Tuesday, April 10, 2012

[Solo GPC] 530: Adventures on the Emerald Isle

When we last left off, our hero Loholt - at the tender age of 18 - had been made a knight. More than that, he had been recognized as one of two potential heirs to the throne of the kingdom, bastard though he may be. So did the newly-minted Sir Loholt's first full year as a knight live up to expectations? Read on...

After the battle of Surluse and his subsequent knighting, Sir Loholt returned to Uffington with his former lord, Baron Malcolum. The baron's other squire, Ieuan, had also earned his spurs in the battle and was now returning to the White Horse Vale to serve as a household knight to the Baron. Loholt was unsure of what he wanted to do. Serving at Malcolum's hall would provide him with a roof over his head and a board at mealtime, but his youthful imagination had been inflamed by the troubadour's tales of the Silver Knight and Lady Rose, and by his own brief sojourn with Lancelot. He wanted to see more adventure!

But he quickly discovered the life of a knight is not cheaply bought. He spent most of the remainder of his "Epona silvers" on maintaining both himself as well as his horses and new squire Adtherp, a page at Malcolum's court recently promoted (and only three years Loholt's junior!). Then there was the Lady Orlande, just recently come of age herself. Hers was already one of the most desirable dowries in the county and her beauty was legendary. Loholt was hardly her only suitor, but he won a smile from her at Yule court with his gift of a bolt of silk and his (passion-inspired) songcraft.

Winter court that year was dominated by talk of war. King Anguish, who had many friends at Camelot, was pleading for intercession in his homeland of Ireland, and it was reliably said that Arthur was not averse to answering the summons. Loholt knew only too well that battle provided a very real opportunity for personal enrichment, and if he wasn't willing to suborn himself to the household of a lord, he might as well prepare to march to glory. And it certainly couldn't hurt his chances with Orlande...

Winter turned to spring and rumors of war grew increasingly fevered. Arthur, holding court far to the north in Carduel, had struck a military alliance with Duke Galeholt and both lords would be invading Ireland come summer, it was said. Anxious to be a part of the action, Loholt packed up his harness and weapons and set out. Sir Ieuan, with special permission from the Baron, was allowed to go as well, and accompanied Loholt on the long ride.

They arrived at Carduel to find the two fleets of Arthur and Galeholt making ready to set sail. The young knights might have missed the ships entirely, but they soon learned of a fantastic event that had delayed Arthur: Sir Gawaine had been kidnapped! It transpired that, shortly before the fleet was originally set to leave port, a knight styling himself King Joran had appeared at Arthur's court and challenged all comers to a joust. Every knight at court had taken up the challenge only to fall beneath Joran's lance. Finally, Gawaine rode forth. He fell like the others, but this time Joran swept Gawaine up onto the pommel of his horse and rode away! Arthur had been delaying his departure, hoping that some sign of Gawaine would turn up, but none so far had and the season was already growing late.

Loholt and Ieuan boarded one of the last carracks out of Carduel. Their horses stowed safely belowdecks, they took in the salty gray expanse of the Irish Sea from the forecastle, the wind whipping their hair and stinging their cheeks. Along for the journey was an Irish knight about the same age as Loholt, a dark-eyed and brooding gentleman by the name of Sir Cerball. Loholt and Ieuan made the young knight's acquaintance during the brief crossing. He was of the Fosterling clan from Waterford, and he was eager to fight under the banner of King Anguish.

"I seek glory in battle, the better to woo my beloved, the Lady Orlaith."

Clearly, Loholt had met a kindred spirit. They traded stories of their beloveds' many qualities as Ieuan looked on, slightly bored.

After landing and assembling at Wicklow, Arthur's army marched north to the town of Dublin, where Anguish waited with his own troops. Loholt was impressed by the size of the port; it was not nearly the backwater he had expected. Touring its muddy streets, he was reminded of London - particularly when he discovered his money purse had been cut from his belt! After this brush with Dublin street crime (and now several denarii poorer) Loholt concentrated on preparing for the forthcoming campaign. Departing Dublin under the banner of Earl Robert, Loholt again found himself marching with a mighty host, but this time he was a full-fledged knight! The change in status made all the difference and he could not wait until battle was joined and he could at last ride into the thick of the fighting.

From Dublin, the allied army marched west, making for the town of Tara. There, it was thought, the forces of King Muirchertach were assembling to oppose Anguish and Arthur. Loholt found the Irish countryside, with its great rolling swaths of emerald-clad countryside and brilliant blue skies, quite agreeable. Not nearly as agreeable was the sight that awaited the invaders at Tara: a massive horde of Irishmen, poorly equipped but highly motivated, had answered the summons of Muirchertach.

"They may be rabble, but there are many more of them than us," Earl Robert observed. So it was to be another hard-fought battle, it seemed.

