The long journey home
With Crone Meroe’s ashes scattered in the wind the group leaves the charred skeleton of her house behind. They traced their steps back the way they had come. All were in good cheer, if still little jumpy at night for fear that the crone would be seen lurking in she shadows of the ancient trees of the old forrest they were travelling through. After a handful of days, Sir Brychan and his party came across a stream with a crossing.
Many stomachs dropped, as they saw the Knight of the Ford in the middle of the river. He was astride his handsome horse, holding his quarterstaff like a lance. When he saw the group he boomed out the same challenge as before, but added that there was no glory in fighting the wounded, especially when they had wounded themselves fighting an enemy of his, so he said that if any of the group did not wish to fight him today, he would let them by as a favour. But the next time they met, he would fight them regardless of the circumstances.
Before any of the men could excuse themselves, Daffyd strode into the stream, rolling his shoulders, his knife flashing in his hand. The Knight of the Ford dismounted, and adopted his stance. After a few moments of stillness, there was a frenzy of movement, too fast for most eyes to follow. It ended abruptly with a ‘scchhlup’ as Daffyd’s dagger entered the socket of the Knight’s skull and replaced his eye with a bloody fountain. The Knight slackened, fell, stayed down for a terrible moment, then stirred and rose again. Just as he had Sir Brychan, he congratulated Daffyd on his stellar fighting and handed the bloody knife back to him, making eye contact with both of his eyes as he did so, for the eye that Daffyd had ruined was back in it’s rightful place as if nothing had happened.
Spurred on by how easy Daffyd had made defeating the guardian of the crossing look, Issa was next up, rolling up his trews and removing his boots to spare himself the rest of the day squelching down the road. Armed with his sword and shield, he squared off against the Knight. With this fight there was more caution in the air. Issa was testing the knights reflexes and guards which seemed lax to say the least. Finally, spying an opening Issa committed himself to the attack, only to have the river suddenly rush up to meet him. He had completely misjudged the Knight, assuming he was having a bad day, rather than feigning incompetence. The watchers on the riverbank thought Issa would not live long enough to regret his mistake, but as he scrambled to get back to his feet, drenched to the skin, the Knight of the Ford merely waited. A truly honourable creature.
He waited until Issa gave a nod and then the fight recommenced. Issa was sure to not make the same mistake twice, you didn’t come to be in Sir Brychan’s guard if you were a slow learner, you usually didn’t live long enough.
The fight was longer than the previous one, with several blows inflicted from both sides until the Knight was being pushed back by Issa’s attacks, stumbled on a weed covered rock and fell. This time it was Issa who was honourable, returning the courtesy to his opponent and waiting until he was ready. Just because he was being courteous though, did not make him any less ferocious. With a cry Issa started a fresh assault, hitting blow after blow, until a neat jab from the staff stopped him mid swing, the Knight then went for an attack, only to have Issa neatly sidestep and hack at the Knight’s leather wrapped fist. With half a hand remaining, the fight was swiftly ended in Issa’s favour.
The Knight commended him on his bravery and shook Issa with his hand, now totally reformed, with fresh skin and not a trace of a wound. Issa had left a mark though, the glove was missing some of it’s fingers.
Next to face the fae guardian was Petyr, who waded into the stream and cast his long shadow over the Knight of the Ford. It seemed that both competitors were somewhat cowed by the other, for they were both fighting quite poorly failing to block some easy blows, stumbling in the stream, and overall making a clumsy affair of things. In the end Petyr managed to run the Knight of the Ford through, but quickly withdrew his sword from the creature, helping him stay on his feet in an effort of good will. While he was supporting the Knight he realised that there was no blood spurting from his stomach, and quickly headed back to join the others, pale faced and unnerved. Its seems that after all the magic they had witnessed, Petyr was still as uncomfortable with it as he had ever been.
