With squire Graid having distinguished himself at the Rochester Tournament the previous year, we entered this year wondering if he would soon earn his spurs as a knight. Graid did indeed continue to prove that he was his father's son, not only in mettle but also in his ability to surprise us and take things in unexpected directions.
The Winter Phase got the year off to a tough start for Graid when it transpired that, one cold night shortly after Yule, Graid lost his sword. He had, as he did every night, retired to his small cell near the buttery and had spent some time in quiet contemplation as he oiled and sharpened his blade. Having finished his task, he set the sword in its scabbard upon his cot and headed down the hall to the kitchens, where he washed his hands and snuck a morsel of food left over from that evening's feast. But when he returned to his quarters - horrors! The sword was nowhere to be found; only an empty scabbard sat on the bed.
Graid turned his cot upside-down and looked everywhere, but there simply weren't many places the sword could have gone in such a small space. Racing back into the hall, Graid could see no trace of a thief, but clearly the sword had been stolen. Graid sank back against the wall and slid to the floor, hands over his face. To lose his sword! What a terrible dishonor!
Who could have done this? "I don't have any enemies...do I?" Graid wondered to himself. The only theory he could come up with was that this was somehow fallout from his upset victory at the Rochester Tournament the year before. Either an ally of Sir Magloas or perhaps another squire here at Sarum who was jealous of the glory Graid had received. Clearly, Graid would have to watch his step around the castle, but that wouldn't bring his sword back.
"Ohhh, Sir Gerald is going to kill me!" Graid said, smacking his brow.
Sir Gerald was indeed upset - very upset. He upbraided Graid for allowing himself to lose the fundamental symbol of a knight's power and authority. "Without your sword you are nothing!" yelled Sir Gerald, red in face and hoarse of voice. "You will go about your duties wearing your empty scabbard as a sign of your shame. Now begone from my sight!"
Yet as winter turned to spring, Graid could not help but begin to feel optimistic about his future again. It was clearly a great time to be alive. The kingdom of Arthur was thriving under his benevolent rule. Wars were an ever-diminishing memory for most. Crop yields were greater and greater by far every year, and were so reliable that the peasants were hardly bothering to plant barley anymore. Bread loaves were soft, white, and fluffy and the beer flowed like wine. Graid could hardly wait to come into his inheritance so that he could return to the ancestral home of Broughton manor and begin to benefit from all this prosperity.
Knights were busy attending tournaments and going on adventures - why, the land veritably teemed with adventure! Ladies, in addition to refining the rules of Romance, often accompanied their knights on the hunt and broke into spontaneous musical numbers, pelting each other with flower petals and that sort of thing. Queen Guenevere, as always, set the tone. "Going a-Maying" was an annual tradition at her court, and this year was no exception.
Back in Sarum, at a feast being held by Earl Robert marking May Day, Graid was attentively tending to the cup of young Lady Alis, the object of his affections. She was at Sarum with her parents, and Graid was more than happy to stand off to the side - not too near, not too far - and swoop in to refill her goblet whenever he could, even if it meant listening to the idle chatter of the ladies of the court.
"Oooh! Is that a dress from Spain? The cut is so interesting!"
"No, it's from Brittany, but it's in the Spanish style. My cousin's lady got it when they went to Sir Tristram's wedding."
"Oh, how was that?"
"You know how he is - always the moody sort."
Graid eavesdropped on some martial talk as well. It seemed that the last of the fighting in Ganis was wrapping up. Word had it that Sir Griflet was slowly making his way back to Calais with wagons loaded down with plunder, destined for the royal coffers.
"Hopefully that's the last we'll hear of the French. Good riddance!"
Talk also centered around the royal Pentecost tournament to be held at Camelot. It was quickly becoming the unofficial signal of the start of the so-called "tournament season." Earl Robert was planning to attend, as were other notable knights of the county: old Sir Jaradan, marshall of the county; Sir Yolains; Sir Briandz the Hunter... Graid was also hoping to attend. As the feast began to wind down, Graid slipped away to walk the battlements of the castle to watch the sunset. He dreamed of winning more glory at another tournament - a royal tournament, this time! - and also schemed over how he was going to lay his hands on a sword. A new sword, his old sword, it didn't really matter. But he could hardly pass through the gates of Camelot without a sword!
As these dark thoughts clouded his mind, he was snapped from his reverie by a group of knights in armor riding through the main gates of the castle and into the courtyard below. An accompanying herald, wearing the livery of King Arthur Pendragon himself, was blasting on his trumpet with all his might as the knights arrived. Graid picked out the coat of arms of Sir Bors, a knight of the Round Table. Graid watched as Bors leapt from his horse and ran into the keep.
Graid also began to run, flying down the stone steps into the keep and then down to the hall. Graid arrived to find the court in high dudgeon, as Sir Bors had just rushed in unannounced.
