Session One Hundred and Fifty-Seven - January 4, 2020

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

Session One Hundred and Fifty-Seven - January 4, 2020

Postby Matt » Wed Feb 05, 2020 6:15 pm

Nolus 16, 733
Afternoon, in the Wake of the Battle


Ravens, beasts of battle, gathered to feast on carrion. A strange fire burned on a distant peak.

“What height is that?” asked Lord Ewen Ravinargh.

“Mount Nyhtloc, milord,” said Sir Daxton, a local knight.

“Is it inhabited?”

“No, milord. There’re no villages in that area for miles around.”

The fire was some five leagues away, no threat to his force. Yet the effect was fey in the extreme. The countryside was not dry, the mysterious booms and flashes that had preceded the blaze in no way resembled thunder and lightning. What could have caused it? What could it mean? Lord Ewen, who should have been flush with victory, was plunged into deepest unease. Send men? The Vikings were still in immediate force. Yet he had to know.

Qorsad?

Yes?

Go take a look at that fire.


Rather than give the little wyrm a navigation problem in trying to find him, Ewen told it to return to the “the big castle” at Olokand. The amphitere launched off his shoulder and winged away at full speed.

As the soldiers of Kaldor straggled back to the manor house, Ewen gathered a fuller picture of his victory. Both his forces and the village were remarkably untouched, although the Peonian chapel seemed a total loss – little enough cost, really. The fires were extinguished.

In chains came the Viking warlord, tall and steely. The men said he had tried to die fighting, but couldn’t find that last extreme of effort. Now he snarled, bloody, but alive.

“What shall we do with the prisoners, milord?”

Ewen regarded the kneeling Viking soldiers.

“Anyone of noble blood shall be saved for possible exchange. The lesser ones will only eat up our rations.”

The footmen nodded knowingly, drew their knives. Blood poured out on the orchard grounds.

“Mercy! I beg mercy!” screamed one Harbaalese soldier. In plain, most understandable, Harnic.

“Wait!” ordered Ewen. “Bring that one here.”

The Harbaalese man was dragged to Ewen’s horse.

“You speak a civilized tongue, I see.”

“Yes, milord.”

“By Larani’s mercy, I will grant clemency to this man. Bring him along.”

The spared man looked back at his former comrades, now sinking low to the earth, and got out “Thank you, milord.”

By nightfall Lord Ewen’s force arrived back at Caer Olokand. Riders had been sent ahead with orders to prepare a feast. The victorious warriors toasted their deeds in the Great Hall. The phrase “We are Kaldor!,” from Lord Ewen’s address, echoed from the rafters again and again.

Lady Erane attempted to greet Sir Baris with the rewards of a conquering hero, but between the fatigue of the battle and the amount of ale he had consumed at the victory feast, he was unable to rise to the occasion.

Ewen ordered his new noble captive to be a put in a separate cell from the first, so that neither would know of the other.


Nolus 17, 733
Morning

In the gray of an overcast dawn, Qorsad found Ewen’s window at the castle. The Deryni and his wyrm had an intense conversation.

When Qorsad overflew the summit of Nyhtloc, it was still burning. Two bodies, one whose chest was stove in, another armored and headless, rested near the peak. Everything around them was charred and blasted. Two live figures were hurrying north down the trail towards the Fur Road, an injured man in armor and a woman with him.

What could this mean? To Ewen, the whole thing smacked of a catastrophic failure of magic – whether Deryni or Shek Pvar, it was yet impossible to tell. Who were these people? What were they doing? If it were his family keeping tabs on the battle, they would have chosen a closer peak with a better view. So deep in thought was Ewen that he almost missed Qorsad’s mention of the army.

The what?

An army, a force of men. I could see their campfires to the west.

How many campfires?

Oh, fifty or sixty. Friends of yours?


No, they were not friends. Why would there be an armed force in the middle of the wilderness? There should be no Viking detachment in that area. Ewen tried to think of other possibilities, that it could be Curo’s men, or Vemion’s, or even his father’s, but nothing made sense. Who were they and why were they there?

The Lord of Ternua cursed under this breath. In another time, he could have jumped on his horse and rode off, with Baris and the rest, to investigate the matter himself. Now he was tied down with responsibility.

At the same time, Lady Aldea slipped down to the dungeons. She was curious about the Harnic speaking prisoner, who, perhaps, might be useful. She appeared at the door to his plain bare cell.

Regarding the man for a moment, she began. “Well, funny meeting someone who speak Harnic among your ranks, especially at your level. You must have a interesting story. Care to tell me?”