Adeon was up next, heartened on by the three consecutive victories of his colleagues! There was a little swagger in his walk and he told the men he would make a more exciting spectacle than Petyr’s frankly embarrassing fight. In fairness, he was true to his word. The spectacle of Adeon falling for the “what’s-that-behind-you” trick mid fight was something that would not be forgotten soon. He would receive a level of teasing so severe in it’s frequency and longevity, that it would haunt him for the rest of his days.
However, when Adeon was knocked out cold, the Knight did not push for the killing blow. He reminded the men that they only needed to fight him to cross, they didn’t necessarily have to win and that losing was not usually fatal… unless they weren’t going to take their friends head from out from under the water.
It was Bain who came to Adeon’s rescue, slinging him over one of his bull-like shoulders, placing him next to Seymond in the wagon, then returning to the ford to level off against the Knight. When the fight began, Bain rushed the Knight, catching him off guard with his speed that did not usually lend itself to those so thickly set. He got too close to the guardian for the long stave to be effective and hacked deep into the Knight’s ribs twice. There was a satisfying wet crunch as the creatures ribs were splintered inwards under the swings of the axe. Bain withdrew his weapon, stepped away and waited. The Knight stayed on his feet for longer than most men would in that situation, before crumpling in a dishevelled and bloody mess on the floor. For a brief while the stream ran red with his blood. and Bain walked back to the men, who were startled. It was easy to forget how untamed Bain’s fighting style was, and just how ruinous this kind, generous man could be.
The Knight inevitably got back to his feet, and walked to the edge of the stream, looking to those who could not fight, Seymond was still looking bizarre thanks to the crone’s potion, and the after effects of the giant’s half asleep swat at him. He looked like hell and the Knight simply waved him past.
The men crossed the ford, in silence, saving talk about the individual battles for when they were well out of earshot. On the whole, Sir Brychan was proud of his men, they truly were a pack of hardy fighters, and he was glad that his wife and father-in-law could have seen their fighting prowess first hand, so she would know that they were safe, and that Lord Ursal would be impressed by the men he had trained and selected.
The moon had waxed from a mere sliver in the sky to a large pale orb, and still our party marched for home. Seymond had shed his porcine form leaving bristles all over the back of the cart, the rest of the men commented loudly that they should have taken his tusks as trophies before he had turned back, but Seymond laughed it off, as he knew this was mostly said in jest. Mostly
Regardless, Seymond was just happy to have his fingers back in working order, and his face back to something that the men would not openly gawp at. Lady Jenna had spoken to him for the first time today and all was well with the world.
Eventually there came the day that the men and been dreading. They had reached where they had found Lady Jenna and Sir Ursal. They knew not where to go from here. The path petered out into a tiny deer track wide enough for one abreast, and the cart would not fit, so they parked it by the road, untethered the horses, and left it there. Frankly it was amazing that the spindly cart had managed to carry a bear, a boar-man and so many provisions for so long. It looked on the edge of collapse. So instead of leaving it, men decided to make one last use of it and have a huge campfire tonight, putting the whole of the cart to the flame.
The next day they carried down along the deer path, their food supplies dwindled and hunting parties had to be send out almost every other day. Eventually the group came to a suspiciously round and neat clearing. Lady Jenna and Sir Ursal were about to walk right into it, but Sir Brychan and the men held them back; they did not trust neat, round clearings. Not any more.
In the middle of the clearing was a faerie ring. The men discussed this at length; would this ring do them good or ill? The general consensus was that it would do good, and if it did ill, the men would simply have to find another giant to help them combat it. Eventually, Petyr stepped forwards into the ring, and as soon as he did a voice spoke from behind the men. This was strange as the men were all facing different directions, but somehow the voice managed this. It spoke with a lilting, musical quality which made even Issa rethink his hatred of singing.
