontzlake.

"I must," he said. "The rebellion of Uffo and his kin is a foul blot on our land and it must be eradicated. The army is under the command of Sir Griflet, and he is a chivalrous knight. If the Silchester rebels surrender within 90 days, as dictated by Arthur's rules of chivalrous warfare, they will receive our mercy, although they'll still needs stand in judgment of the king."

Gawaine's company was soon on the road, Ontzlake among their number. Meleri was left in charge of Levcomagus and its garrison in her husband's absence. Over the next couple months, she anxiously gathered as much information as she could about the course of the war. Griflet's army had indeed laid siege to Silchester it seemed, but a small rebel raiding force had slipped out before the city was fully invested and was now wreaking havoc around the countryside. Meleri ordered the city's defenses strengthened against a possible attack.

Her preparations proved well-advised. A fortnight after Gawaine's departure, a force of about 1,000 men, mostly mercenary infantry, marching under the banner of Sir Damas, Ontzlake's outlawed brother, arrayed itself before the gates of Levcomagus. A messenger bearing a white standard of peace was admitted to Meleri's court.

"Sir Damas sends his regards," simpered the herald, "and bids you open the gates of Levcomagus that he may regain his rightful place as Steward of the city."

"You may tell Sir Damas that if he dares set foot in this hall again I will finish the work I began when we first met," said Meleri, fingering the pommel of her dagger as she spoke. Her eyes flashed as she recalled plunging the very same blade into Damas's thigh on the day Ontzlake had won his birthright back from his treacherous brother.

The herald took Meleri's response back to Damas, who promptly laid siege to Levcomagus. His force was too small to fully invest the city walls, so he set up around the gates, blocking access and egress while his catapults and battering rams assaulted the walls. Due in part to her advance preparations and state of alert, Meleri was able to successfully counteract Damas's initial efforts. Days turned to weeks and still the garrison of Levcomagus, under Meleri's able guidance, resisted. A month after Damas had laid his siege, he packed up and dispersed. The reason for his departure came to light the next day: Gawaine's company of knights was approaching!

Art by David Macaulay
[I finally got a chance to see my own Siege Tables in action! The combination of Meleri's already-respectable Siege skill of 12 and the high Defensive Value of the Levcomagus walls meant Damas never really stood a chance, which makes sense considering the size of his forces. If Meleri had fumbled her Intrigue roll to discover the activities of Damas's raiders, I was prepared to have him launch a surprise attack that would have taken the outer defenses, making things much closer run. But Des rolled well, both with her Intrigue and the subsequent Siege rolls, and was duly rewarded with a brief and relatively bloodless siege.]


Reunited with her husband, Meleri told Gawaine and his knights about her defense of Levcomagus to great general approval. In return, she heard of the capitulation of Silchester: after 90 days, Count Uffo and his brothers showed no sign of surrender. The city fathers, however, threw the gates open anyway and presented Griflet with the keys to the city on the condition that they and the citizenry be spared. This was agreed to. Unfortunately, the rebel leaders gave Arthur's men the slip. Nevertheless, the rebellion seemed quashed - wherever the rebels were, they were scattered, all signs of resistance now evaporated.

Ontzlake invited Gawaine to stay on for a spell, and so there was much feasting, hunting, and hawking. Meleri and her retinue would often join the lords on their jaunts over field and forest in pursuit of game, and it was during one such excursion that [with a failed Hunting roll] Meleri became separated from the main group in some light woodland.

As she rode on with her ladies, looking for signs of the others, she heard the sound of galloping hooves approaching. She spotted a lone knight riding hard, mounted on a palfrey, towards her. It was none other than Sir Damas! He fell upon Meleri and easily scooped her off her saddle and laid her over his own, then thundered off. [Des obliged the kidnapping by rolling a fumble on her DEX check to resist Damas's grapple attempt. And here I was all prepared to play out a dramatic chase scene. Ah well.]


Meleri attempted to curse Damas for a cur and a coward, but could barely breathe with the saddle pommel digging into her solar plexus. On the rebel knight rode through increasingly thickening woods for what seemed like hours. At some point, at a pre-arranged meeting point, other knights fell in alongside Damas. The hour was growing late when the party at last drew their horses to a halt. Meleri was roughly pulled from the saddle. She rubbed her aching ribs as she looked up at a crumbling tower surrounded by a rotting palisade.

"Welcome to my castle, lady," sneered Damas. "Well, it's not mine yet. First we must propitiate the denizen within. That's where you come in."

Damas manhandled Meleri within the palisade's bailey. She screamed as he dragged her along. A young ash tree grew within the court, and he began to tie her to it. She attempted to resist, but he was simply too strong. As he labored, however, Meleri distinctly heard the sound of a scuffle coming from beyond the wooden wall where Damas's men had remained. The noises ceased as quickly as they'd begun and all was quiet again.

Damas straightened up after tying the last knot about Meleri's ankles. He turned, making to call to the tower, but was interrupted by the sound of hoof falls on grass. A knight mounted upon a white steed was coming through the palisade gate and he was not one of Damas's men.

Meleri did not know who he could be - he bore a white shield with no device upon it. His armor was gleaming silver, as was his helm.

"I do not know what sort of devilry you are up to, Sir Knight," came the silver knight's voice, "but I cannot allow you to bring this lady to harm."

"Turn around and ride away, stranger," said Damas, drawing his sword.

The silver knight dismounted and came at Damas, his own sword bared. The fight lasted barely a minute and when it was over Damas's head had parted ways with his body. In a trice, the strange knight had Meleri free from her bonds. His mailed hands rubbed her sore wrists where the rope had bitten deep.

"Who are you?" asked Meleri, curiosity overwhelming her.

