Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Scene Ten - Not all Goblins are Green

It was a cold evening and all the travellers were huddling in their furs as they sat around the fire. There was the normal motley crew that could be found at a wayside camping spot, near to a crossroads, with trees and shelter nearby, with wood for a fire and good game in the area for dinner. There was a merchant of some description, a little portly and unused to roughing it by the side of the road - clearly wishing that the weather had been more clement allowing him to reach the next village before dark. But the night had closed quickly, and he had felt it more prudent to join the travellers in their open campfire - rather than chance the path in the dark - even with his two sell-swords to protect him. After all - some sell-swords are only as good as the flow of money, and the prospect of gaining an entire purse can be tempting on occasion..

So the merchant was doing his best to get comfortable on the tree stump that barely supported his buttocks... His sell-swords had conducted a quick circuit of the camp and were now sitting sharing some caustic spirit from a bottle.

A cleric of some type was sitting quietly - with his head leaning into a tome that he could hardly read by the flicker of the fire... One gained the impression that he was listening and watching without moving his eyes - it seemed unlikely that he was really deciphering the words before him..

Four or five other travellers were trying to dry their clothes against the fire that was burning and occasionally turning the small spits on which a selection of rabbit, squirrel, and some unidentifiable small mammals were hanging...  At least the rain had stopped for a while..

Vollsanger also crouched by the fire. His wraps were relatively dry, his thick fur outer garments having kept much of the rain from his inner tabard and trews... His Lute was carefully wrapped in well oiled leather and would be fine for the night..  He reached out to turn his meat - and pulled from his pack some wild cabbage that he had gathered from a field on the journey out...

"What's that you got?" asked one of the sell-swords pointing at the cabbage....
"Wild Cabbage - it is good for the teeth and helps the digestion" answered the Bard without really looking at him..
"Rubbish Greens!! " was the retort..   
"Nothing wrong with Green" said the Bard without implying any offence in his tones..
"Green is rubbish - only good for Goblins!!" came the retort..

"Ahh - interesting that" said the Bard .. "Not all Goblins are Green"
"Course they are" came the response from the group around the fire ... each brightening as they realised that a tale was forthcoming from the enigmatic Bard they had only just met - but who had a reputation that spread across the whole land....

"I could tell you of the tale of Fitta'n Elfie" sighed the Bard as he settled himself down .....  and then proceeded to fill his drinking horn from a flagon that miraculously appeared from under his cloaks ...

A long pause...  Some feared that the old man had drifted off to sleep ... and then he told a story .. and I shall repeat it to you - even as I heard him tell it...

The Tale of Fitta'n Elfie..

It is a sad story to tell. Young Fitta'n Elfey did not really know his background. He was unaware of the start to his sad upbringing. He was from quite a proud family and that was part of his downfall. His mother, Fitt t'Bust was always a popular lass as a youngster. She was outstanding in her field, and was well noted by the lads who chased after her. They loved the way Fitt t'Bust would carry on jiggling after she stopped, and would take all sorts of opportunities to drop items in her way so that she would bend over to pick them up, leaving plenty of flesh showing on her ample bosom. She was generally unaware of the ploys but enjoyed her popularity with a simple approach...  She was not really renowned for her intellect it must be said...  but for her profile!
But one of the most popular lads was a cousin, Fitt f'Nuthin. He was always hanging around her and complimenting her and dropping sweets and flowers, and generally courting in his own individual way. He also was not the brightest glowworm in the cloud, but he meant well and she grew to like him. And in the end, he asked her to marry him and she blushed bright green - as most Goblins do, and said an eager yes..


They say that they made a really charming couple as they strolled across the fairy ring stamping on the ants and bugglywigs and blowing raspberries from their backsides and making faces at the congregation - the way you are meant to at a Goblin Wedding - for the Fitt's were a very old Clan of Goblins from the darkwoods. 



Everything went very well for the couple, Fitt t'Bust bloomed and Fitt f'Nuthin was the proudest Goblin in the neck of the woods. A couple of other cousins came to help build them a house. There was Fitt f'Purpuss and Fitt f'Wurk and they built them a fine home while they went on a honeymoon arranged by Fitt f'Travul... A lovely honeymoon with mead and a place to stay on a Greenfield Site.



They even had a personal trainer to help them relax, Fitt'n Well made the whole honeymoon a pleasure, while the evenings found Fitt f'Nuthin becoming better acquainted with the finest attributes of his new wife...



