Session One Hundred Fifty-Five - September 14, 2019

Wherein the ongoing story of the FtF campaign may be found ...

Session One Hundred Fifty-Five - September 14, 2019

Postby Matt » Sat Nov 02, 2019 5:34 pm

Nolus 15, 733

“Is Sir Hannix present?”

One of the knights steps forward.

“Excellent. Pray accompany me and make your report, Sir Hannix. It appears that you are responsible for the coup of securing this prisoner.” Lord Ewen gestures for the captive to be removed to the southeast tower basement.

Sir Hannix, stammering violently, attempts to acknowledge the praise. They repair to the council chamber to obtain a report from the knight. Cekiya overhears one man at arms at the back of the column snicker, “Hannix the Silent strikes again.”

Settled in the council chamber, a sergeant offers to tell the tale, and Sir Hannix gratefully sputters, “P-P-Please.”

The sergeant attempts a formal beginning, but Lord Ewen waves him off. “No need to stand on ceremony, Sergeant. Pray commence.”

The sergeant inhales, relieved. “Well, it was like this. We heard tell that the vikings were scouting north of Hetheron manor. So we marched up, heading towards Bonvien, and we saw the vikings with a wagon train heading off, like the raid was over. We was ordered by Sir Hannix to try to cut them off.”

Lord Ewen nods. “Capital!”

“It would have been, but there was a fence between this barn and this cottage, and some of the huscarls decided to charge us. Little did we know that this fellow we brought in ... that they had been spotted from afar as they were trying to outflank us. That would be the troops of Sir Gaeled Tesnyth, Knight of the Order of the Lady of Dolithor. May Larani give Sir Gaeled a good welcome in Dolithor. Our levy fell back from the huscarls, but this is where the tide turned. In our retreat, the huscalrs got held up by the fence, and the levy ran right into that viking guy’s troop attacking our flank. So this guy’s troops were massacred, attacked from two sides, although Sir Gaeled fell in the moment. Other vikings chased us, and Sir Hannix ordered us to beat a hasty retreat. Unfortunately we did not get the wagons, but we got that guy.

“One other thing, my lord. We got a pretty good look at the other viking leader. A nasty looking fucker, if you’ll pardon my elvish, sir. Won’t even talk about the scars and tattoos and hair, and there was a pole he carried adorned with ten hands.”

The sheriff nods. “Numbers, size of the viking troop?”

“More than a hundred. They took forty to fifty casualties. Only a handful on our side.” The sergeant adds that, having delivered the prisoner to the constable at Baseta, the latter had ordered him to be taken on to Olokand.

Lord Ewen acknowledges the sergeant’s account and congratulates Sir Hannix on his smart action in the face of the enemy. The knight bachelor stammers his response, and it becomes evident from his halting comments that he has been volunteering, serving at Baseta in exchange for room and board. Sir Hannix is briefed on the strategy of depriving the vikings of plunder by evacuating villages beforehand, agrees that this sounds like an excellent idea, and offers to transport written instructions regarding the strategy to Baseta after resting and watering his mount as a guest of the castle.

Some moments later, Lord Ewen peers at a document intended to convey said instructions, holding it up to the light streaming in through an arrow slit. He finds himself unable to make heads or tails of the transcription. “Arva, dear, I am afraid this is not up to your standards,” the Baron announces with a sad shake of his head. “Can we find another piece of vellum?” Sir Baris volunteers to write out the stratagem, which is greeted by Lord Ewen with a pained expression, but he eventually relents. “It doesn’t have to be the Queen’s Harnic, Sir Baris, just make it fairly clear.” The knight eventually produces a tractable document, albeit adorned with doodled tankards of ale and vikings with horned helmets amongst the marginalia.

In the inquiry room in the southeast corner of the keep, Lord Ewen and his retinue are met by a servant they recognize by sight, but not name.

“Might I be of assistance, my lord?”

“Perhaps. Who are you?”

“I am Koral of Velada. Most of the time I am the wine steward. The wine is over there. Sometimes I am called over to this room, where I play ... a different role.”