“I made some voyages as a younger man.”

“Raiding type voyages?”

“They were trading voyages. Out of Chelemby mostly, though we put into Cherafir frequently.”

The knight continued the questioning, learning that while trading furs, whalebone, oil, and seasoned timber was lucrative, raiding was even more so. A Viking would switch back and forth between the two, although raiding was more dangerous. Seeing the prisoner appeared confident that he would live if he answered freely, she turned to the recent raids in the hundreds of Meselyneshire. Although he did not know what the names of the villages where he had been on raids they were mostly in and around Setrew.

“What particularly brought you to Olokand? What were you looking for?” Dame Aldea asked.

“I don’t make those decisions. Our leaders do. We came for plunder.”

Next she tried to elicit some information about the Harbaalese army. He knew of about a dozen warbands, which varied in size, but averaged around 150 or so. Much depended on the leader and the how many warriors he could attract. This fellow had been with Torvald Ironhead, who had been captured.

In overall charge of the army was Prince Dula, a younger brother of both last year’s leader Prince Bjan and Lerden, the King of Harbaal. The latter had sent Dula this year instead of Bjan. The prisoner did not know whether Dula was in Setrew or on a raid.

“Did you come to raid or for conquest?” the Lady continued.

“Raid, I think. Sometimes raiders will stay over a winter. I don’t know if we’re going to do that. It’d be fine with me, though.”

Yet, as a plain foot soldier, such things were really of no interest to him – he was here for plunder and silver. Of course, many of the Kaldoric folk had been taken prisoner and were mainly in Setrew. He knew of about 300, mostly women who would be taken back to Harbaal as warbrides.

Aldea is impressed with the man’s speech. “Would you be willing to serve my lord Ewen as a translator?”

“Obviously, I’m not going back, so I’ll need something if I stay. If I switched from trading to raiding, why not from raiding to translating?”

“What is your name?”

“Yurk of Hulda, milady.”

Aldea takes this information upstairs to the morning council.

Gathered together in the lord’s chamber were his retainers, Lord Prehil, Sir Daxton, Sir Cardiel, and the other knights of his force. Ewen began the proceedings with a paean to his captains, which, though not having the eloquence Ewen hoped, still went over well.

Aldea then reported of her conversation with Yurk. Her information about the war brides reminds Arva of a poem she once read titled The Rape of Thay, which gave similar information about the behavior of Viking raiders. Some thirty years ago the Ivinians had descended on the city of Thay. The city proper was walled, but the wharf area had no defense. The Vikings ravaged that quarter, even burning the Peonian orphanage, and carried off every woman they could as slaves.

Ewen says “I would speak with this Yurk. Have him brought up.” Aldea goes to fetch the man.

Lord Ewen introduced himself to the turncoat, giving his titles. “I understand you are Yurk, and have the common good sense to agree to assist us, having been granted clemency by myself. You have agreed to assist our cause in providing translation and information.”

“It is true, milord.”

“Excellent. You and your comrades recently set upon your most recent raid at Loban manor, where we met. You had set out from Setrew, is that correct?”


“We set out from Setrew, yes.” Ewen heard a hint of a Melderyni accent in the man’s Harnic.

“And you were to return to Setrew upon pillaging?”

“We knew there were no people in Loban. We were scouting further south--probably would have pillaged any place we came across – and then returned to Setrew.”

“Any idea which villages?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were there any other groups of Vikings headed in the same direction?”

“No. Another group was set out south, but closer to the river. They must be back by now.”

Ewen turned to his council “Has anyone heard of the second raiding party? Have we heard tell of any other villages raided?”

Sir Daxton spoke up. “We have evacuated Ambarnis as far south as Sateltan, milord. There should be no one left north of that point to report. So we have no way of knowing.”

“Very well. Aldea, pray continue.”

Aldea took over the questioning of the prisoner.

“So one other group raiding by the river. Are the other raiding parties to the west or the east?”

“None to the west, there’s nothing there. Maybe one or two to the east, across the river, but I don’t know where.”

Ewen added a question. “Yurk, did you take note of the conflagration on yonder mountain to the west at the close of the battle?”

“I confess, milord, I was too busy trying to avoid being skewered.”

“Are you aware of any Harbaalese that have made use of the mountain to the west of the manor as an outpost?”

“I know that heights of which you speak, but I know of no expedition to it.”

“You said you were under the leadership of Torvald Ironhead.”

“Yes, milord.”

