After the dreadful news of the calamitous campaign around Colchester to the south, and the still more awful news of the defeat of Duke Lucius of Caercolun in the north, things look dire for the Cymric people this year. Sir Brastias paints as good a picture as he can, talking of the many defeats he inflicted on the Saxons to the north, but it is almost impossible to hide the truth from even his loyal heart.
As winter draws in and Christmas approaches, anticipation rises for the Christmas court, this year to be held in Sarum.
The knights each make their own seperate ways toward the city along routes made treacherous by the season. While the parties of Sir Saravinus Arilius and Sir Brychan Eurion make good headway, the household of Newton Tony (Sir Haeredoc the Red and Sir Uaine are delayed a few days by bad weather. Despite his proven strength and prowess on the field, Sir Hector Primus is delayed even further, as is Sir Tomas. The worst journey of all however, was had by Sir Brennan Emrys Kellen who in travel with his wife and servants was set upon by bandits. Fortunately, the knight and his brave squire soon dealt with the motley peasants and were at last able to reach the city.
The city was rapidly filling with folk come to attend court, and the group were to be encamped in a food barn, well cleaned and comfortable enough for the duration. The upper floors of the barn were given over to the servants of lady Sewain, betrothed to the lord of Ryddishan, and her two bodyguards Sirs Cly and Beggan were to share the lower floor.
While waiting for their various comrades to arrive, Sir Brychan and Sir Saravinus spent some time discovering what was occuring through the city. Rumours of a Gaulish knight were spreading, who it was claimed had been in talks with both the absent Duke Gorlois and the King of Malahaut whose lands like many others were under fierce saxon attack.
As the others gradually trickled into the city, other news was discovered and warnings given. It was expected that the representatives Silchester would soon arrive, and that all were to be wary of their knights, untrusted as they were.
In amongst the careful probing, Sir Tomas found time to visit with his lady friend and offered up a flask of very fine wine as a gift. She accepted at once, and suggested that they should enjoy it together, and watch the sun set beyond the walls of Sarum. The flow of the wine and the young ladies appreciation of her knightly companion both pressed upon Sir Tomas’s virtue, but as a chaste Christian knight he asked not for a night of lust but for the young ladies hand in marriage, which she gladly gave, subject of course to her fathers approval.
Once all the knights were present and settled, Sir Uaine offered a suggestion which was quickly applauded by all; a gathering of the ‘baby squad’ who had fought so hard at Mearcred Creek and earned their first scars together. The gift offered by Sir Hywel covered much of the cost as the invitations flew out. Among the offerings for the evening was a generous donation of fine wines, offered by the young and recently married Sir Saravinus Arilius which was well received by all. Each knight felt it proper to invite their lords as well, and on the appointed evening, each arrived and was introduced in turn by Sir Brychan Eurion, acting as herald while Sir Uaine oversaw the party he had so lavishly arranged. Only the arrival of Sir Ursal threatened the genial air of the evening, but his self control was sufficient that only a blunt dismissal was needed to express his feelings over the presence of Sir Brennan Emrys Kellen who had once so greatly offended him.
As the evening wore on and the wine flowed, Sir Uaine became increasingly concerned that the drunken Ursal would finally offer violence to the younger knight, and sent Sir Brychan Eurion across to see to his tipsy liege-lord. Lacking any better distraction, Brychan called for a drinking contest, asserting that his lord though already well into his cups could out drink even Sir Hector Primus, the largest of the young band. Offering a carafe of fine wine against a golden brooch of Ursals, the hulking Sir Hector accepted. Sir Brychan was (much to his and others surprise) proven right, and the lord of the Chalk, despite being roaringly drunk was the man left standing. Pouring much of the victory wine down his own shirt, the cheerfully laughing lord is at last gently guided home by the relieved Sir Brychan, and the possible confrontation avoided for this night at least.
As the night drew in, a final guest made a brief appearance: Earl Rodderick came to offer a brief toast, raising a glass to [[;sir-tomas]]’s betrothal so recently announced.