Lord Ewen appears fascinated. “That is most interesting. The bishop of Abriel Abbey recently imputed to me that the wines of Olokand are a bit of a torment, in his opinion.” The Baron laughs at his own witticism.

The wine steward stiffens and sniffs haughtily. “I am at a loss to remember when the bishop of Nurez graced the gate of this castle.” He turns from the Baron to consider the blindfolded prisoner manacled to the stone wall. “Yes, I can be of assistance.”

The proceedings are immediately interrupted by Lord Prehil, who bursts into the dungeon.

“Ewen! How dare you interrogate a viking without me!” The Baron of Kobe surveys the prisoner, and then eyes the wine steward. “You are running one dull castle, you know! I realize there’s an invasion and all, but you don’t have to deprive people of the basic necessities of life!”

“You should be at home with your wife and child, Prehil,” Sir Baris offers with a grin.

“What’s wrong with you, Baris?”

Lord Ewen decides to get down to business. He steps forward and addresses the small, wiry viking prisoner.

“You there. Do you speak a civilized tongue?”

The prisoner turns his head and spits in the general direction of the sheriff. He says something in a language not understood by the others in the chamber.

“Master Koral, I will turn this over to you. We will observe for the nonce.”

The wine steward picks up a wooden dowel and begins gently prodding the prisoner. This eventually causes the viking to become extremely annoyed. The wine steward then ceases his prodding. After a protracted pause, and without warning, he hauls off and cracks the prisoner on the head with the dowel.

“Do you speak Harnic now?”

When a profusion of foreign epithets streams forth, the wine steward shakes his head. “It may be necessary to resort to harsher measures, my lord.”

Sir Baris attempts a Sarajinian liturgical statement, the meaning of which he cannot quite recall, which only causes the viking to laugh aloud.

Lord Ewen approaches the prisoner from the side and grabs a handful of hair. He dismisses the wine steward.

Lady Aldea Pulgarty shakes her head in puzzlement. “If he doesn’t speak Harnic, I’m not sure what the point of this would be.”

Sir Baris seems to concur. “Until we find a translator, we do want him in condition to speak.”

Lord Ewen smiles a little unpleasantly. “Not all methods are direct, Lady Aldea. Now, some silence please.” He gestures for Cekiya, Sir Baris, and Lady Aldea to stand behind him on the far side from the prisoner. Cekiya, as if aware that she has just been asked to perform an act of surpassing unpleasantness, reaches up and places the very tips of her fingers upon her lord’s shoulder, her face screwed into a grimace. Sir Baris gingerly places a his hand upon Cekiya’s arm, scanning the little adder for any sudden moves, and Lady Aldea, wordlessly joining the strange proceedings, shrugs and claps a firm hand upon Sir Baris’s shoulder. Lord Prehil, left alone as the wine steward takes his leave, goggles at the odd behavior of everyone.

Cekiya instantly feels a strong draining sensation, and has the sense that the viking is somehow resisting her lord’s initial probe. A second depleting surge and Cekiya becomes convinced that the prisoner and Lord Ewen are locked in some form of mental conflict. A third surge comes on the heels of the second, causing Cekiya’s knees to buckle slightly, as if she had just climbed ten very high walls. The viking smiles. Cekiya smirks with contempt, a bit wobbly on her feet: he thinks he is winning. A wave of fatigue, almost strong enough to be called nausea, rolls over her, and she feels her lord’s whole body straighten and flex under her light touch. The pressure relents and washes abruptly away, and Cekiya knows with a curious certainty that Lord Ewen has overwhelmed the viking’s defenses. He is in.

Sir Baris wheezes behind her, sweat beading on his brow. “Making any progress?” he gasps.