Yes, they had an idyllic start to their life together. Now, no-one knows what went wrong. Whether there was a bit of jealousy from the other Goblins and some underhand magix, or whether it was a natural but unfortunate outcome... but all was well until they had a small baby goblin - their first!  They had looked forward to this moment and had made plans for the upbringing of their little offspring, but when Fitt f'Nuthin first saw the baby - he gasped and pointed accusingly at Fitt t'Bust.. for the baby was white - or rather a pinky colour and not a healthy Green One at all!!



Fitt t'Bust protested her innocence, and even the feeble brain of her husband had to agree that he had really not left her alone long enough for any other form of liaison !!  So they called a family member to help them out ..  Fitt z'Avidle the doctor came and examined the baby..  



"Definitely a Goblin" he pronounced after looking at the child.... "but the wrong colour!  Not a hint of Green here at all!! " He consulted his medical books and came up with no answers, but then decided to go and call on the wisest goblin of the Fitt Clan - who was a little pompous, but knew everything!!



When Fitt'n E'nosit examined the child he recalled that once back in the histories a similar thing had happened.. "What we have here" said the wise goblin, "is a case of  de-pig-mentation and could have been as a result of eating too much bacon  - but all the colour has gone!! You have an Albino Goblin"



Well!! What should they do!!  They were proud Goblins from a fine family and a fine clan. The Fitt's had ruled the darkwoods for such a long time that only the trees could remember - and many of them were senile!.  If they kept the child it could turn out to be an embarrassment like Fitt'n Nerdy who covered his whole body with brown cloth except for his pot belly sticking out and lay down and pretended to be an unripe acorn... totally unacceptable behaviour for the Goblin Rulers of the Darkwood..  His continued presence in the Darkwood would shame the whole family and clan.



It was decided that he could not stay in the Darkwood.. but unwilling to set him adrift in the big world with no idea of his heritage, they tied a bell around his neck, with the inscription "FITT'n" on it, and took the babe to a a place outside the Darkwoods.. there they found an elf couple who had never had any children of their own, and left the babe upon their doorstep ...



And so it was that the little child; he with the pointy ears and the bright red hair; he without a trace of Green about him; he with a little bell about his neck with the name "Fitt'n"; was loved and brought up by those elves as though he were their own elfling...



True, his mannerisms were often not those of a high elf. True his voice sounded a little course to the refined elven tongue. True, his red hair was a little shocking. True, they hid him in a box in the basement when guests came to visit. But he grew up in a family knowing that he was an "elf to be reckoned with" because his "parents" told him so. They taught him to be Elf Sufficient.. to stand up for Hims Elf .. and to seek his own Elf and Happiness...


And so, when he grew to age - Fitta'n Elfie made his way into the world ...  but he never knew why he was so attracted to the colour Green - and anything that turned out to be a Green One!!   And in fairness - no-one ever told him ...

And that was the story of Fitta'n Elfie ...

Fitta'n Elfie
Vollsanger took a hearty swig from his battered horn and started munching upon the meat from his spit ...  a twinkle in his eye as he watched his fellow travellers around the fire...
He wondered who would be the next to tell a tale...

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Scene Nine - The value of the Badge...

"What??  What did he say ??" Vollsanger stiffened as he ran the conversation back through his mind.

Sitting at the gnarled wooden table, a goblet in front of each of them, Colour Sergeant Snatch looked across the table into the eyes of the French Captain, who was seemingly oblivious of any offence he may be  causing..... 

"And in what particular way do you think that I have been disgraced by wearing the badge?" the old bard asked in a quiet voice.... "

"Ees it not obvious?" queried the captain, "You take a great bard", he spoke to the sergeant, " and you enslave him to your troop, you make him less than he was ...  another of your riff raff.."

It was not just his slightly foppish mannerisms, and his annoying accent that grated. His whole attitude wreaked of insubordination and pretended superiority. Captain Caladan, of the Knights of  Dorn, exuded a religious fervour. 


Vollsanger had no real objection to a man's religion. It was a matter for personal choice. After all, he followed the Norse Gods in general and Bragi, God of song and Verse in particular. No, a man's religion was a personal thing...  but not something to be stuffed down another person's throat.

He had seen the Captain fighting in the courtyard during the day and had to admit that he showed a fair amount of skill as he sparred with Captain Marshall. The courtyard of Castle Quarrel had resounded with the clash of weapons, the hearty grunts of the Black Company Leader, and the incomprehensible french exclamations as the flat of a sword caught the red and yellow tabard.
He had skill to be sure, and by all accounts had fought for his Order under the guidance of the Grand Master with honour in many battles. His reason for being in the castle would be known only to Captain Marshall and the Grand Master who had penned the letter that still sat, seal unbroken at the Captain's table in the Officer's Mess. The Captain was a man of order. A time for everything and everything in its time.... No, he would read the letter later - after the banquet...