Within a few days, the promised arrival of the Silchester contingent came, and riding right in the vanguard with Duke Ulfius himself were knights of Levcomagus, picked out by the eagle eyed as the lord of that hundred and his most trusted liegemen. Is Salisbury to be tainted by the arrival of Sir Gadwick and worse still in his retinue is Sir Cecily deDepeden and his half mad dogSir Awli ApTubber. Under normal circumstances such scum would be run out of good clean Salisbury lands before they could contaminate it – but with the the king Himself in residence, and Duke Ulfius a close friend of both the king and the earl, the laws of hospitality protect the men of Levcomagus for as long as the obey them.
All knights went at once to arms to make their feelings known, with bared blades showing in the hands of Sir Herbert of Testside, the nearest Salisbury neighbour of that hated Hundred.
Riding forward of his leigemen to have words with Earl Rodderick, the Duke of Silchester offered apologies for the unwelcome presence of the Levcomagus knights, stating only that it was at the orders of the king himself.
Still displeased with these new arrivals, the Earl nontheless allowed their entry into his city, placing the contingent in the very barn occupied by the young knights. Before sending the assembled fighters of Salisbury on their way, he called for a quiet word with the knights hailing from Testside, warning them that no Levcomagus blood must be spilt by their hands, under any circumstances. This ultimatum delivered, he retired to the barn to await the arrival of his unwanted visitors.
Meanwhile, the knights had swiftly rearranged the contents of the building, placing lady Sewians servants and hand maidens behind their own beds, making themselves a symbolic wall against the outsiders. Finally, the trio of unwanted knights arrived; First is the diminutive Sir Awli ApTubber, famous for his short temper, skill with a blade and above all his legendary loyalty to his lord. Second to enter was Sir Cecily deDepeden, an urbane knight more famous for his skills in court than on the field, but no less renowned for all that.
Finally came Sir Gadwick, steward of Levcomagus and known for his vengeful streak… and his hatred for the Earl. Forcing his acceptance of hospitality out through gritted teeth, sir Gadwick immediately retired upstairs, followed closely by sir Awli. As Earl Rodderick leaves, the third knight sir Cecily offers his seemingly sincere wishes that all the unpleasantness between the two assemblages will finally be washed away at this court. The Earl brusquely leaves with the barest of civilities, and the watchful band of knights contemplate the sudden nest of vipers dropped in their midst. To occupy the courtly sir Cecily , Sir Hector Primus gives him a game or two of dice before the pair proceed to nine mens morris, in which the visitor is by far the most skilled. Retiring soon after, the Salisbury knights are left to their own devices when a timid knock announces the arrival of a message for sir Brychan, delivered by the newest handmaid of Lady Ellen (and also sir Ursals blushing young daughter) Lady Jenna… Sir Brychan pensively stares into a burning brazier before casting the note into the flames. He quickly dresses in his finest doublet and bids goodnight to his comrades before venturing out into the bitter winter chill of evening.
Murder and Intrigue at the Winter Court.
Early the next morning whilst out walking with his betrothed, Sir Tomas is approached by Sir Ricus of Devises (Chamberlin to the Earl of Salisbury), who was posing as the monk acting as their chaperone. He was quickly given the task of uncovering a potential poisoning plot within Sarum during the winter court.A peasant mushroom seller had been robbed by bandits, having had nearly 200 denari stolen that she had gained by selling poisonous mushrooms. A quick thinking Yoeman of Salisbury had defended the lady from the bandits, but soon realised that such a large sum was suspicious in its own right; he incarcerated the mushroom seller, and informed Shire-reeve Gerefa, who in turn informed the Chamberlin. Sir Ricus assures the young knight that both Sir Brastius and Sir Edrus have been informed of the plot, and all efforts are being made to ensure the upcoming Christmas feast will not be contaminated in market place or the kitchens. |
Whilst they have no evidence that the knights of Levcomagus are involved in the plot yet, Sir Ricus remains convinced theyare the most likely culprits and assumes Lord Rodderick himself is the target of this poisoner. Knowing that subtlety will surely be needed to avoid this becoming general knowledge, Sir Tomas seeks advice from Sir Uaine who is renowned for his courtly skills and understanding of intrigue.