In the Deryni’s mind, black and white images are jumbled and fragmentary, suffused at first with a strong emotion of embarrassment as the viking is acutely aware of his mental defenses having been breached. As this subsides the silent imagery becomes more coherent, and the Deryni’s mental focus wanders through the viking’s journey from Baseta, but in reverse flow starting from Olokand. He winds a path through ransacked villages along the way, back to the large castle of Baseta and through to the battlefield where the prisoner was struck down among his own dead and wounded men. The Deryni sees reeling images of personal combat against an armored knight garbed in a Laranian surcoat, Sir Gaeled going down, and the scene turning black with elation and triumph. Then a thread of thought leads to the hand-pole man, a vision of a horn being filled with strong ale, a red pole leaning against a table nearby, ten human right hands in various states of decay, a scarred and tattooed face with missing teeth grins and downs the horn-full as the prisoner himself takes a quaff, camaraderie and hatred mixed in equal proportion. A woman in crude mail, hair tied back in a clubbed ponytail, missing one eye, small but strong, comes by, and the Deryni feels the sharp cuff on the back of the head, words are spoken and he feels himself laughing, responding, nonchalant and ambivalent and slightly abashed. The Deryni envisions Huxley manor, conjures memories of similar manors, blue banners with a viking long ship blazoned, the warband, some dead or wounded, strewn on a field, a group of about forty vikings, one occasion on the outskirts of a village, peasants toiling in their fields, unaware of their peril, herding livestock on the common, a mounted knight not in armor who scouts them and then withdraws, several battles, at least three he is involved in, killing and raping, capturing women and the occasional able-bodied man, any knight taken prisoner if not slain, fields trampled or set ablaze. In one place, in the aftermath, he comes with the hand-pole man upon a viking chieftain lying face up, inert on the ground, dead, one inch holes through either cheek, the spot where the third tine of the pitchfork plunged into the soil visible to one side of the contorted face. The dead chieftain is somehow handsome still, with long flowing blonde hair, dressed with a fine silver torq upon his throat and high-quality armor gleaming and bright and useless against that one savvy peasant thrust.

The Deryni thinks of the pontoon bridge reported to be at Setrew and sees twelve great warboats lashed loosely together with planks laid athwart their decks, the image devoid of castle or village, the improvised span thrown across the flowing river, livestock herding from east to west, assuming the river is the Kald. The Deryni tries to envision the ocean, and sees a large viking fleet from the vantage point of one crowded, pitching warboat.

The Deryni then thinks of his father, Arren of Melderyn, and the scene again changes. The interior of a huge castle chamber appears, a large viking lord with an enormous beard sitting upon a throne, a great golden torq adorning his grizzled neck. He is surrounded in the torchlit hall by many ranks of huscarl. Before them all stands a lone man dressed in loose-fitting black clothing, the hood pushed back from his head to reveal strong, dark features. He is speaking in steady, confident tones to the king, the king listening intently, nodding, responding in a rumbling Harbaalese. The man continues in the same language, rhythmic and fluent and compelling. Unbidden, a name comes to the Deryni’s mind: Lodros.

The Deryni breaks contact, exhales, and slowly releases his grasp upon the prisoner’s hair. The image fades in his mind, and then is snuffed like a candle.

In the yard of the castle, Sir Cardiel Nacarn addresses Goreg Ocazer. “Squire, do you happen to know when the sheriff will be finished with his project in the cellar? I have a fellow who has come to the castle, and I’m not sure if I should arrest him or not. He is a peasant timberwright.”

Goreg allows his curiosity to overtake his manners. “What did he do?”

The knight frowns. “I am not sure. He might have lied to me.”

“Can I help?”

The frown deepens. “I am more than capable of smacking him around, squire. Unless you want to take responsibility?”

“Well, um, we should definitely tell Lord Ewen.”

“Well dodged, squire.”

“Where is the man now?”

“In the tower near the gallows.”

“I will tell Lord Ewen before dinner, and inform him that you are looking for him.”

Goreg goes down into the dungeon. He fails to evade Lord Prehil, who catches sight of him and clutches at his arm, bringing him up short. “Ewen’s Squire!” the Baron of Kobe exclaims in a hoarse whisper, his eyes wide. “Have you ever seen the like?”