"Enslave......   Riff Raff...... " The sergeant pondered over the words as though testing the texture of a foul french FricassĂ©e.....

Vollsanger was wearing his normal finery for the evening banquet. A fine woven shirt in light green, what other colour could he wear? with neat embroidery in the collar and sleeves, a boar on one, the mark of the Oathsworn of Dunholme and a fine depiction of a lute on the collar front.  Around his neck hung the numerous necklets, amulets, talismans and  hangings that represent awards and safe passage to the peoples of many lands. About his waist hung a broad leather belt with his music pouch and the Blades of Berkana, the finely matched pair of master-crafted daggers that he carried as a gift from the "Widow". But the most important item of clothing this evening was the black sash that he wore from right shoulder to left hip. The sash was emblazoned with the Death Head of the Black Company Badge.

A badge that had been awarded and was worn with pride. The only Honorary Fully Badged member of the black Company in the annals...  Normally, a recruit would lose his name and his identity - become a recruit with a number. Some may never achieve a name. But if they persevered and proved worthy, then they may be given a name and the rank of private. But each would hold the day he or she achieved the Badge as their greatest day .... regardless of the promotions that may follow ..

Some of the words that the Frenchman uttered were true ... Many who wore the badge would leave the Company feet first. Many would die. Most were not heroes, they did not crave honours, but would fight to the last with the possibility of being mentioned in the Glorious Dead... perhaps a few lines in the annals..  but always to fight alongside their comrades in arms... But to suggest that it was dishonourable....

Vollsanger sat to the left of the Frenchman, also facing the Colour Sergeant. While the Frenchman had uttered his broad statements, arms flailing in latin fashion, the bard's hands had dropped quietly to his sides, and covered the hilts of the daggers..... In one fluid motion he shrugged his shoulders and leaned forward across the table, his body covering the actions of his hands, which deftly eased the two daggers from sheath and reversed them so the blades were held against the forearm. The Blades of Berkana.. Razor sharp, narrow bladed, etched with the Rune of Berkana, an angular "B" on the hilt. Vollsanger reached out his left hand across the table - palm down - the reversed blade held close to the arm and hidden from view sandwiched between arm and table. Hand open, the hilt palmed in a manner even the Company Fool Devilstick Peat would have been proud of...  As the right hand extended behind the back of the Captain, reversing the dagger, point down, with the tip angled to the that point on top of the chainmail where the neck was exposed...

The Colour sergeant could clearly see the action behind the Frenchman, who, with the experience of a veteran fighter sensed the blade and tensed, yet smiled and said "I have no fear of these ? I am a guest and subject to the hospitality of the Company.." He shrugged. An action as annoying as all that had gone before and Vollsanger held himself back...

The bard looked to the Colour Sergeant. Honorary member of the Company. Company Bard... He had a unique place in the Company, but it was not his call. Every part of his being said that the dagger should slide into the 3rd cervical vertebrae, now !! and without listening to another word...

The Colour Sergeant passed his hand over the arm of the Bard who slowly retracted the limb - leaving Snatch ready with a dagger immediately to hand...  There was no doubt that the soldier was already well armed, but the opportunity to have a surprise dagger in hand would prevent any defensive action from the braggard...

Both company men were now fully armed... but the guest was not heeding a word ...
"Eet is always the same with you ...  you give each a death sentence when they come, look at these idiots and pathetic souls... they are the dregs..."

Colour Sergeant Snatch almost bit off the stem of his pipe. Even the flickering candle light suggested that his finely twisted moustache was curling with outrage.. He made his decision... he was a veteran of the Black Company and would neither sully the reputation of the Company by the death of the insolent upstart, nor would he let the insult lie..

He left the blade on the table and rose to his feet, peering down at the French Captain who was still held in place by a dagger at his neck.... He took out his pipe and gesturing with his right hand accentuated each line.

"Dregs??? " Spluttered the Colour Sergeant... his Badge glinting on the sash of bright crimson across his black leather armour... "Dregs .. Pathetic Souls and Riff Raff ??"

The muscles on his neck tensed with anger, his eyes blazed as he addressed the Knight of Dorn ..

