Friday, February 15, 2013

[Solo GPC] 537: Up from the Buttery

That's "buttery" as in "butts of beer," not "dairy product."
With the death of Loholt last year, we once again found ourselves back in the company of a lowly squire as primary PC: young Graid, son of Herringdale, squire to the Butler of Sarum Castle.

Down in the buttery, Graid wiled away the winter months. He suspected, based on what he knew of his father and his relationship with Earl Robert, that the latter held a grudge against Graid based on ill feelings against Herringdale. Whether it was Robert's lingering jealousy of Graid's father or some specific harm Herringdale had done Robert at some point, Graid was not sure. All he knew for certain was that Robert, who had taken Herringdale's children into his hall when Herringdale had died, had never treated Graid with much care or affection, and had in fact been swift to punish Graid for even the most minor infraction. Graid's position in the buttery, he felt, was a reflection of Robert's desire to send Graid as far away from his hall as possible and put him out of his mind.

Whether Robert really did feel this way was immaterial to the fact that these suspicions had fueled Graid with a sincere longing to come into his rightful inheritance and leave Sarum Castle behind for good. Combined with his desire to live up to his father's towering reputation, this engendered in Graid a strict ethic in both work and training that led many observers to remark that the lad was well on his way towards attaining knighthood - indeed, that he already possessed many of the qualities of a great knight. [In a first for a character in this campaign, Graid started off already qualified for a Chivalry bonus!] He modeled his behavior on the examples of King Arthur, Sir Herringdale, and the great knights of his homeland like Sir Jaradan, marshall of the county, at whose court Graid had served as a page.

Even as Graid was contemplating his future, an unexpected development occurred at the Yule feast. A young damsel caught his eye. Asking around he found out her name was Alis, daughter of Sir Ferren of Grately Manor. She was wintering at Sarum in the service of Countess Katherine. Taken with the young lady's demure manner and comely looks, Graid began wooing her, which by his lights meant the following: watching furtively from a distance, speaking to other squires of her, and generally putting about his interest in the young damsel. This did not sit well with Alis' cousin, Sir Magloas, castellan of Du Plain Castle, who confronted Graid one chilly winter afternoon in the courtyard of Sarum Castle.

"You'd best leave my cousin alone, boy," said Magloas, jabbing a finger into Graid's chest. "You have no place wooing her, being just a squire and all, and her an heiress!"

"I can woo whom I wish," Graid retorted, unbowed. Magloas studied the youth.

"Very well. If you think you are man enough, then you must prove it," said Magloas with a crooked smile. "This summer there is to be a tournament held at Rochester in Kent. I am entering, and I challenge you to present yourself there as well. We will fight for love to first blood or first knee before all assembled. If you win, I shall step aside and you may woo my cousin if you so desire. If I win..." Magloas licked his lips. It was well-known that Graid stood to inherit Broughton Manor, and the riches Herringdale had amassed. It was said that a great steed had been bred at the Broughton stables, one of the new type of warhorse known as destriers. And Graid had already been fitted for a fine harness of plate and mail. "If I win, I claim your horse and harness!" Magloas stepped back and crossed his arms triumphantly. Graid merely smiled in response.

"Then I shall meet you at Rochester!" he said, and, turning on his heel, marched off to the buttery. As he walked away, Graid began to feel nervous. What had he gotten himself into? Magloas was a respected and experienced knight. He was known at court for his hot-headed and pious personality; he was known for claiming God's approval and support for all of his endeavors. Graid didn't pay these claims much mind, but there was no denying that Magloas was a competent knight. And castellan of Herringdale's old castle to boot!

As winter turned to spring, Graid was pulled into a bit of family drama. Graid's older sister, Loorette, also a ward of Earl Robert's court, was ordered to marry by the Earl. The prospective suitor, Sir Yolains of Devizes, proved to be an aged knight of ill temperament much given to reminiscing on past heroics in the Roman War. Furthermore, he was the father of the slain Lady Orlande, and Robert's gesture seemed a rather naked attempt at offering a sort of consolation prize since the Earl's son had killed Yolains' daughter. Loorette, horrified, refused to follow the Earl's order. Forced to choose between loyalty to his lord and loyalty to his family, Graid chose to back his sister. Earl Robert backed down, but Graid's play didn't win him any more favors at court, either with Robert or Yolains. This was well enough for Graid, who preferred the solitude of the buttery and used his time in the cavernous chambers below the castle to practice his swordplay in preparation for the Rochester tournament.