Goreg quickly takes in the strange tableaux. Lord Ewen is clasping the skull of the prisoner, with Cekiya, Sir Baris, and Lady Aldea frozen immobile in sequence to his rear, like inert links in some strange human chain. Goreg endeavors to make his voice sound breezy and casual.

“He does have his own style, my lord.”

“It’s unnatural!!” the Baron of Kobe hisses at the top of his lungs.

Goreg coughs. “I shall endeavor to learn to whisper from you, my lord. I can’t think of a better teacher.”

Lord Prehil tears his gaze from the unmoving figures and casts a jaundiced eye upon Goreg. “Now you’re flattering me!” He turns back to the others linked to the prisoner. “That little one ... I think she can still see me!”

“Hmm.” Goreg chooses to ignore the reference to Cekiya. “It is unusual to see Sir Baris so quiet.”

“Use your powers of observation more carefully! There’s not an ale in sight!”

“Indeed ...”

“I tell you, if this goes on much longer, I’m going to go over and give them all a good shake! And I’ll start with Ewen!”

“I wouldn’t touch the little adder,” Goreg hastens to say, “she says touching is bad.”

Lord Prehil snorts. “She’s scarcely an appetizer!”

At this moment the Baron breaks his contact with the prisoner. The exhausted members of the energy pool shuffle wordlessly past under Lord Prehil’s marveling gaze, intent upon a bed or a cot. Goreg gives his lord a moment to recover and then steps briskly forward, asking for a word.

Lord Ewen nods, still deep in thought.

“My lord, Sir Cardiel was looking for you. The timberwright has given him offense, and he wishes to press charges. He is in the tower.”

Lord Ewen considers the squire wearily. “We just held court this morning, Goreg. I certainly don’t intend to reconvene the courtroom any time soon.”

“Do you want me to take care of it?”

Lord Ewen shakes his head. “It is not the duty of squires to dispense justice.”

“Of course not, my lord.”

“Pray tell Sir Cardiel that I would be gratified if he would join my table at dinner this evening. We can discuss it then.”

“Yes, my lord.”

Arva scours the chambers of the castle until she finds Steward Nalas, who tells her of a mercantyler in town who does extensive business, mostly in furs, metalware, and ivory, with numerous traders from Orbaal. The merchant has evidently been doing poorly since he lost much of his working capital in one of the caravan raids last season. Arva briefs Lord Ewen, and he orders the merchantyler summoned to the castle to assist the inquisitor in his non-wine-related labors.

Closeted with the Steward Nalas later that afternoon, Lord Ewen hears a report of how many peasant refugees have come to Olokand, both fleeing the vikings and evacuated. These have been organized by home village, and if their lord is present they have been connected with that lord and taken in hand by either the reeve or a senior officer of the manor. Evacuated peasants have been assigned to various temporary villages in Nelafayn hundred, and ten Meken of the Order of the Lady of Dolithor have been deputized to guide them to those designated villages. The operation will continue to take place over the next several days. The sheriff is gratified to hear that, with the relocation, as well as a levy on refugee livestock funneled through the town, the Olokand food crisis has been largely averted for the time being.

“Sir Cardiel, a glass of wine with you.”

The designated knight raises his goblet and inclines his head in the sheriff’s direction.

“I understand that you had an unsatisfactory interaction with a timberwright, whom you have imprisoned. There must be more to the story.”

The knight quaffs his wine and sets the goblet down with satisfaction. “The timberwright in question, my lord, is a known personage in this hundred. His father, the timberwright before him, lives here in Olokand and, not to put too fine a point on it, has been associated with brigandage. Some claim he enjoys a little too much success for a dealer in timber. This one could be telling tales, which begs the question: for whom does he work?”

“You believe he is telling tales presently?”

“Indeed, that is the very question.”

“Well, perhaps we should have a word with this fellow. It might prove diverting after this fine meal.”

“I shall have him summoned.” Sir Cardiel gestures to a guard.

At some point the timberwright is escorted in, clutching his cap before his chest. The sheriff turns his attention upon him.

“Here now. What is your name, fellow?”

“Gordy of Flaren, your worship. As I told Sir Cardiel, I bear news of the vikings.”