"These Dregs are my Privates" He announced in his best parade ground snarl..
"MY Privates!!! They are precious to me ! I look after my Privates. I keep them close to me! My privates are not to be played with by others, or mocked!! I will groom them and nurture them and let them grow. They are Snatch's Privates!!!  They are the Company Privates...  And one day you may find out how precious my Privates can be!!!"

He glared once more at the Frenchman - nodded to Vollsanger - leaving the blade upon the table.

Vollsanger accepted the decision of the rank and placed his own blade alongside its pair... He got up from the table without a word and walked off to find a tankard of ale to wash the bad taste from his mouth..

The Knight of Dorn sat there awhile... I know not what went through his mind...

Next day, after the Tribunal, the floggings went on for an hour. The entire Company was in attendance as penalties were exacted..  Towards the end, a messenger requested the presence of Captain Caladan to the courtyard. Vollsanger had been keeping a surreptitious eye on him - in case he stole the company silver or molested the serving wenches or abused the animals, he had such a small regard for the man, and followed into the winter sunshine..



Captain Marshall was officiating. "Ah. Yes .. Captain Caladan.. Please come forward"
The Frenchman was obviously a little disconcerted, after all, a series of soldiers had just received  a public flogging..
"I hope eet is not for zee punishment  mon Capitan?"
"Of course not dear boy. Front and Center - there's a good chap!"
The flamboyant figure swaggered into the centre of the circle and stood by the Captain who towered above him.
"Right. Captain Caladan. Knight of Dorn. I have read the letter sent by your Grand Master. And it seems that you have been a little excessive in your religious excesses!"
"Quoi??" Sputtered the Knight..  "I may be a leetle enthusiastic - urr..."
"Over - zealous I think is the expression of your Grand Master.." Continued Captain Marshall, hands behind his back in a stance well known to every recruit of the Black Company ...  Everyone knew now that some bad news was coming for the annoying interloper, and even those nursing their wounds were ready to find out what it was...

"Yes indeed. Over zealous !!  Seem that you - Captain Caladan " he pronounced the name with as much disgust as he would use in discussing a venereal disease " have been a bit of a naughty boy .. Tut Tut!!!
Moreover, seems that your Grand Master wants to be rid of you for a period of time ..  and has given you to us for at least a year - if you survive that long!"

"Mais non. C'est n'est pas possible!" Spluttered the Frenchman and lunged towards the Captain. A bad move. He was immediately seized and dragged back as he yelled and shouted in his incomprehensible tongue .. He was held firmly as the Captain explained that the letter from the Grand Master allowed no confusion or alternative interpretation.... the former Knight of Dorn would now be Recruit No 9 - not even a name, but a number until he proved otherwise...

Volsanger leaned back and pondered that this seemed a much better outcome than the alternative considered the previous night, though it still irked him to have let the insult lie..

Having calmed down a little, Caladan, or rather Recruit no 9 asked permission to speak, which was granted.
"Mon Capitan" said the Frenchman, in far more contrite terms than before. He shrugged off those who held him and slowly pulled out his fine French Crafted Axe and held it aloft..
"Mon Capitan.. You see here a fine Axe n'est pas?"
"Indeed I do" replied the Captain
"Well, mon Capitan, would you use this to dig latrines and graves? or would you use a ... what do you call the thing.. urr  .. a Spade??"
"We always call a Spade a Spade in the Black Company - we would use that " replied the Captain...
"Then please Mon Capitan, consider me!!  I am ...    I was  Knight of Dorn ...   I am like this axe...  Make use of me for what I am good at,, I am an axe not a spade"
"Yes. Well. We shall see. We shall keep a close eye on you and see if you have any value.."

The captain looked around and with a glance at his newly promoted  Lieutenant Snatch, wearing his new Veteran Medal, said " Right Oh.. Jolly Good!!  Carry on then .. " and went back to the Officer's mess for lunch...

The Company slowly drifted away, leaving a rather forlorn figure slumped against a wall. Recruit No 9, formerly Captain Caladan of the Knights of Dorn, now nameless until he proved himself sufficiently to be given a name. And then, if he survived, and not all did, he may warrant to a position where he could be eligible to wear the Badge of the Black Company...

"Nothing is certain in this world" mused Vollsanger..  but somehow here in the Black Company there seemed to be a touch of balance and a little fairness...  Perhaps I should write a song he thought as he hummed to himself " My sword is sharp it's here with me - I'm fighting with the Black Company. "




Scene Eight - The Humiliation of Thorvald

It was late in the evening. The fire was burning merrily and the late summer breezes were light, causing a rustle of eaves in the trees around the small glade. A strange group had gathered for mutual protection in the woods, travellers, traders, a couple of sell-swords and two families under their protection.