Sir Hector Primus and Sir Haeredoc of Newton Tony had gone to fetch breakfast from the overworked kitchens of the keep, whilst Sir Uaine sent Sir Brennan Emrys Kellen and Sir Saravinus Arilius to question the mushroom seller about who had bought her mushrooms while he went to the practice field to try to get more information there leaving Sir Tomas to keep an eye on the Levcomagus knights.
Whilst Sir Brennan Emrys Kellen and Sir Saravinus Arilius are busy interrogating the mushroom seller both Sir Cecily deDepeden and Sir Awli ApTubber emerge from their quarters above the barn that the knights are staying in for a morning walk. As the only Sarum knight left in the building, Sir Tomas is given a given a tough choice of who to follow but, believing Sir Cecily deDepeden the more capable of the two for creating mischief, joins him. Sir Cecily deDepeden is impressed with young Thomas’ honesty and intellect and tells him that, all going to plan, Sir Awli ApTubber should be talking to a carpenter whilst they were heading to Tomas’ favourite tourist spot, the Grand Cathedral of Sarum.
After a lengthy period questioning the mushroom seller about the brigands that had stolen her money, Sir Brennan and Sir Saravinus finally recall that they were supposed to be finding out about the person who had bought the poisonous mushrooms from her. After they have the information, the knights cruelly toy with the old woman, one moment telling her that she is free to go, and then ordering her locked up again before they return to the barn and the other knights.
Once informed that the purchaser of the baleful toadstools was a kitchen boy called Brynn, Sir Tomas and Sir Uaine head to the castle kitchen to find him. The remainder of their party stay behind to watch the knights of Levcomagus. As a Testside knight Sir Hector (and thus under orders to avoid all possible conflict with Levcomagus), heads to the practice field to hone his skills. Sir Tomas and Sir Uaine soon discovered that Brynn often collected mushrooms from the old woman and that he sometimes acted as page to Lady Ellen of Salisbury herself.
Young Brynn had recently been telling his friends that he was to be promoted into a permanent position away from the kitchen. Learning the ambitious young lad enjoyed passing the time watching the flow of people coming and going through the Fool’s gate (near the Eagle market), they set of to the main town to find him.
At the practice ground Sir Hector sought out the largest knight he could find and wagered that he could best him in a completion of lances. After a couple of unsuccessful passes from both competitors Sir Hector’s opponent got in a lucky, or perhaps unlucky, strike driving his blunted spear into Sir Hector and knocking him off his horse.
Sir Tomas and Sir Uaine went to the Eagle market hoping to find the kitchen boy but had no luck, upon accosting another peasant boy they found out that Brynn also liked to play in the ditches outside the city walls. Many hours of fruitless searching later they return back the warehouse that is their lodging this winter court. With the sound of carpentry above them, the returning knights told their comrades in arms what they had discovered. Being the best hunter of the group, Sir Saravinus went to seek signs and tracks of the boy in and around the ditches of Sarum. A short time later he found the youth buried in a shallow grave in the ditch.
The boy had been strangled with rope; but had obviously put up a struggle. The tracks of a man and a woman were spotted leading away from the grave. He ordered his squire to bring the body and made his way back to the city gate. Unfortunately Sir Saravinus didn’t think of how the general population would react to his squire carrying the body of a boy through the gate. In an attempt to try to quell the commotion one of the gate guards stops Sir Saravinus and asks what is happening to which he responds in a voice that anyone nearby can hear “A heinous crime has been committed” causing even more panic. Fortunately he didn’t go into any further details before a rather irate Sir Elad came to break up the panicking crowd sending Sir Saravinus back to the barn and his squire to a nearby chapel with the body.