“What was the name of the other warband leader, the short one, the one who fled?”

Yurk gaped. “He fled? Kroden Blacktooth fled? I have never heard of such a thing! I had assumed he had fallen rather than fled.”

“I saw it with my own eyes.”

“I do not doubt your word, milord. I am merely surprised.”

“I like to think we shall have other surprises in store for the Harbaalese who rape our land.”

Lady Aldea continued. “Is there some reason why your comrades would have set the mountaintop on fire?”

“I have no idea. I don’t know of any reason. It would simply be to make it a better observation post.”

Ewen interrupted again. “Tell me about the man with the staff of many hands.”

Yurk quailed. “You speak of Eilus Tenhands. He’s a sadist, milord. Worse when he drinks. Best to stay out of his way.”

“Is he a warband leader?”

“He is, milord. There are now eleven hands on the staff.”

“Whose hands does he take?” Aldea asked.

“They are all those he has killed personally in combat. Almost always someone of rank.”

Ewen continued in the vein. “And what of the short female shieldmaiden with one eye? Who is she? Is she also a warband leader?”

“Oh, that is Raami Pelanby, a fearsome warrior and shieldmaiden.”

“Does she have a warband?”

“She leads a warband.”

“She bears a Lythian surname.”

“I believe, milord, she is of the Pelanbys of Padona. Her uncle is the King of Padona.”

“How interesting. There must have been talk among the foot soldiers of the Harbaalese as to when an attempt would be made to invest the castle we are within.”

“Yes, milord. That is the ultimate goal. And of course, the great treasure wagons.”

“An attempt was made last season, and failed. Surely there was talk of that. Why is this different?”

“We have a new leader. Er, they have a new leader.”

“The prince surely know that the Queen of Kaldor will marshal her army and march against him.”

“I suppose, milord. We have expected. I had heard there was a clash last year in which Kaldor was repulsed. We figured there would be something like that.”

Yurk was sent outside the council chamber to await his fate. Lord Ewen pronounced the man would be mustered into the royal forces, under Lady Aldea’s authority, and paid such silver as his duties deserved. He will not be trusted too much, though – he was once a trader and is now a traitor.

Lord Ewen called on the castle steward for an update on the food situation in Olokand. The town itself continued to have a slight food deficit, but not as bad as it was. Were the rest of the refugees in town (some 250 souls) dispersed, it would even out the food supply.

As for the rest of Ambarnis hundred, it had been completely wrecked as a source of food. Nelefayn hundred was untouched by battle, but its small surplus was now being consumed by the refugees there present. The situation in Allence hundred was unclear, as it has seen several raids – it might be as bad as Ambarnis. All the territory across the river was yet unraided, and might now have a surplus available.

The sheriff ordered the refugees cleared out of Olokand. Let them be sent to the bishop, he declared. That should alleviate the food pressure in town for at least a few weeks.

Sir Daxton rose to report on his plans for a covert expedition against the Vikings’ makeshift bridge at Setrew. The required boats had been purchased. Now was the time for details. The Kald was about 250 to 300 feet at the town. How could a force be sure of burning enough boats to ensure the Vikings could not repair the span? Much time was wearied in discussion of how the plan might work.

The last item on the agenda was the question of how to go about interrogating their new prisoner. Torvald was likely to be a hard nut to crack. Goreg suggested a bottle of brandy be sent to him, as a token of honor, in order to loosen his tongue. Sir Cardiel liked that idea, but thought the bottle should be slipped to the prisoner by someone he might trust. The most basic question was how to talk to a man who likely spoke no Harnic. There was the new translator, but could he really be trusted in the presence of his former lord? Was there anyone else at all who could be employed?

One of the lesser knights speaks up. “Milord, there is a merchant in town, one Dabin of Crasele, who I believe can speak the tongue of the Vikings.”

“Excellent. Send for him at once.”

With all due speed, the merchant found himself standing in front of the Lord Sheriff. He was a small man, of very serious mien. His scruffy beard yet looked somehow kempt. He sketched a bow to Ewen.

“I understand you are Dabin of Crasele.”

“It is so, milord.”

“I understand further you have expressed willingness to assist us, the Queen’s servants who are here to defend the kingdom. Her Grace will be grateful.”

“Milord, I suppose when you put it that way, I cannot decline. Depending on what assistance you mean. This the first I have heard of it.”

“That makes the process of you agreeing with it all the easier. We are hoping we could assist with translation. We have prisoners, and we do not know how to speak with these savages.”