Vollsanger had arrived fairly late, and been welcomed to the fire after an initial challenge. The lute clearly slung over his back and the long walking staff providing a well known silhouette for many in the region. His long hair (platinum blond not white as he would be quick to remind you)  and the distinctive head band with the wolf calling at the moon...  Yes a Bard was often welcome at the fire and food and mead had been exchanged...

"A Tale, Bard!!  Give us a tale !!! "
It was a common cry after a meal, and the group settled down.

"Tell us of Thorvald" called one ... a popular story. Everyone likes stories of heros.

"Ahh... " mused Vollsanger "Thorvald!!   Of course, He was not always a hero !!"

The statement caused consternation around the fire, as the old Bard knew it would....

"I will tell you of The Humiliation of Thorvald - Or "the man who would not lie down and die"...

It is rare to hear a story of Thorvald that does not include his successes, his prowess, and his heroic exploits…. Even in his later years when Bards tell of his haunted flight from shades beyond the grave, we only hear of strength and honour….

But the rarest tale of Thorvald goes back to his earliest days .. and few are the skalds who can recite the ley of the “man who would not lie down and die…” for Thorvald himself made sure that few knew of his early days, and he, Champion of Norsca, Scorner of Magics, Scourge of Albion never spoke of the days of his youth…

But I, Vollsanger, Skald of the Mountains, teacher of the Oral Lore, confidante of heroes, heard this story many moons ago, told to me by the descendant of a lady who nursed him back to health – I deem she loved him well so I have no reason to believe that there is any falseness in the telling… Though they have never been writ at large… there be no Morkinskinner in my words…. So set your mead, and listen, and perhaps you will live to tell your children of those who made Norsca great…

Thorvald was an impetuous lad … full 16 summers and sure that he was a man …

He had grown fast and true, he was strong in arm and fair in countenance, fleet of foot and many a local lad had found himself at the wrong end of his fists for teasing him about his fiery red hair….
But Thorvald was restless and wanted to prove himself in battle…
He practiced with his weapons – but did not distinguish himself as a scholar – his tutors threw up their arms in exasperation as he failed in his writings, and mages and shamans declared that they had never found any Norscan so incapable of managing the powers that surround all creatures.
But Thorvald did not care.. he knew that his destiny lay in battle - not in study.

Daily he would try to find a warleader that would take him into his host – and he knew that in time he would be the greatest warrior of Norsca …

But daily he was rejected, as being too young, too untried, and told to “wait till you are full grown” …
Until Thorvald found Uthgar by the docks one day .. and hearing that Uthgar was short of men for an attack upon the Albion Shores – presented himself before that Captain of Men …. Now it is true that Uthgar was past his prime in age, and many did say that he was a little too fond of his mead, and there are few to lay testimony to times where his judgement was sound, and it is rumoured that his eyesight was not as keen as an eagle – more akin to the mole which scrabbles through the ground… and it is said that Uthgar had misgivings about taking this young lad into his warhost and setting him as part of his crew… But Thorvald swore that he was a full man of 21 years, had battled many times in the past and offered to best Uthgar’s finest warrior with an axe as test of his strength…

Well, be it right or wrong, Uthgar was in need of men and short in his pocket and needed a successful raid of the Albion shore – so he took Thorvald into his crew and told him to be ready for the early tide the next day…

Thorvald was overjoyed, but was not one to brag… He returned to his room and spent an hour sharpening the blade on his axe.. before sauntering out into the night… He thought himself a man .. and with the prospect of the morning tide taking him away – he sought out Lifa Jorrrensdottir, a lass as fair as the spring, and left at dawn knowing himself to be a full Norscan Man…
Thorvald was not well accepted by the crew – they were old and set in their ways and unwilling to accept the young upstart who claimed to be a warrior but looked like a child, and many a day at sea was spent as Thorvald fought with bullies and tried to keep himself to himself … knowing his day would come….

The Albion shore came to view and Uthgard prepared to land at Sheer’s End
Rumour had it that this area of Albion was well held by a local Albion Lord – who was well versed in battle and magics… but Uthgard had little fear – he was well schooled in the art of pillage and had a crew which had many of the forces of the land at their beck and call … Thorvald stood on the deck with his axe in his hand…

Dawn came .. and Uthgard led his band ashore .. into the morning mists and filed towards the settlement – which was hardly astir, sleepy in their ignorance…

But unbeknown to Uthgard – the sails of his drakkar - dragon ship - had been sighted by the keen eyes of an Albion lookout – high on the hill tops – and even now Lord Albion rode towards them with a full band of his militia… descending upon the Norscans – and Uthgard – in his arrogance had not even put out skirmishers to check the land ….