Robert was in a particularly foul mood this year. Not only had his son run off and gone mad, bringing dishonor and shame to the hall, but he was responsible for the death of one of King Arthur's offspring! The Earl spent much of his time brooding, and business of the court went unfulfilled. There was little to indicate these troubles to the casual visitor, however. Thanks to steady improvements undertaken by Robert over previous years, Sarum Castle proper now stood more mighty and proud than ever before, boasting many of the latest developments in fortification technology. It was to this grand yet troubled castle that a mysterious woman came, a woman wearing a cloak of feathers woven from many different types of birds. In her wake was a covered ox-cart bearing the body of Loholt. Although he had been dead many months, his body was remarkably undecayed.

Presenting herself at court, the mysterious woman revealed her identity. "I am Lady Isadora, and I have come bearing the body of the son of Arthur for burial. He is to be laid to rest at Stonehenge, like his grandfather before him."

Earl Robert sent for King Arthur, and the high king arrived with his court four days later, all draped in black and in mourning. A grand procession set out from Sarum and went north to Stonehenge. At the ancient site, as the funeral rites were proclaimed, Graid took in the assembled worthies. Over there was ancient Leodegrance of Cameliard, Graid's uncle by marriage. And there was Queen Meleri of Norgales, Graid's half-sister, who gave the young squire a cagey look but did not approach. Lady Alis was there with her parents, Sir Ferren and Lady Zoe. There, too, was Sir Magloas, watching Graid carefully, shooting him warning glances. Graid quickly looked away under Magloas' steely gaze and focused his attention on the ongoing funeral services. He watched as Loholt was laid in the ground, observing Arthur all the while. The king was now sporting a beard, his hair longer and a bit more unkempt than might befit a king. He didn't look terribly well either, even taking the grievous occasion into consideration.
As the funeral concluded, Graid sensed someone coming up behind him. Turning, he saw it was Leodegrance.

"I knew your father of old, boy," said Leodegrance with a twinkle in his eye. "He was a good knight. I hope you prove to be just as good, if not better."

"Thank you, sir," said Graid, with a polite bow.

As the crowd began to disperse, Graid went to tend to his master, Sir Gerald. He found the butler in conversation with the Duke of Lindsey, whose own squire was standing nearby. Graid had to do a double-take - despite the squire's short hair, it was clearly a girl! He had heard of female knights before. There was even supposed to be a whole castle full of them at Kenilworth in Wuerensis. But he had never seen a martial woman - or, in this case, a martial girl - before. In addition to her short hair, she also wore tunic and hose rather than a skirt. She smiled at Graid, who was openly staring.

"Hello," she said. "My name is Idain. What's yours?" Her northern accent was thick.

"Oh. Uh. Graid. Graid of Broughton."

The female squire furrowed her brow. "Broughton? I think my great-uncle once knew a knight that hailed from a manor called Broughton. Is that near here?"

"Yes," said Graid. "My father was Sir Herringdale."

"Ah! Of course!" said Idain. "My great-uncle was Sir Jordans and was, I believe, a comrade of your father's for a time. Before he died gloriously in battle against the Saxons, that is."

Graid spat on the ground. "Pah! The Saxons! Even in defeat they lurk like vipers. Would that we could rid this whole realm of them!"

"I quite agree!" said Idain, nodding vigorously. "Even the ones who claim to have taken up the ways of chivalry. They will turn traitor at the first opportunity, you wait and see! My family has an old saying: 'The ghosts of the past will come back to haunt you.' Duke Hervis has the right idea over there in Anglia. A firm hand, that is what they require."

The two squires talked a while, further abusing the Saxons and speaking excitedly of their impending knighthoods. At last, the Duke of Lindsey was ready to depart and Idain took her leave. "When I am a knight, you must come and visit!" she called as she walked away.

"And you do the same!" said Graid as he followed Sir Gerald away from Stonehenge. On the way back to Sarum, Graid reflected on his father's legacy. Most of the tales he heard had been positive, but he had also heard a few dark rumors: that Herringdale was a headstrong knight, a blasphemer who went against his church and his lord, a man who consorted with the Good Folk of Sauvage Forest and other disreputable characters. But Graid chose not to dwell on such tales, focusing instead on the far more numerous stories of his father's heroism and chivalry.