The knight stepped back and took his helmet off. He was very handsome and very young.

"I do not know," he said. "That is to say, I have not a proper name. You may call me the Knight of the Lake until such time as I discover my true heritage."

"Very well, Sir Knight of the Lake," Meleri said, smiling. "I thank you. Had you not arrived, I fear I would have soon wound up dinner for the creature that dwells within this tower."

"A creature you say?" asked the knight. "Your pardon, madam."

With that, he put his helm back on and disappeared into the dark interior of the tower. It was nearly nightfall when he returned. His shield was battered and blood oozed from a nasty wound on his shoulder, but he had triumphed over the creature that dwelled within.

Meleri tended the knight's wounds as his squire made camp. Over dinner, the knight told Meleri that she could ride with him.

"I am on a quest to discover my true name," he said. "And I ride north. These lands are too wild to leave a lady such as yourself alone in; ride with me until we find a lord of suitable character to leave you with."

"Very well," said Meleri, who was frankly intrigued by this young wunderkind and wanted to see him in action some more. His every movement and word seemed the very definition of chivalry.

The next day they rode on through the forest, and for several days after that. Often they made camp in the wild, Meleri sleeping in the tent while the knight stood guard like a statue outside, but sometimes they found shelter in small villages, inhabited by rude and malnourished peasants, tucked away in the woods. Presently, they came to a small stone bridge crossing a swift-flowing, rocky stream. On the far side of the bridge stood a pavilion tent. A shield was displayed outside the tent, but the arms had been covered with cloth. At the party's approach, a squire rode forth onto the bridge.

"Hail, good sir knight!" he called. "My lord wishes it known that he has claimed this bridge as his own. Any knight who wishes to cross must first cross lances with my lord. He fights in the name of the woman he loves and will not depart this spot until he has met defeat."

Meleri noted no less than three dozen captured shields were hung from various tree branches around the tent. Clearly this was not a knight to be trifled with. The Knight of the Lake did not hesitate, however. He spurred his horse forward, leaving Meleri behind with his squire. She watched as the other knight, in full armor, emerged from his tent and mounted his horse. The two knights then jousted. On the third pass, they knocked each other from their horses. Rising, they drew steel and continued the fight on foot.

The battle was even closer than the contest between Gawaine and Melodiam. The day grew long and still the knights fought, only occasionally pausing by mutual consent in order to catch their breath. As dusk gathered in the branches above, the Knight of the Lake finally landed a telling blow on his opponent, knocking him to the ground. The bridge knight yielded at the Lake Knight's feet and the combat was done. The Knight of the Lake offered his hand and helped his foe to his feet. The two knights then embraced as brothers, each completely exhausted.

Meleri crossed the bridge and approached on horseback. The bridge knight let out an audible gasp at her approach and Meleri soon discovered why - the knight removed his helmet, revealing his face, and it was none other than Lamorak!

"My lady!" he cried, sinking to his knees. Meleri quickly dismounted and she too helped Lamorak back to his feet. The knights' squires produced camp stools and began fixing supper. The three nobles sat around, tending the freshly-made fire.

"I have fought in your name, lady," said Lamorak, "and it has inspired me. This knight is the first to defeat me."

"You fought very well, sir," said the Knight of the Lake. "I have heard of your exploits even in my far-off home. You are one of the greatest knights of the Table Round and have been an inspiration to me."

Meleri couldn't be sure, but it seemed that Lamorak was blushing. She smiled as she tended to his many small wounds sustained in the day-long combat. Next she tended to the Knight of the Lake. As she did, he said, "I should think it will be safe to leave you in the care of Sir Lamorak. I ride for even rougher country in the coming weeks."

Meleri readily agreed. The next morning the Knight of the Lake set off and Lamorak struck camp. "For Camelot, then?" he suggested.

"A fine idea," agreed Meleri.

And so they rode south, the two lovers reunited again. They talked of many things on their journey, not the least of which was the identity of the Knight of the Lake. Lamorak had also had word of Melodiam's death at Gawaine's hands. "I do not care what the outcome of the trial was," he said venomously. "My brother would not have leveled false accusations. I will prove those Orkneys are responsible for my father's death if it's the last thing I do!"

The travelers stopped at Levcomagus so Meleri could be reunited with her husband and let him know she was safe. As harvest was coming up, he demurred in following her to Camelot but sent her on with his blessings.

Arriving in Camelot, Meleri once again found herself lost among a sea of richly-dressed courtiers and haughty gentry. The city was as grand as ever, its white walls shining in the late summer sun, numberless banners fluttering from its many turrets and spires. Meleri heard many rumors at Arthur's court: Count Uffo had raised his rebellion under the fell influence of his lover, Morgan le Fay; Ireland and Cornwall might be going to war soon; Merlin was still missing, presumed dead. An old herb-woman that Meleri went to for replenishing her stock of healing herbs told her that Merlin was trapped in an invisible tower by his lover, one of many different rumors regarding the old wizard's fate.

Throughout the autumn, prisoners trickled in to Arthur's court, sent by the Knight of the Lake after being defeated in combat and made to promise they'd swear fealty to Arthur. They also brought news: the Knight of the Lake had rescued two other damsels besides Meleri, defeated one Sir Alibon of Queen's Ford, and even rescued Gawaine, Ywaine, Galegantis, and others from the traitorous vavasour. As winter came on, the prisoners came from farther and farther away. The last of them hailed from Nohaut and brought news that the Knight of the Lake had defeated none other than the bandit King of Northumberland himself!

Finally, the first snows began to fall and Meleri prepared to return to Levcomagus. But then all plans were put aside. Word had it that the Knight of the Lake was returning to Camelot - and what was more, he had discovered his true identity!
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