As Uthgard and his men entered the town square – Thorvald cried to Uthgard “ It is too quiet – it is a trap” but Uthgard would have none of it and cuffed the young red haired lad around the ears saying “Fear not little one… It is only the anxiousness of battle that affects you .. “ We are the masters here – and soon we will be masters of their gold and jewels and their monastery will be burning …”
But as the words left his lips – the early morning mists lifted and Uthgard and his small band found themselves surrounded by Albion forces .. well armed, confidant and supported by priests and wise men……

“Let me at them “ Cried Thorvald – lifting his Axe .. but Uthgard said “ No!!!. Our wielders of power will defeat these …” An he commanded his magic wielders forward…
Great was the battle that ensued… Fireballs rent the air, and bolts of sheer terror ripped the air - men were struck down on both sides – but slowly it became clear that Uthgar and his men were outmatched ….
“Let me at them “ Cried Thorvald – I will cleave their heads from their shoulders .. but around him the men of Uthgar were falling - and Uthgar held onto him as if to keep a shield between himself and the enemy …

Struggling from Uthgar – Thorvald lifted his axe – and found that he was faced with an Albion Mage who muttered incantations and he found his axe ripped from his hand and saw it soar over the heads of the enemy – almost slow enough to catch – but out of his reach …
Lord Albion reached out with his sword and struck Thorvald upon the head with the hilt and all became darkness…

Thorvald woke.. he knew not how long he had been unconscious….. but as he regained consciousness – he saw about him that his comrades had all been slain – in horrific ways….
Uthgar lay by his side ….
He knew not why he was still alive… but groggily he raised his head to see his tormentor…

“And now we test you with the test of Albion “ said his captor…. And brought out two potions in small vials and placed them in front of the two …
One is poison – one has no affect .. Choose life or death !!”
Uthgar – anxious in his pain to ensure that the youngster could not steal his right to life – grabbed for the nearest vial and downed it in one ….. sadly – he retched and fell to the ground … Thorvald looked Albion in the eyes – daring him to be a liar in his words and though he had no need to prove – he drank the vial ….

“So – young pup!!! What magic have you ??” asked his inquisitor ..
“I am Thorvald – and I scorn your Magics!!” spat Thorvald in words that would one day become so well known…
“give me my axe and your best champion and I will show you who is a pup.. “

Lord Albion laughed aloud.. “ So – the pup has spirit !! Well – let us teach him the ways of Albion - until you cry to serve the Gods of Law…”

“The Gods of Norsca are greater than the petty Gods of Law” cried Thorvald – and staggered as they started beating him …
“Give me my weapon you cowards – and I will show you who has the greatest Gods” called Thorvald – but instead they continued to beat and kick him till he was almost dead…
“Leave him for the animals of the forest “ said Lord Albion and they stripped him and left him for dead – amongst the rotting bodies of the warhost of Uthgard… and Thorvald was so near to death that it is no wonder that they thought him so …

But hidden deep inside the young Norscan champion, grew a burning thought,
a burning hatred of those of Albion who had denied him a death with weapon in his hand – but had seen fit strip him and beat him to death like an animal
a burning hatred of those who use powers of the elements instead of fighting with weapons
a burning hatred of those who channel the spirits to bend the mind instead of facing man to man
a burning hatred of those who corrupt the fountain of life to inflict pain and suffering
a glowing pride in himself – who would fight back and make them sorry
a pride in Norsca – and the land that he would return to…

Naked, Beaten, Humiliated, weak … but not defeated!!!

Slowly – he struggled to his knees – and knew that he would return to one day to have his vengeance..
He found his way to a crofters cottage and collapsed against the door ..
There the lady took him in and bathed his wounds and later he found his way back to Norsca…

This is the tale that I heard from the descendent of that lady who took Thorvald in and nursed him to health –

I did not say she was Norse…

The fire had dwindled...  each went to their sleeping blankets .. to dream of the greatest hero of Norsca and like the Gods themselves, perhaps his failings....

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Scene Seven - A secret meeting...