Sir Cardiel stiffens. “That’s rather the rub of the issue, is it not? Whether he bears news, or tales, of vikings!”

“Let us hear the fellow out, Sir Cardiel. Now then,” Lord Ewen admonishes the timberwright, “I enjoin you to be accurate in what you say.”

The timberwright kneads his cap. “I assure you, Sir Cardiel is operating under a misapprehension of me. I know not tales of vikings, for I am no spinner of tales.”

“Let us have no further saucy allusions to Sir Cardiel, and hear the story straight.”

“Saucy, no, for I have not supped with you. I was, your worship, in the forests to the west of Loban. And, when I think of it again, I understand why Sir Cardiel thinks I am a spinner of tales, as it sounds crazy even to me. A man came unto me, and he said, your worship, go to Olokand. And I said, why wouldn’t I, as I live in Olokand!? No, said he, go to the castle and speak to the sheriff. And I said, why would I want to talk to Maldan Harabor? And then he gave me news which floored me! He said that Maldan Harabor was beheaded some months ago! Certain, I’m the last to know! Speak to the new sheriff, he said, which I assume is you, your worship. The vikings are scouting south, he said. Tell the sheriff.”

“You said you were west of Loban at this time?”

“Well ... your worship, I was north-west of Loban.”

Cekiya, prowling behind the table to the rear of the sheriff, hisses, “There is a mine there!”

The timberwright looks surprised. “Your retainer is well informed.”

Lord Ewen ignores the remark. “And I assume, timberwright, that you were not at this location gathering timber upon lands properly belonging to the shrievalty.”

“Ohhh, no, your worship, the lands were belonging to my lord of Loban.” The sheriff, who has been truth reading the timberwright, detects a small deviation in the account.

“And this man, have you ever seen him before? Did he speak as one from these parts?”

“Well, your worship, things took a strange turn. Every time I think I’ve seen him before, I don’t. And, now that you mention it, he did not speak as a man of Olokand. Not like you, and not like me.”

The sheriff asks for a physical description, which causes a look of confusion and fear to briefly pass over the timberwright’s features. He wrings his cap violently. “He was tall, and he was short. He had black ... no, it was white clothing ...”

Some impatient murmuring arises from the knights at the table at these absurd statements. Lord Ewen ignores them and instead turns to the knight whose lands are under discussion, Sir Paquin Dezaller. “Do you have any questions for this timberwright, Sir Paquin?”

Sir Cardiel looks incredulous. “Do you mean to say you believe this fellow?”

Sir Paquin frowns and muses aloud. “There is nothing left to raid in the region. We have evacuated the peasants and livestock, although the buildings in the villages are still there, of course. Now that I think on it ... if there is a raid, I know the area well, we could perhaps steal a march, ambush them, pick off their leaders one by one...”

Lord Ewen nods. “I was thinking along the same vein.”

“If so, then perhaps this fellow knows when the scouting was to take place, how far they were to go. This has not been asked.”

“Well, Gordy of Flaven, you heard Sir Paquin, can you tell us from your encounter where and when this raid was to take place?”

For the first time the timberwright stands up straight, his grip upon the cap relaxing. “Tomorrow”, he pronounces in an odd, flat voice. “Most likely Loban.”

The sheriff leans in, considering him keenly. “How many?”

His face is a blank mask. “Not enough.”

Lord Ewen leans slowly back into his chair while the knights in the room glance at each other, marveling at the odd behavior of the commoner. After a moment of contemplation, Lord Ewen dismisses the timberwright.

“I believe your tale this evening, Gordy of Flaven. I enjoin you to go forth and continue as a good and honest subject of the Queen.” The sheriff waves his hand. “Someone give this man a shilling for his trouble.”

“I thank your worship,” he says, enormously relieved, his voice returned to normal. “And if can be of any further help, I can be found at my father’s shop in Olokand.”

Lord Ewen nods. “Sir Cardiel, I commend your perspicacity in detaining that man. We shall see if we can cause his information to bear fruit.”
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