Ill Met By Moonlight
The Saxon trail leads them for hours of torturous riding at speed to the southwest, through a patchwork of woodlands and clearings. All day the men ride and as sunset approaches the more alert of them notice the tell-tale smell of wood smoke in the air… Issa, Daffyd and Bain, the three most skilled woodsmen of the group, scout ahead.
They quickly spot a rough campsite in the middle of some peasant fields, with the remnants of several small fires just visible in the fading light. There are about 20 men bedding down for the night, and the sentries are posted in such a way that they blend into the rutted earth. This group of small, dark haired men is not your usual invader warband, but the three men are certain that these are the Saxons they seek, as the occasional oddly accented voice carries across the fields to them.
A giant blond figure moves around the camp, and as he steps to one side they spot Sir Brychan, tied to crossed stakes or spears driven into the ground. He is covered in blood, some of it still fresh and glistening in the last rays of the sun. Daffyd, ever rash, is hard pressed to restrain himself from a suicidal charge to release his captured liege lord, but Issa, helped by the over whelming numbers of Saxons, persuades the reckless soldier to caution this one time.
Returning to the rest of the group, Pump, Issa and the rest discuss various strategies for getting the Lord Eurion back. After several hours of heated debate it is agreed to wait until the Saxons are well bedded down, and then have the three woods crafty killers sneak forward and end the sentries in silence. From there they can push forward to the main camp and cut the throats of the sleeping kidnappers. If the alarm should be raised the rest of the men will charge forward to engage the remaining Saxons. So long as the scouts can get the sentries down without a sound, the advantage should be with the Salisbury men.
All through the debate, Seamond is quiet and focused; one of the few voices of calm amongst the men. Some would call him a cold fish, but his fellow soldiers have learnt to fear the anger this quiet man, and know full well his blood is burning for vengeance against those who have so badly used Sir Brychan.
Once again Daffyd, Bain and Issa sneak forward. Like shadows in the moonlight they edge ever closer and each gets to within striking distance of his target without being spotted.
Daffyd takes out his man with deadly aplomb.
Bain envelopes the second sentry in his huge arms and crushes the life from him without a murmur.
Issa thrust a perfect blow with his spear at the heart of his enemy but is foiled at the last moment! A twig snaps underfoot in the darkness as he strikes and the alert sentry reacts with almost supernatural speed! His defence is not enough to save his life, but the scream he utters as the spear tears into his stomach is more than enough to rouse the sleeping camp.
Instantly the rest of the men at arms are charging forward to the aid of Sir Brychan and the scouts.
At first things seem to go well for our brave band of brothers, but these Saxons are made of stern stuff. Their shock and confusion at the night time attack is only momentary, and it seems each and every one of them was sleeping with weapons to hand and in their light armour. With a cry of “dauðan hvern” they quickly rally and start fighting as a unit.
Daffyd is laid low, as Seamond un-seams his opponent. The golden haired Saxon strides into the fray, only to be met by the spear of Pump Eurion Gulpa. Their weapons clash, and the two of them scream their undying hatred into the others face. Each is trapped in the bitter struggle with locked weapons, and so the Saxon giant discards axe and spear both and grapples the Eurion lineage man directly.
The rest of the troop battle on, but for every two Saxons laid down in the gibbous gleam, one of the men at arms is also removed from the fight. Things look grim for both sides, and there is no telling which way the battle will go.
Ever swift witted, Adeon fells his opponent, bypasses the main skirmish, and seeks to free Sir Brychan in the confusion. But a small wiry man, with a dark manner and a well-practiced sword intervenes and quickly disarms him! In perfect accent-less Cymri the Saxon smiles and says “I will read your lords death in your own entrails…" as he stands his ground between Adeon and his liege lord.
Knowing his limits Adeon prudently retreats back into the darkness to re-arm; though it breaks his heart to retreat when he is so close to freeing the stricken knight of Salisbury.
Next the mighty Petyr is felled by the mysterious Raven-Wolf Saxons, even as Pump and the Saxon war chief wrestle in the churned mud only a yard or two away. Out of the darkness a screaming possessed figure looms and strikes wildly at the wrestling pair… Pump heaving a sigh of relief as the giant Saxon is felled by a mighty blow from Seamond!