“you are a long way away a wend away from home friends. A long way and a long journey. Something tells me you men have an interesting tale to tell; a tail of a pig but perhaps more winding. I would lend you my services you to hear such a tale friends, I can take you out of this ancient forest and back towards where you left your seducer and you cook; if you will tell me your story along the way”
Then from a place that the voice was not coming from stepped the most beautiful man any of the group had ever seen. Lady Jenna, for the only time in her life, had a ghost of an adulterous thought dance across her mind and a shiver across her body. The man was of average height but a much more slender build than the burly host of Sir Brychan. The light danced off of his pale skin and hair as if they were gold and ivory under a stream of bright sunlight. He stood boldly as naked as the day he was born in front of the men. Eventually the ever pragmatic Issa snapped out of the state the creature had brought upon them. “This all sounds very well, but what will it really cost?”
“Nothing but the words from your mouths as you weave me this fable. I assume you have met those of my ilk who are less amiable than I, well fear not for I am gentle. But you smell of giant so i am willing to assume you have met at least one friendly fae creature otherwise you would be flat like a pool! Now you stare friends, I can see your curiosity, bright elf is your name for us but it is not our true name for true names hold power”
Sir Brychan spoke up and swore on his good word that the elf will come to no harm from any of his men, and that he will receive their story in full, if the creature leads them back to Rhydychan. The elf laughs at the mention of Rhydychan and tells Sir Brychan that’s not what it’s called, but true names hold power so… Then he waits. Adeon, realising what he is waiting for, starts to tell the tale, starting from the battle of the wash. Beaming, the elf beckons Adeon follow and sets off between a gap between two young trees. Making sure not to mention anyone’s names (for apparently names held power) the group took turns and told their story in full. The elf was a wonderful audience, laughing, gasping and cheering appropriately, asking questions about details and overall, leading the men to become more confident in their fable weaving abilities. They swapped out orators when one grew tired, which was surprisingly often, as they trekked through the shadows of the ancient forest.
Strangely, they seemed to be talking for a long time, days in fact, without the sun ever setting. Walking alongside the elf thinking about their adventure had a dreamy feel to it. When their fae companion commented loudly that their story was really worth listening to, most of the ever vigilant men’s heads snapped sideways, for they spotted movement. Just visible between the dense foliage, they saw several figures walking alongside them, obviously kin to the elf that was leading the party because of their illustrious skin and golden hair, naked as they all were. The men were constantly catching sight of the creatures out of the corner of their eye, darting behind one tree and stepping out from behind a different one. Eventually Seymond deigned to wave at one and the delighted female grinned back and returned the wave enthusiastically! Seymond mentioned to the elf that he could bring their friends closer if they wished to hear the story too. The elf told him that they could hear them from miles away, they were only this close because they wanted to see the characters. Slightly unnerved, Seymond settled back into his dreamlike state, hardly noticing Adeon blowing kisses at the naked fair folk who blew kisses and mimed even more erotic acts back, so up front and unabashed were they that Adeon may have blushed a little.
After what seemed like the same amount of time as a nap (simultaneously timeless and fleeting) the sky brightened, though it had not noticeably darkened, and the men stepped out of the forest and straight into another Faerie ring. This happened just as Sir Brychan drew the story to a close. The thought that the journey was always going to last as long as the story surfaced at the back of the minds of all the mortals present, but that was pushed aside by relief as they spotted a familiar cluster of houses on the top of a nearby hill, it was the Hall of Sir Gwinis. The men turned to thank the elf for his aid but he had already slipped back into the forest without a word, leaving the men squinting in the daylight wondering if that had really just happened, or if they had dozed while they were in the saddle.
Regardless, they were at Rhydychan, one step closer to becoming the full party they had left with and well on the way to returning home, for a Roman road ran past Rhydychan and ended near enough to Salisbury. The men would be damned if they were to set for in another bloody forest for a long time. With the final destination home firmly set, and the road clearly marked, they should be back in time for last days of the harvest, it had been a most eventful summer.
Turning their back on eerily watchful dark-wood, our men head home
Our tale is almost at an end, and its final chapter can be read in the conclusion to Settling Testside