"Please forgive my breach of courtesy, lord, but it is most urgent news I bring!" said Bors in a breathless rush, bowing before Earl Robert, who was still sitting at the high feast table.
"Go on," said the bemused earl.
"It is terrible! The queen herself has been kidnapped!" said Bors. A huge tumult erupted from among the knights and ladies assembled in the hall. "Yes, I know!" said Bors, raising his voice over the uproar. "The king has ordered every able-bodied knight in the realm to come to his aid in this time of crisis. The queen was taken when she was out a-maying in the countryside, only lightly guarded. By the time news reached the court of her abduction, the kidnapper had made off with her and her ladies-in-waiting, but to where we do not know. Her guard was overpowered, but the survivors who got away tell us it was the deed of Sir Meliagrance, son of Sir Bagdemagus, who has done this foul deed. The king has ordered he pay with his life."
"To arms!" shouted Robert, jumping to his feet. Every knight in the hall also jumped up and all was chaos as men ran to and fro, shouting for their squires and moving off to arm up. Graid, as a squire of the court and beholden to an old, lamed knight, found himself forced to watch all this from afar. Within less than a half-hour, the hall had gone from a scene of utter chaos and frenzied activity to eerie quiet. Graid was left nearly alone in the hall, company only to a few younger pages and three of the earl's dogs, who were now whining in confusion, wondering where their master went with such speed.
Graid briefly considered using this opportunity to look for an unattended sword in the castle, but decided against it. "To hell with it all," he swore. Hustling downstairs, he found old Sir Gerald sitting with the Earl's seneschal and other knights of court down in the cellar speaking of this latest development.
"No respect! The young knights, they are mad with this 'romance' foolishness, and now one has finally gone and taken things too far! Who would dare lay hands on the queen?"
Such was the content of the old knights' conversation as Graid barged in. They grew silent and stared at him. "What is it, Graid?" asked Sir Gerald. "You're free to go for the day if that's what you're wondering."
"I have a favor to ask, sir," said Graid. "I want to go out there. I want to help. Can I borrow your sword?"
The question was met with muffled laughter from the other knights, but Sir Gerald merely smiled. "Listen, son," he said, limping over and clapping Graid on the back. "I know you're no stripling any more. You're nearly a man, it is true. And you will get your chance, don't you worry."
[Cue lots of Luke Skywalker/Uncle Owen jokes from both of us.]
"This is a time for seasoned knights, not young squires. This is the queen we're talking about, after all." At this, Sir Gerald became more serious. "And even if I were to let you go, I would not give you my sword. Haven't I taught you anything about the importance of a knight's sword?"
Graid nodded. "I just thought I might ask."
Sir Gerald laughed again. "Ah, that is what I like about you, son. You are like your father - never afraid of pushing boundaries." Again, Graid nodded and, excusing himself, left the cellars. But rather than going back to his own chamber, he left the keep and headed for the stables. There he kept his pride and joy, a powerful destrier that had been reared at the Broughton stables and sent to him four years ago when he first came to Robert's court as a squire.
"Hello, Thunderbolt," said Graid, petting the massive horse's muzzle. "We're going to go for a ride." And so, slowly and laboriously, Graid made ready to ride out. From a trunk in his cell, he had retrieved his harness of armor. From the armory he took a lance and shield. It was difficult equipping himself without a squire of his own to help, but he did it. And thanks to the gathering night, he managed to do so undetected. In due course, mounted atop Thunderbolt and leading a rouncey, Graid galloped out of Sarum Castle as a great silvery moon rose over the Salisbury Plain.
Despite the late hour, there were still plenty of peasants out and about, much agitated by news of the queen's abduction. Graid stopped and asked which way Earl Robert and his knights had ridden.
"The Earl and his household knights rode north, towards Amesbury. But Sir Jaradan and his fellows rode off to the west!"
Graid thought for a moment, then reined his steeds around and took off to the west as well. He was more inclined to put his faith in an old warhorse like Jaradan, and it was probably best if Earl Robert didn't see Graid out and about at any rate. With the full moon lighting his way, Graid followed the western road towards the ancient hill fort of Gravely, beyond which lay Vagon Castle. Shortly before hitting the Wylye River, at Stoford manor, the road split. Graid, confused in the darkness, took the wrong fork. It was two hours of riding before he realized his mistake, by which time it was too late to turn back. Graid decided it was best to stop and make camp for the night.