At last the loyal men of Salisbury seem to be seizing back the initiative, though the cost has been high. In the momentary pause between opponents they realise that shadowy figures have drawn themselves up in a line between the stout men of Logres and their Knight Captain; this fight isn’t over yet! The saturnine Saxon swords man wastes no time in sizing up the situation. This battle is lost to him, and he strikes a viscous blow towards the helpless Sir Brychan!
Time slows as the appalled men at arms watch in horror, helpless to intervene… the hideous moment stretching longer and longer as the blade descends in slow motion… then the men comprehend that the blade is indeed descending slowly. In fact it is now frozen a scant inch from the prime Eurion’s neck!
Glancing round nervously they begin to register that none of the raiders are moving; each and every one seemingly a patch darkness, with a rime-frosted look. Moving forwards, the air feels like striding through mud or honey, not the clean night breeze they had been been fighting so furiously in. This uncanny cold had only targeted the foreign warriors however, so the men steel their courage and push forward to help Sir Brychan, despite the preternatural stillness of their foes.
A figure approaches from the darkness, a crone in the moonlight… Seamond whispers ‘Njos’! As the old woman appears out the darkness itself!
She laughs scornfully “I’m no Goddess boy, just call me Crone and be done, now I’ve wasted quite enough time waiting for you cretins to come to me, gather your lord and let us go”
Unmanned by the weird sister and relived to have, somehow, won a far from certain battle, the men fall to gathering their lord and their gear. They are stunned to see their badly wounded comrades get to their feet, their wounds frosted over and looking no worse than old frost-bite scars. Whoever this ‘Crone’ may be she is a force to be reckoned with and a powerful ally!
Despite the creeping chill from their apparently healed wounds the ever pragmatic Adeon and Daffyd quickly go about the business of slicing Saxon throats; but are stunned when the blades skip across the frost covered skin as if they were some form of stone or glass!
“Leave those Foreign Devils be, they can’t hurt you, and you can’t hurt them” Crone commands. “Now get me on one of these damn horses and let’s go!”
Still somewhat dazed and confused Sir Brychan bridles for a moment at the lofty commands of some peasant woman, but he is quickly advised by his men that this is no person to cross. Seamond stoops his back and, as reverently as possible, helps the aged Crone to mount a horse.
Riding north, time passes but no man there could say exactly how far, or for how long they rode. Several of the unit noted the position of the moon as they set out, but seemed to keep losing track of its movement, as though it had not moved at all despite the many hours of riding. At last false dawn paints the hill tops, and Crone calls a halt and orders a camp to be set up.
The much recovered Sir Brychan is at a loss, not knowing where he is, where to go next, or what this other worldly figure who has now taken charge of him and his band intends. Unsure of what else to do, he follows Crone to a nearby dirt road. A battered and rickety cart with a stout wooden cage on its bed, stands in the road with no horses in the traces. The driver is a disheveled looking young woman, in a most distressed and sorry state. Sir Brychan stops dead in his tracks, his mouth agape: “Jenna!” he cries and rushes forward.
The lady Jenna is indifferent to the approaching knight at first, but at the sound of her name, her senses return and she gasps in shock and recognition. Their kiss is long and deep and it seems the delicate woman would be crushed by the mighty Sir Brychan, though she clings to him just as fiercely.
Cheering and rejoicing the men at arms surge forward, amazed at this change in their luck at long last; but they quickly crash to a halt as the pile of skins in the caged back of the cart stir themselves and reveal fearsome great bear!
Cursing and swearing the lineage men gather their spears to kill the beast but a harsh whisper from the Lady Jenna to her lord grabs his attention. “Hold” shouts Sir Brychan.
The two nobles converse in private, and the dumbfounded soldiery are curtly instructed “don’t harm the beast!”
With a superior smirk Crone hobbles from the shade beneath the trees “Aye, and its coming with us an-all: get your backs to it, and get that cart moving!”
Little liking the task the men set to work. The wooden cage is gingerly covered with tent cloth, in the hopes of keeping the animal calm, and then long lines are used to secure two pack horses to the cart, hopefully long enough that the bear scent will not make the horses unmanageable.
And with that the strange troop head off down the road in the direction the cart was already facing…