A full day had passed since the meeting with the stranger in the shadows. A busy day packing and storing the goods and stock that was held over from the meeting of the Warhost, most of whom had drifted off in various directions, back to homelands or to other adventures. Vollsanger had counted up the takings and dictated the figures to Agnes who wrote them into the Book with practised hand. It was now a few years since Vollsanger had learned his letters by the fireside working into the early hours with the patient owner of the Crimson Moon, but keeping the ledgers was still out of his reach. "Generating income is no problem " he would reflect, "recording it is a pain and leads to ink on the fingers"

Out back he could hear the Bynts busy with the daily tasks, and the occasional laugh and giggle showed all was well. It was getting dark and he expected a visit any time ...

Sure enough, about an hour after sunset, a tall lanky figure in a heavy cloak and hooded features slipped in through the curtain at the rear of the tent. Vollsanger sat by the low firepit in his fur covered chair, sipping on some hot mulled wine, the kettle hissing gently on the coals. He gestured with his mug to a seat by his side and the stranger looked around at the entrances into the main tavern.
"It is quite safe here - we will not be disturbed" Vollsanger assured him. "you may tell M'lady De Sade that she may come at any time.."

It was clear that the stranger had not expected to hear the name spoken aloud! He jumped to his feet, legs balanced for fight or flight, arms poised and only the relaxed stance of the old Bard stopped him from reaching for the dagger at his side.
"Sit down Mr Everhard, it took me a while but I recognised you from our brief meeting. I presumed the Lady was Mistress Wren,  and your reaction tells me that my guess was right. "

Indeed, Vollsanger had spent a fruitful day. At first it was a difficult task to remember where he had seen the stranger before, but the rapidly departing Warhost had cut down the options considerably. The Ship in the harbour called the "Atrocity" had been very quiet, little happening, but enquiry had shown that most of the Crew and passengers were aboard their shorebased "Knot Yacht", a sprawling tented camp of Yurts and Belltents. He had not needed to enter to make more enquiries. The Mongols had been friends of the Tavern for years, and the strange defection of Binabik Tai-ishi from their numbers had been a subject of speculation over many an ale and mead. But when Bin had joined the Caravanshi and suddenly appeared as the Lord General of the Steppe, no barkeep worth his salt could have failed to recognise such an influential character.

He may call himself Everhard De Sade now, he may claim to only be the "housekeeper", he may state his only position was as messenger - but the figure standing before him was still Binabik Tai-ishi, also known as Bin Caravanshi the juggler and fool, the swordmaster, ex Lord General of the Steppe Alliance.  

The fire glowed and poured out heat into the cool evening. Vollsanger slowly reached out and poured a mug of Mulled wine and placed it in front of Everhard. 
"I think we have business to attend to... I shall call the "Widow" if Mistress Wren de Sade wishes to  join us"

Two hours later, the two ladies had conducted their business...

Yarp the cellarman and barrel roller had stood on guard just outside the tent, a threatening sight and any unexpected visitor rapidly changed their mind about how important their visit to the back room was going to be. There was no doubt that various members of the steppe were patrolling the outside, it was the quietest two hours ever experienced in the back room of the Crimson Moon.

And so it came to be that the Widow and Vollsanger would leave for the Norscan Homelands - secretly, and with a large quantity of Gold - the same strange gold that Vollsanger had seen the day before.
And the Crimson Moon, in its entirety, with Yarp, and the Bynts would head to the next meeting of the Factions with the Steppe Alliance, under the ownership of Mistress Wren de Sade, sailing in the Atrocity to new adventures, with the De Sades and the Carvanshi and perhaps even some of the mongol horde..

A new day was to dawn for the Crimson Moon ... a time to move on to bigger and better times. 
The Land may have a Renewal of Magic - now the Crimson Moon had its own Renewal...

We wish them every success for the future...

[from the hand of Vollsanger the Skald - here all week]

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Scene Six : a Meeting is arranged..



It had not been an easy meeting to set up, too many eyes and ears surrounded the old Tavern since rumours had started  that the "widow" Agnes intended to return to her homelands. And Vollsanger, the ageing  Bard, seemed to have a restrained spring in his step with the prospect of return. But the talks with Radgast and his hidden supporters had not been going well. Oh, they liked the concept of the tavern and knew that it was a thriving business, how thriving Vollsanger did not let on.. that was a much more a personal matter...

But it seemed that Radgast was answering to other masters, and was not the free agent that he had purported to be. Talk was cheap - but the sale of the Tavern involved hard gold - and when it came to the crunch - Radgast was not able to bring the support needed. Radgast's backers  would take the Tavern to lands other than the Warhost in search of more gold - that was not the way of the Crimson Moon ....