As he was preparing to dismount, Graid's eye caught a queer sight out across the open plain: armor glinting in the silvery light of the moon. Looking hard, Graid could just make out the silhouettes of a procession of mounted figures making their way cross-country at a leisurely pace not 100 yards distant. Abandoning his plans to make camp, Graid flicked the reins of his horse and headed off the road to follow the procession. Unfortunately, the noise of his approach alerted his quarry, who began to ride faster. Graid did get close enough to see that the procession consisted of three mounted men, twice as many ladies riding horses, and several other horses bearing men draped over their backs. Because of their strange burden, the mounted men could not ride very fast, and Graid was able to keep pace with them. He guessed that they were headed for an ancient game trail that wended its way across the Salisbury back country.
As the country became wilder and the moon began to set, however, Graid lost the trail. Resigned and exhausted, Graid broke off the chase and set up camp, going about the motions that he normally would do for his lord, but this time for himself. With his horses hobbled and a bit of bread and cheese in his belly, Graid crawled into his tent and fell quickly to sleep.
With the coming of the dawn, Graid was up and anxious to get back on the trail of the mysterious procession from the night before. In the light of day, their trail was much more obvious and easier to follow, and he soon picked it up. Riding hard, he found the remains of a camp after about an hour's ride; clearly his quarry had paused to camp as well. In addition to the remains of a fire, Graid noted bloodied bandages and droplets of fresh blood - those men draped over the horses' backs must have been wounded!
Riding at a swift trot, Graid quickly closed on the procession. Ahead, he could see the group stretched out in a long line. A knight bearing a coat of arms led the line and was accompanied by two hobilars. The knight's arms seemed similar to those of Sir Bagdemagus - he was likely a relation of Sir Meliagrance! The women looked unmolested but were clearly captives. Their hands were bound and their horses were tied to each other. A couple were openly weeping, and all were dressed in the finest court fashions. The men bore the look of combat casualties, despite the fact that they were unarmored, dressed also in fine court clothing. Graid had managed to come up on the procession using the natural undulations of the land and had so far remained unobserved. Noting that the knight's squire was bringing up the rear, Graid couched his lance and put spurs to his destrier.
Charging out of nowhere, Graid fell upon the startled squire. With his powerful mount propelling him forward, Graid laid into his opponent, his lance easily piercing the poor wretch's rib cage and sending him flying sideways off his horse, hitting the ground and laying motionless.
Such was the speed of Graid's attack, that the knight and hobliars at the head of the procession didn't even notice what had happened. The captive ladies did notice, but maintained enough presence of mind to remain silent. Quickly, Graid dismounted and took the squire's sword, handing his dagger to one of the ladies as he did so in order for them to cut their own bonds.
"On my signal, scatter," whispered Graid as he remounted his horse. At this point, however, the disruption was finally noticed by the lead knight.
"Who goes there?" shouted the knight, wheeling his horse around. By way of response, Graid charged with his lance. The knight counter-charged, and the jousters crashed into each other. Again, Graid's bloodied lance pierced flesh and sent its target flying. Just like the squire before him, the knight hit the ground and didn't move, bleeding profusely from a grievous shoulder wound.
The two hobliars, incensed to see their lord struck down and being men without honor, charged Graid all at once. As the mounted sergeants came on, Graid felt something inside of him snap. His vision narrowed and turned blood red, so incensed was he at being charged in such a dastardly fashion. All the years of swallowing his pride and dreams, buckling to Earl Robert's whims, exploded in an orgy of violence. Later, back in Camelot, the ladies and captive knights who had witnessed this display would tell of the young squire taking on two opponents at once, seemingly oblivious to the blows landed upon him, even when he was knocked from his horse.
"He bellowed like a savage Pict!" said one of the ladies. "The hobilars came on, still mounted, but the boy took them on anyway. They jabbed at him with their spears, but he batted the blows away with his sword."
Sir Aglovale, one of the wounded knights, picked up the story from there: "With a mighty blow, he chopped one of them down, nearly slicing off the man's leg and disemboweling him! Then the youth cut the head off the other man's spear and, with a mighty thrust, took the man down off his horse. We watched as the boy, as if possessed, moved in and cut the head from the man even as he begged for mercy! And as his final act, the young squire cut the head from the vanquished knight - Meliagrance's cousin, I believe - mounted his charger, and rode away bearing the knight's severed head on high!"
Back in Sarum, Earl Robert worried about his young squire, scion of Sir Herringdale. Sir Lancelot had rescued the queen, Sir Meliagrance (who had ridden on ahead to his castle with the queen, leaving his cousin with the ladies and the wounded) was dead. But why hadn't Graid come back to Sarum to receive the glory that was due to him?
[What happened was that Des had successfully used Loyalty (Pendragon) to impassion his Spear skill, but, when she tried to use Honor to impassion her Sword, she managed to roll a Fumble - and that means madness! Graid still managed to hold his own in combat, but then the madness took hold and he rode off into bloody legend, completely at the mercy of your humble GM. And so I was left to contemplate: what would become of our erstwhile hero as he wandered the wilderness, mad and alone?]
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