Robert's banner was lined up on the right, near to Arthur's own Pendragon banner, fluttering in the steady breeze. Loholt's mouth was dry with anticipation, his horse tensely pawing the ground. Then the trumpets blared and the charge was under way! Loholt and his compatriots slammed into a mass of kearns, scattering them. But for every Irishman that fell, it seemed two or three more would take his place. Earl Robert's banner was cut off...then Loholt was by himself. He saw the Earl's banner beyond a sea of kearns. Hacking left and right, he rode towards it.

Spattered in blood, he linked up with his banner, just as the Earl was signaling a fresh charge. There! King Muirchetach himself! The Earl's banner surged forward. As Robert drove towards the Irish king, Loholt engaged with one of Muirchetach's household knights. A grim-faced veteran, he easily overcame Loholt's inexperienced attack and gave back with interest. Again, Loholt felt the too-familiar bone-jarring sensation of a powerful blow landing home, the sensation of falling from his saddle and consciousness dimming...

He awoke. Like at Surluse, he found himself in a strange hall. Unlike Surluse, this was a friendly hall. A beautiful maiden was gently washing his brow as a boar sizzled and cooked over an open fire pit. As Loholt's vision cleared, he spotted Sir Cerball, deep in conversation with an older Irishman with flaming red hair and beard. Nearby stood none other than Sir Ieuan.

"My lords, he has awoken," said the maiden.

"Thank you, daughter," said the older man, approaching. Cerball and Ieuan flashed broad smiles which Loholt returned as best he could. "Sir Loholt," said the man, "I am Fiachra the Fosterling, head of my clan. This is my daughter, Orlaith. Sir Cerball you know already."

"Where am I?" Loholt asked, accepting a wooden goblet of mead from Orlaith.

"Waterford," said Cerball. "My home and the hall of my lord," he added proudly. Loholt quenched his parched throat, then looked around the quaint hall, trying to look politely impressed. "You fell in battle. Sir Ieuan took you out of the fighting and Earl Robert gave us special dispensation to bring you hither to recover."

"Did we win?" Loholt asked, sitting up and groaning at the throbbing pain emanating from a wound above his left hip.

"It was a rout!" said Ieuan gleefully. "Earl Robert proved the hero, setting that dog Muirchetach to flight. The rest of his rabble army soon followed."

"What now?" asked Loholt.

"Muirchetach has sworn fealty to Arthur, who has taken the Pale - that is, the area around Dublin - as his personal fief. Other lords have not been as willing to bend their knee to the Pendragon. Sir Hugo de Ganis is gathering a force of knights to invade Meath. The High King has offered speculative grants there - what you can take by force is yours to rule. I was preparing to ride out today to answer the summons."

Cautiously, Loholt got to his feet. His leg felt weak and stiff, and short shocks of pain ran up his back, but he felt able to ride. Joining Sir Hugo's expedition seemed the best way to recuperate his lost opportunities for glory. He announced his intention to ride with Ieuan to Meath at the earliest opportunity.

"We understand," said Fiachra. "Know that you both will always be welcome as guests in my hall."

Loholt's squire came forth and helped him suit up for the road. Departing the hall with many a thanks, Loholt began preparing his mounts for the journey. Sir Cerball found him in the stables, a slight frown creasing his brow.

"My lord Fiachra is too proud to speak of it, but I returned from the campaign to find our land sorely ravaged."

"What is going on?" asked Loholt, concerned.

"A terrible wyrm has taken up residence on a nearby hill and is poisoning the land and driving flocks away. The wisewoman says the wyrm can only be killed by a knight cruel in love or by a man wielding the Spear of Cathoir Mór."

"Well, neither of us are cruel in love...I don't think," said Loholt, unsure what that even meant.

"No, I don't believe so," agreed Cerball.

"Then what is this Spear of...Kathy More?"

"Cathoir Mór. It is a legendary weapon that ordinarily dwells upon a great stone in Anferginan Pass, not far from here, where it has received sacrifices for centuries."

"Sorry, the spear receives sacrifices?"

"It is more than a mere spear. It can think and fight for itself and gives great prowess to those who wield it. Unfortunately, its reputation means that periodically someone comes and makes off with it. A scoundrel from Kildare, Maolodrån the Outlaw, has stolen the spear just at the time we need it most!" Cerball wrung his hair in frustration. "If I could be the one to win back the spear and slay the wyrm, I know that Fiachra would grant me Orlaith's hand!"

"I would be a cad of the highest order to walk away from aiding you in such a noble quest," said Loholt solemnly, thinking of his own beloved Orlande. "Sir Hugo can ride without me; let us find this Malodorous fellow and beard him in his lair!"

Cerball could only smile dumbly in reply. The pair sought out Sir Ieuan and told him of their intentions. Without hesitation, he pledged his assistance as well. And so the trio rode for the hills, seeking the domain of Maolodrån.