It was with those sorts of tales in mind that Graid continued training for the Rochester tournament. At last the time came to depart. Sir Gerald was going, as was Sir Jaradan, Sir Yolains, and, of course, Sir Magloas. The knights rode out from Salisbury with their squires and other entourage in tow. Riding north through Silchester, talk turned to a great Court of Love that had been held in nearby Camelot earlier that year. Graid listened intently. If there was anything that held his imagination as much as tales of his father, it was tales of romance. And although he had yet to see his cousin the Queen in person, tales of her grace and beauty had painted a picture of her as a paragon of ladyship.

As the traveling party was made up entirely of men, the tone in which this latest Court of Love was discussed was somewhat dismissive. There was much talk these Courts turning the younger generations into soppy-eyed dandies. General gratitude for the existence of tournaments as exercises in manly martial prowess was expressed. Graid tried to show his enthusiasm for tournaments, but was effectively ignored by his betters, who preferred to gossip about the new, expanded rules for romance. Graid was confused - if the older knights cared not for romance, why did they know so many details about it? He thought on this, and decided that it behooved a young man to know the rules well, for by knowing the rules he could better his odds of getting in good with the ladies. And so he remained quiet and instead turned his focus to memorizing everything the older knights talked about.

Most notable was the fact that the latest Court of Love seemed to center around a couple of recent scandals involving knights and their amors. Not only Loholt and Orlande, but also Tristram and Isolt; Tristram, it seemed, had married a different Isolt, known as Isolt le Blanche Mans, in Brittany. The Courts took up the questions: Is it proper for an amor to leave her husband for her lover? Is it proper for a lover to marry another if his amor marries? The answer in both cases was a resounding "no"! You can't go off and marry someone else! And if you're forced into a marriage, you make peace with that fate!

Much of the rest of the journey was spent dissecting the Canon of Love, which had expanded significantly since it was first introduced by Guenevere nearly a decade ago; many new rules had been added thanks to various judgments rendered by the Courts of Love. The rules as they stood currently were as follows:
1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
2. He who is not jealous cannot love.
3. No one can be bound by a double love.
4. It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
5. That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish.
6. Boys do not love until they reach the age of maturity.
7. When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.
8. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
9. No one can love unless he is propelled by the persuasion of love.
10. Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice.
11. It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry.
12. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
13. When made public, love rarely endures.
14. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value: difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
15. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
16. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates.
17. A new love puts an old one to flight.
18. Good character alone makes any man worthy of love.
19. If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives.
20. A man in love is always apprehensive.
21. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
22. Jealousy increases when one suspects his beloved.
23. He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little.
24. Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.
25. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
26. Love can deny nothing to love.
27. A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
28. A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved.
29. A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love.
30. A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
31. Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women.
Graid particularly worried about the sixth rule - was he still a boy? He was nearly of 20 winters' age, yet he was not a knight yet. Was he incapable of love?


Finally, after four days' travel, the procession reached Rochester Castle. The spectacle that awaited Graid was beyond his imagination. Earl Robert had held neighborhood tournaments at Sarum Castle every few years going back as long as Graid could remember, but he had never seen anything on this scale. A sea of richly-colored tents surrounded Rochester Keep, banners fluttering in the cool breeze. From the walls of the castle hung hundreds of shields, displaying a bewildering variety of coats of arms. Graid heard accents from all over the realm and beyond. There were Cambrian knights and Cumbrian knights, Cornish knights and Irish knights, knights from Frankland and Germany and Rome. There was, much to Graid's consternation, a profusion of Saxon knights - Kent being Saxon country, after all. Despite being set on edge by all the Saxons, Graid was transported by the spectacle of the whole affair.

He accompanied Sir Gerald to the Master of the Lists, where Gerald registered his coat of arms and entered himself in the joust and the melee. As this went on, Graid watched the knights and ladies pass by, the fire jugglers and stilt-walkers wending their way through the packed masses as food vendors plied their trade and ale wives dispensed their craft. Graid was brought out of his revelry when he heard his name. Turning, he saw Sir Gerald talking with the Master of the Lists. "Aye, you heard me. My squire. He has been challenged by another knight of the realm, Sir Magloas."