“That’s understandable. I do not speak Harbaalese, or read it or write it. But I do know the dialect that is spoken in Orbaal – though I hear it has a new name – and it’s supposed to be similar. But as to that, I both speak it, understand it, and read it and write it, in runic I might add.”

“Fair enough. I suppose that we will need to test in the actual doing of the task whether your Orbaalese will suffice.”

“How do you propose to test this?”

“We have a bilingual prisoner who has agreed to assist. As you may divine, it would be foolish for us to trust such a prisoner.”

“Yes indeed, milord.”

“I am hoping you may grasp the gist of the conversation to ensure the prisoner is doing my words justice.”

“That seems a sound plan, milord, though you understand I offer no warranty in this matter.”

“We only ask your best effort.”

“You shall have that.”

“Well spoken. We will summon you momentarily. You may be excused for the moment.”

Dabin made no effort to move. Eventually the guards picked him up by the arms and hustled him out.

After some discussion, it was decided the direct approach was best. There would be no bottles of brandy. Dabin would translate, or try. Yurk, Arva, and two men at arms would be hidden out of view, but not out of earshot, on the balcony. The prisoner was summoned.

Torvald Ironhead marched into the throne room seemingly heedless of the guards around him or the manacles bedecking his filthy body. His eyes blazed as he stood among his captors.

“Torvald Ironhead! I am Ewen Ravinargh, Baron of Ternua and Sheriff of Meselyneshire. You are my prisoner here. You stand before me as a man, not like your fellow warlord Kroden, who fled the field of battle.”

Dabin smoothly translated everything.

“Titles! And bombast!” roared Torvald.

Ewen continued “You serve Prince Dula of Harbaal. Is that right?”

“I serve Torvald Ironhead,” the Viking snarled.

“And does Torvald Ironhead wish his freedom? Or does he wish to remain in chains, deserted by his men?”

“Irrelevant.” Dabin struggled with the word.

“You think that your warbands can take this castle? You failed last year.”

“We left.”

“Will you have a similar success this year as well?”

The Viking said nothing to that.

“I relish the opportunity to make it so this year again, but I would rather fight your friends on the field of battle.”

“On the field of battle, you would lose!”

“You have only trifled thus far with women and old men. Yesterday was the first of what will be many battles.”

“Good! You will not slither behind walls. Let me go, and we will meet again on the field. You choose.”

“You are my prisoner. Am I to enjoy no booty, no gain, for your freedom?”

“Your gain is battle.”

“Ah, but I shall seize that gain, whether you are free or whether you crouch here beneath these walls.”

“I bring all Harbaalers. We see once and for all.”

“One battle?”

“One battle.”

“How big a battle?” said Sir Baris.

“All that there are.”

“How many chiefs can I slay under my axe?” Baris declared.

“Your axe will eat what it can.”

Ewen resumed the interrogation. “I understand that your prince craves no battle on the open field, but to surround this castle like Prince Bjan. When?”

“You will be his guest, as you slither behind these walls.”

Dabin interrupted. “I’m not sure I’m getting ‘slither’ right.”

Out on the balcony, Yurk whispered to Arva, “It’s not ‘slither,’ it’s ‘cower.’”

“We get the gist,” Ewen declared. “I am not one for slithering.”

“Then field it is!”

“Yesterday was but a taste. Kroden has gone back to your prince. What tiding will he bring, do you think?”

“Where you are.”

“If the prince comes too soon, our plans for a great battle will be thwarted.”

“Battle in field, today, tomorrow, next year. All the same.”

“Your early raiding was bountiful but I believe you have found the recent villages not left laden with treasure and prisoners for your taking.”

“Kaldor fat, soft, many, many villages.”

“Tell me, Torvald, do you think you could take me in single combat?”

“You must have some skills, but you’re no Viking.”

“Oh, I’m better than a Viking.”

Torvald gave a guttural laugh.

On the balcony, one of the men at arms nudged the other and said “We are Kaldor!”

“You boast, Torvald, but I prevailed on yesterday’s field, not you.”

“Ah – luck! I will meet you, Viking to whatever-it-is you are.

“I’m not sure I got that right,” Dabin commented

“Tell him I am a knight such as he never met before.”

Dabin passed that comment along, and Torvald scoffed again.

Ewen grew impatient. No matter how much needling he did, he could not seem to anger Torvald into revealing anything. He ordered the war leader returned to his cell.

Yurk was brought out from the balcony. He confirmed that Dabin’s translations were generally accurate, adding only that when Torvald said “Whatever you are,” he was talking about all of Ewen’s antecedents and implying he was sired by some sort of bandit.

