The Children of Domnu
The Water Leapers
Given their task by no less a pair than the kings of Logres and Somerset, the group departed at once for the Isle of Princes in the company of the somerset Knight Equitas Ezekeus. Rather than risk their horses they held steady at a ground eating trot for three days as the landscape around them changed. The familiar hills flattened out and the grasses grew ever taller, the animals growing less and less recognisable. Soon only the Isle of Princes rose above the surrounding flatlands, and the insects discovered new blood.
Bitten and tired from the unchanging scenery, the group resignedly accepted Sir Equitas’ apologetic explanation that they would have to sleep off the Isle; a long standing tradition held that only those of noble and royal birth within Somerset might rest there, and so they slept in the guest houses outside its walls.
Enduring the insects, the knights left their horses and made their way into the fens by boat – a single man rowing a flat bottomed affair which held one knight and his supplies. Made nervous by the uncertain depth of the water and the questionable footing below the murky surface, the knights remained out of the way of the boatmen. Complaining of his itching, Sir Saravinus Arilius asked of his poleman what could be done against the tiny pests which swarmed in from the surrounding fens to feast on every scrap of exposed flesh. Giving the knight an odd look, the commoner recommended (in his broad accent) that a good handful of mud would deal with the problem. Without a second thought, Sir Saravinus scooped a handful of the foul smelling muck from the tip of the barge pole and began to slather it on his bites. Despite the smell, he insisted that the cure was working. It certainly halted the mealtime of any insect which might have been feeding, but despite this none of his fellows took up the same remedy.
Perhaps it was this soothing mud pack or perhaps his observant nature, but it was Saravinus who spotted the one oddity of that first day; a raven which stalked them consistently, and would continue to do so for many days to come. Sunset found them on the verges of a great clearing in the fens which had until then been a series of narrow canals, wide marshy pools, and occasional muddy footpaths, where it had been necessary to haul the boats along like sleds.
With the boatmen navigating by the Glastonbury Tor it was not long before, far out over the peaty water, appeared a cluster of houses perched on an island, the Knights were approaching Meare Lake Village. The area was suspiciously quiet, with nary a ripple on the lakes surface or the call of a single bird. pulling in to this island, several of the knights noticed the sponginess of the ground and determined the island was man-made – fascines and piled mud forming a steep foundation upon which the houses stood. At one end, sectioned off with a low wicker fence was an area which (said their guides) contained a series of thrones, half standing and half in ruins which were the seats of the water leapers. With daylight gone, the knights decided to leave the mystery for the following day. All bar Sir Saravinus, who had spotted once again the raven, now perched on a withered tree far across the lake, watching the island intently. For a few brief moments, curiosity almost won out over common sense, and he was on the verge of calling for a boatman to take him into the growing darkness before caution led him to reconsider. Something in the darkness was watching besides the raven, and its reputation was grim…
With sleeping arrangements made and all the knights and their squires set to be sheltered from the unfriendly dark, Sir Brychan was surprised and more than a little displeased to learn that Sir Eris had ordered his squire to stand a long night watch… on an island in the midst of a lake in which dreadful man eating creatures lurked, ever hungry. Upbraiding the younger knight to be more mindful of his squires wellbeing, all the party were finally settled indoors where they heard a little more of the tale of the water leapers they were to confront on the morrow.
Long before, the romans had tried fruitlessly for many years to take control of the fens from the druids and their followers, until the general facing the task made a bargain with Domnu, goddess of deep water and uncontrollable emotions; that her chief followers – the princes of Domnu would be spared, and no man of somerset would raise hand against them in exchange for the submission of the fens. These princes originally numbered 13 and occupied the thrones which stood alone at the far end of the island.
The following dawn came, and with it the determination to investigate these thrones and discover more of the nature of their occupants. Before the knights began a close examination, Sir Saravinus confirmed once again that a raven perched across the water, watching the island with great intensity. Sir Brychan, becoming annoyed at the birds staring likewise considered taking boat and chasing the thing off, before foreboding of the leapers stilled his footsteps. Shaking off the unease which the bird brought, he followed after the others as they began a close inspection of the old (indeed, ancient) thrones.
The throne backs told the deeper tale of the leapers, their origins as druids of Donmu and the deal struck with the roman Praetor. Scraping at one of the old seats with a knife blade, Maelgwyn was able to confirm that the oldest carvings were somehow protected, though later roman carvings proved to be less stubborn. As the group stood pondering their discoveries, Sir Tomas became impatient with the wait for the leapers appearance. Throwing his weight against one of the standing stone seats he toppled it with a loud thump. An alarming noise echoed the fall; splashes within the lake and the telltale wakes of a half dozen bodies approaching at speed underwater.
It was then that a grave mistake in the knights assumptions was revealed The Water leapers were no mere animals, but had once been druids and still possessed a measure of their intelligence. As six of them drew the knights’ attention to the water, the seventh approached at a dash through the village, hurling itself upon Sir Tomas who had destroyed the ancient throne. The creatures were terrible to behold, a mis-match of toad and bat, with a long leathery tail ending in a great wasps sting. Though their leathery hides and bulbous shapes made them appear clumsy, they proved anything but. All the six swimmers leapt likewise upon sir Tomas, who was fortunate indeed as with the aid of Maelgwyn and Sir Saravinus Arilius he was able to fight off this first attack. In a swirling melee, two of the creatures were slain but in response Sir Cynwrig Kellen was stung, a great welt forming at once beneath his armour and steadily stealing away his strength. Sorely wounded, it was all sir Cynwrig could do to retreat back to the village, to rest in one of the houses and hope the poison did not finish what the gnashing jaws of the Leaper had begun. The fight claimed another of the beasts, then a fourth, before a few moments stillness spread across the fen.
The leapers hid away in the filthy water, until the knights once again began toppling the thrones, casting the last of them down before the surviving water beasts leapt once more to the attack. Their sudden assault caught and dragged Sir Brychan Eurion bodily from his feet and into the chill waters around the island. Even as the murk closed over his head he held his nerve, trusting in his fellows to come to his aid. Sure enough Sir Eris, Maelgwyn and Sir Tomas waded in swiftly after him, stabbing and slashing even as Brychan was struggling in the eel-like grip of his attackers. Freed by his brave comrades, sputtering and half-drowned from the attack, sir Brychan retreated well away from the water to await the return of the beasts. But it seemed they had lost their taste for the knights’ iron, for time slipped by with no sign of a wake or ripple from the water. Sighing in relief, Sir Eris, Sir Brychan Eurion and Sir Gwynneth returned to the village to see their wounded companion and be sure the poison had done its worst.
This left sir Tomas, Sir Saravinus and Sir Maelgwyn at the shattered thrones, looking for some clue that would allow them to continue the hunt. Instead, the hunt found them as the surviving leapers resumed their attack, surer against the smaller number of knights. This proved to be their final mistake, even as Sir Eris and Brychan raced back from the village the three knights at the thrones slew the last of the dreadful beasts just in time to save Maelgwyn; the final beast had him half in the water before the fatal blow was stuck to end the menace the creatures had posed for so long.
With the battle won and no losses to grieve, the knights took that day to rest, departing on the following morn with many days left of their limit. With the wounded Sir Cynwrig Kellen able to ride at least, they returned to the woodland camp where the kings still waited to report their success. With his geas complete, the king of Somerset withdrew his objections against the humbling of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, and the army of Logres returned home in high spirits despite a hard march and the great air of mystery which surrounded it all.