"Well, that is somewhat irregular, but if this Sir Magloas wishes to fight a squire, he may do so." The Master of the Lists turned to Graid. "Come out to the tournament field at sunup the day after the jousts. We'll take care of you before we get to the real challenges." Stung, Graid only nodded.

As they walked away from the table, Sir Gerald looked around. "Quite an impressive show of knights. Lots of hedge knights about, though," he said, clucking his tongue. "I'd say they're only here because Lancelot and his de Ganis bretheren are all down in Aquitaine, helping to liberate the land from the King of France. Hah! We'll see the tournament ranks thin out once the Ganis boys come back." He laughed ruefully.


Graid spent the next two days as a sideline observer of the jousts, loving every minute. The jousting knights turned out in full armor, their helmets sporting papier-mâché models of their heraldry, their horses accoutered in flowing trappers. The thunder and crash of the joust was intoxicating. Graid was happy to see Sir Magloas go down in the third round, but saddened that his own master didn't make it any further either. In the end, it was Sir Gaheris of Orkney who took the jousting prize, in this case a superb hunting hawk.

The next morning, Graid was up well before sunrise. Sir Gerald was there to assist him, enjoying the novelty of the situation and even jokingly serving as Graid's squire. As he helped him don his amor, though, Sir Gerald, in all seriousness, also gave Graid a few pointers. The two then made their way out onto the tournament field at first light as a thick mist clung closely to the ground. Not many were around, but the Master of the Lists was there, scroll in hand, with a trumpeter at his side. With a blast of the trumpet, the Master of the Lists unfurled his parchment.

"Be it known that Sir Magloas of Du Plain challenges Graid, squire to Sir Gerald, Butler of Sarum Castle, to combat afoot for love, to first knee or first blood!"

From the mists strode Sir Magloas. He was wearing a fine harness and looked far larger and more martial than Graid had remembered. Nonetheless, Graid was wearing his own harness of plate and mail - the very one he had wagered on the outcome of this challenge - and, to hide his nervousness, he hefted his shield and walked forward to meet Sir Magloas in the middle of the field. By this point, a couple dozen knights had filtered out onto the grounds to view this unusual fight. Graid even spotted the Earl of Canterbury up in the viewing stands!

Wanting to make Sir Gerald and the household of Earl Robert proud, Graid felt his nerves melt away and met Sir Magloas' look with his own piercing gaze. Graid saw hesitation behind the knight's eyes. Perhaps he was even now realizing that Graid was not some simple kitchen squire to be trifled with?

The two fighters squared off and Graid opened up the combat with a solid hit against Sir Magloas' shield arm. Magloas stumbled sideways and nearly fell, but kept his feet. A muttered oath emerged from behind the knight's helm. Graid pressed his advantage and moved in, striking again with all his might while his enemy was unbalanced. This time the blow shivered Magloas' shield and rebounded up against the knight's helm, sending it spinning away. The sword blow cut Magloas across the head from scalp to jowl, slicing his ear in twain.

Magloas took a knee, dropping his sword and clutching at his bloody face. A trumpet blast signaled the end of the combat, and Graid took two steps forward in concern, but Magloas was already getting to his feet. With his mailed hand, he was holding his ruined scalp against his skull, but he was grinning. Graid could see teeth through the hole in the knight's cheek. "Well fought," said Magloas as his squire ushered him off the field to get stitched up.

In a bit of a daze, Graid began to exit the field as well, but then he caught sight of Sir Gerald, who was signaling him to go another way, back towards the viewing box. At that point, Graid realized that the Earl of Canterbury was motioning for him to approach the stands.

The Earl fixed Graid with a look not unlike that given by King Leodegrance. "I was wondering how you would fare today, young son of Sir Herringdale. You did not disappoint. I think you shall win your spurs and soon. Go in peace, for you have fought well today." A damsel in the Earl's entourage then leaned down from the box and presented a tulip to Graid, who took it, all the while hoping that his blushing face was not too obvious.

As he walked off the field at last, Sir Gerald clapped Graid on the back. "I knew you could do it," said the butler. "But in the future, just know that you don't have to hit them quite so hard when you're fighting for love."
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