“Will you be needing me again for this?” Dabin said.

“Yes,” replied Ewen. “But you may return home for now.” He made a side comment to the castle steward to reward the merchant.

“Very good, milord. It will not be necessary to send so many soldiers next time.”

“Understood. In time of war, one overcompensates.”

“Yes, milord, but truly, one man at arms with a sword would have been enough.”

“Yes. I thank you again for your service.”

Yet Dabin made no move to leave, only stood right where he was until Ewen grew uneasy and gestured to the men-at-arms to escort the man from the Great Hall.

I almost like Torvald better, he thought.

The afternoon and evening passed. Midnight brought time to leave for the raid to burn the bridge at Setrew. The raiding party included Ewen, Baris, Goreg, Cekiya, Daxton and a local archer. They set off in order to make the captive town, three leagues and four hours distant, before dawn.

The Vikings were not patrolling the road.


Nolus 18, 733
In the wee hours

No Vikings were encountered on the night’s ride. Not long before dawn, the party dismounted, left the horses with two men to guard them, and proceeded on foot toward Setrew.

“We’re getting close,” said Sir Daxton. The knight knew the area well, and led them to the edge of a large wooded area south of the town.

By the thin predawn light, they could see that the Vikings had torn nothing down in Setrew – had, indeed, built something: a row of gallows, decorated with naked corpses.

“They did ravage that fishing hamlet over there,” Sir Baris said.

“Er, no – that’s been like that. The Baron got angry with the fishermen and burned their houses. Let’s keep moving.”

Stretched across the Kald was a line of twelve warboats, aligned in the current on a north/south axis, anchored at intervals of eight to ten feet. Between them rested rough-hewn timber planks. The whole affair was lashed together, but not tightly. The boats bobbed and weaved. The bridge looked quite rickety. Aboard the ships were some sort of crew, already awake and about the day’s tasks. Beyond the bridge, two more warboats were drawn up on the west bank. Fourteen boats total – two less than last year, Ewen remembered.

Across the river they could see the manor house of Halperin, once held by the Order of the Lady Of Paladins. On both banks, around the village and the castle on the bluff, stood an encampment, a great infestation of tents, and campfires among them. On the edges, near where the party hid, Kaldoric peasants were active: women hauling wood and carrying water and a smaller cohort of men doing heavier labor. But there was no sign of any Vikings at this hour, no one was going to the fields, and there was no activity in the town proper.

The party consulted on their mission. The archer said he could hit the boats with fire arrows, but he didn’t see enough flammable material to set them alight. Ewen and Baris put their engineering skills together and estimated one could fit about four hundred troops in the tent city the Vikings have erected, leaving out anyone in the castle, the ships, and the palisaded area.

Confronted with the actual situation, it seemed infeasible to destroy the bridge with the resources at hand. Ewen pragmatically ordered a return to the horses, and the party rode back to Caer Olokand.


The refugees were being herded out of town as they arrived at the castle.

After refreshment, Ewen ordered another council. How might they split the Vikings force along its seams? Could they breed uncertainty among the war leaders? Yurk was summoned to give whatever information he could.

Their translator informed them that the first captive brought in was one Vraden the Bold, a warrior whose reputation was courage to the point of recklessness. Then Ewen began to press him about possible rivalries among the Viking leaders.

Prince Dula’s chief advisor is one Koras Varken. He is young and unpopular – rumor has it he stole his warboat. Thors Marenson was second in command last year under Bjan. He doesn’t have that much authority in this year’s expedition, but it’s remarkable he’s around at all. Prince Dula is Prince Bjan’s younger brother. There are four or five in all. King Lerden is the oldest, Dula the youngest, Bjan somewhere in the middle. Lerden has children, so the other brothers are not in immediate line of succession.

Ewen asks what the general idea was of what happened to last year’s expedition. Yurk says that there was much suspicion about the cause, but none of it fell on any of the war leaders. Most people thought the traitor, whoever it was, must have been lower ranking.

Why the emphasis on women? Why do the Harbaalese have such need of brides?

Yurk replies the need for brides is fueled by the fact that only a man with multiple wives can become part of the Thrangaad, the council of ruling warriors. It’s possible to get one or two in Harbaal, but the quickest way to acquire a real harem is to seize them overseas.

Ewen thanks the translator and returns to his own counsel. He makes a mental note to rapport with his sister Rahel before the end of the day.
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Matt
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