With assistance from the locals, it didn't take long to find the rude stone hut situated up the side of a barren hill that housed the notorious outlaw. Maolodrån was making no effort to hide his presence, so confident was he in the Spear's magic. Loholt, Ieuan, and Cerball, obliged to leave their mounts with the squires at the base of the hill, clambered up the steep incline, coming to a halt about 20 yards from the hut where the ground leveled off.

"Maolodrån the Outlaw!" shouted Loholt. "Come out and relinquish that which you have stolen or die!"

A few seconds passed. Then a tall man with long, unwashed hair emerged from the hut. His clothes were filthy but the spear he held in his hand gleamed with an unearthly shine. His black eyes glittered in the late afternoon sun. Without a word, he strode forward, whirling the spear around his head. Loholt watched, sword and shield at the ready. The spear moved so quickly the blade seemed a silver blur. Loholt and his companions spread out, encircling Maolodrån. With superhuman speed, the Outlaw struck at Loholt.

And then everything clicked. Time seemed to slow. Loholt sensed rather than saw where the spear blade was going and stepped aside, knocking it away with his shield. His sword lashed out and connected. Loholt felt the satisfaction of his blade biting deep into flesh. Maolodrån, a look of frank shock on his face, staggered back. Then Sir Ieuan was upon him with the finishing stroke. The Outlaw fell dead to the ground. As the Spear of Cathoir Mór tumbled from his hand, Sir Cerball was there to scoop it up.

"My friends..." said the Irish knight, tears brimming in his eyes.

"Say nothing more," said Loholt, a bit amazed himself at how easily they had bested the Outlaw. "There is still a wyrm in need of slaying."

The trio made camp in Maolodrån's abandoned hut and rode out the next morning. The wyrm proved even easier to find than the Outlaw; all they needed to do was follow the ever-increasing signs of desolation. They found the wyrm, a great serpentine beast, sunning itself and curled atop a rocky mountaintop blackened from the infernal beast's poisonous breath. Without a word, Cerball rode forth, brandishing the legendary Spear. The wyrm reared up, hissing, but Cerball simply drove the blade into the beast's flank. With an ear-splitting shriek, the wyrm died thrashing in agony. As its last breath expired, the Spear of Cathoir Mór glowed with searing light, the disappeared.

"It has returned to its sacred stone," said Sir Cerball. "All is right again."

The knights bid farewell atop the wyrm-scarred hill. Cerball was to return to Waterford and receive his due glory and the hand of his lady love. Loholt and Ieuan, meanwhile, hoped to make it back to the Pale in time to join up with Sir Hugo's raiding force.

This they accomplished in the nick of time. The force, made up of several hundred knights and mounted sergeants, rode into Meath. Many local lords submitted to Hugo, but others fled at his approach. Along a narrow stretch of road situated between two expanses of bogland, the column came under attack from javelin-hurling kearns. Loholt comported himself well in the following skirmish, driving his horse through a hail of javelins and into the fetid water to run down his ambushers. After dispersing their attackers, the raiders encountered no further opposition. Reconvening at the monastery of Clonard, Hugo distributed the spoils. Loholt was given a manor not far from the monastery. He was now assured of an annual income!

As late autumn was coming on, Loholt elected to stay in Ireland over the winter - there was much to be done in setting up his new holdings. At his new hall, two pieces of distressing news reached his ears. First, Sir Ieuan, who had also won a parcel of land, paid a visit and told a bone-chilling tale: it seemed that King Arthur, before himself returning to Britain, had organized an expedition to the so-called Castle of Bones, home to a fantastic treasure, or so it was said. Of the 144 men who departed on the night of the new moon last, only seven returned! Sir Galegantis rescued the High King from certain death, nearly dying himself in the process. Whatever else had transpired at that thrice-accursed castle, none of the survivors would tell...

As the mild Irish winter set in, Loholt received even more distressing news from Logres. The rebellion in Anglia was still ongoing. Duke Hervis had been unable to quell the rebels, who were under the leadership of a Saxon witch named Camille. Things had only gotten worse, in fact. Reliable reports intimated that Camille, using the blackest sorcery, had unleashed the Wild Hunt upon the countryside. Hardly any corner of Logres had been spared. Some counties had been nearly leveled, it was said. Whether Salisbury was among their number, Loholt would have to wait for better weather to take ship and return to see. He began passing an anxious winter, wondering.

[Two very interesting combats this session. Loholt once again proved his uncanny ability to suffer a Major Wound in any battle he takes part in. Things were getting kind of embarrassing until he totally redeemed himself in battle against Maolodrån. Honestly, I was expecting that to be an epic battle. The Spear gave Maolodrån a weapon skill in mid-thirties and negated multiple opponent penalties. But, against all odds, Loholt scored a Critical and Maolodrån merely a regular success and that was all she wrote. Normally, that would make for a rather disappointingly anti-climactic battle, but Loholt really needed a win, so I'm glad it went the way it did. We'll see how much of an effect this has on his future prospects. Between his father Arthur and his grandfather Herringdale, he's got some pretty big shoes to fill.]
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...