While Sir Saravinus is relaying what he found – piecemeal – to the rest of the knights, Sir Cecily deDepeden walks in from the main street (it seems the carpenters upstairs have created a new exit from the uppermost floor of the warehouse, who knows what the devious whisper master of Levcomagus has been up to out from under the watchful eye of the group!), and informs them that they need his help with the on-going poisoning plot the whole town is talking about!
Sir Cecily is concerned that he and his friends will be the primary targets when accusations start to be thrown. Sir Cecily further states that there is an opportunity here to end the enmity between Salisbury and Levcomagus, and he is keen to seize it. He relates the sad tale of how the feud started, and asks the young knights to assist him in bringing the needless conflict to an end; after all this is obviously the reason why the king ordered Lord Ulfius of Silchester to bring his Levcomagus retinue to Sarum in the first place!
While Sir Uaine is away seeking extra details from the mushroom seller, Sir Brychan Eurion stands by in court for an audience. A sudden disturbance heralds the irate exit of Lord Salisbury, who at once seizes a sword and sets off down the hall, with knights and servants alike scattering before him. A short stand off gives Sir Brychan Eurion time to race down to the barn and provide a bare few minutes warning of the furious lords approach, alloowing his circle of friends and the Levcomagus band time to don armour.
Lord Salisbury, still burning with anger, arrives and at once demands an oath by the blade that none of the visiting knights were involved in the murder of young Brynn. For the second time in as many days, Sir Gadwick must fight back his pride and his hatred, and humble himself before his sworn enemy or risk all out war between Salisbury and Silchester. The tense situation is diffused by the arrival of several knights of the court, including Duke Ulfiusand Sir Brastias, who separate the parties before any blood can be shed. The circle of knights are in turn asked to discover all they can, even down to searching the room of the Levcomagus men (a grave breach of hospitality).
Sir Uaine returns with a few further details of the purchase and is in turn read in on goings-on about the barn. With the situation momentarily calmed, the knights disperse to seek out all they can learn of the poison, its unlikely buyer (Brynn) and whatever courtly links they can.
As a show of good faith, Sir Haeredoc the Red and Sir Tomas allow the Levcomagus knights to strip them to their small clothes before beginning their search, which uncovers a small bundle of dried herbs – Milkthistle, a remedy for liverishness. With only this small discovery, they return downstairs and gradually more information is spread and gathered between the group.
The group learn little over the course of the following day; That Brynn had been a very smart and well liked lad in the ladies court, where he had run many messages, and that he had taught himself to read from the carvings and reliefs of the church where he was laid to rest. The plotting had begun around a year previously, when the location of the winter court was announced. This ruled out many as word had been passed down only slowly, and the Levcomagus knights had not been expected but for the kings own decree. They learned too that Milkthistle was also used as a remedy for Deathcap poisoning, casting suspicion momentarily on the knights in the loft until it was realised that an opportunistic conspirator might easily have planted it there.
Indeed, it was then recollected that Brynn had moved the ladies from the upper floor upon the Levcomagus parties arrival, and his involvement was well known. With little evidence to guide them, the circles only conclusion was that (were it not traitorous to suggest so) a lady of some standing must have been involved (though Sir Haeredoc made it plain some Ladies at court are above reproach, and even suggesting their names would be cause of enmity between himself and the cur casting such slurs). With nothing else to suggest, the group reported what they had found to their superiors who greeted their myriad discoveries with concern and frustrated confusion. With no clear plotters to aim for, the circle were told to leave the puzzle alone; there was little further to be gained from chasing their vague and treacherous suspicions.
Sir Uaine was stung by the failure of the group to uncover the true source of the plot, and would have pressed on if he could have seen a way, and trusting to the political skill of the visiting Sir Cecily deDepeden and offers up what they have learned, in case he can offer any insight. His only response is that he will have to thank the plotters himself for offering so clumsy a frame, ‘a gift they will remember for the rest of their lives, however short that might be.’
With nothing else to be learned, the tired and frustrated knights settle down for a last afternoon respite before christmas day and the formal opening of the Kings Winter Court.Our Story Continues