And then the stranger had accosted Vollsanger in the shadows by the storehouse... Not in a threatening manner, Vollsanger had a history of furtive meetings in the shadows and recognised the purpose here was for secrecy and discretion.  No harm was intended. But he carefully slipped the dagger from his left sleeve into his hand - just to be careful...  Hidden in the shadows.. the tall, angular frame seemed slight in the tattered cloak that hugged his shoulders... the hood pulled down over a weatherbeaten face, wispy beard and tight lips, which whispered "We have a proposition.."

Vollsanger was sure that he recognised this man, the voice was heavily disguised  but years as a skald had taught the bard how to listen to the resonance of the voice, the tones, the intonations, to wade through the lies and hear the voice behind...  "I know that voice" he thought to himself..... but steeled his face into open questioning... They sat on two store boxes in the shadows by a small table normally used for measuring grain.

"My lady would like to meet with you - to discuss some plans of mutual advantage" The eyes were bright and piercing under the hood, questing into the face of the old bard for some hint of how the offer was being taken...
A stranger sitting at the table would have been hard pressed to see what happened next. A Gold piece appeared between the fingers of the hooded figure... and strayed across the knuckles before disappearing into the clenched fist ... only a second for the whole movement. Not a word was spoken. Two fists laid out on the rustic wooden surface.. one holding he gold piece that had just rolled across his hand..  the other, back to the surface - fingers clenched....

Vollsanger continued to look into the hooded eyes - and without hesitation covered the clearly empty fist with his right hand  - which opened slowly to reveal a large gold piece. Vollsanger took the Gold - his eyes never straying from those of the stranger...

"The Widow is the only one who can make any final decision, but it is well that you spoke with me first, for I speak for the "widow" in all such matters.."  No mention was made of what 'matters' - it was clear that both men knew the subject of discussion and both disdained to elaborate.  Vollsanger recognised a hint of command and stature despite the ragged clothing and the, probably false, stoop of the shoulders. Here was a man who had commanded men, warriors, perhaps more !!   Vollsanger knew it would come to him if he did not press the memory.  But who was the Lady ???

"Perhaps later in the Crimson Moon - we have a private room at the back - and there is separate entrance for those who wish to be circumspect..  Bring your lady - she will be safe and we can talk and enjoy a hot mulled wine or a jug of mead... "

A breath of wind and the place next to him was empty - only the still shadows.
Vollsanger looked at the Gold piece in his hand. A bite told him it was true gold, but there were strange marking on the coin - not of these lands he thought, and he knew most coin of the lands..   Was there a hint of the image of a dragon upon the back of the coin....
"Stranger and stranger " he thought - I may have to do some enquiries of my own." The stranger had smelled of salt and fish, and the sea!!!  "Maybe I should start with the yacht that is moored in the harbour.. It had a strange name... Ah Yes - the Atrocity !!!!"

 







 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Scene Five - Leaving the warhost

A chill on the air brought a wisp of moisture on the breath, the moon was bright and shone on the water, the creak of ropes tightening as the moored dragon boats rose on the tide...  Tonight was special. Tonight was the passing from one life to another. Tonight a door closed and the future was unknown.

The quiet harbour was hidden from most eyes - and the passage over the water back to Norscan Lands had been planned with the greatest secrecy. Too many people knew that the "Widow" Agnes was returning to her homelands - not sure what she would find after so many years. After accusations of evil deeds, poisonings, attempted murder of  Norscan Nobles, all distant deeds. Years of separation from her people, indifference of her Lord General, lack of support as she struggled to carry the Tavern from land to land to support the Warhost....

For a brief period, she had allowed herself  to find a new family with her adopted children - the Ua DĂ©aghaidh, but one by one they had succumbed, departed and died... the last throwing his life away upon the whim of  Cole... another sadness to carry with her to the new lands..

Yes - too many knew of that they were travelling, but Vollsanger had planned carefully and he was confident that no-one knew of the travel plans that would take them back to Norsca.

Behind them - the entire contents of the Crimson Moon Tavern was packed and secured and was being led away from the bay. Neither knew where it was to be stored - it was not their problem now. There was no doubt that the Crimson Moon would be in place when the Warhost met for Beltane. But the "Widow" and Vollsanger would not be there - only the new owners....

"That was a lot of gold ... everything we asked for" Agnes said quietly to the Bard. "I never thought that they had that sort of money.."
"There are rumours of a Dragon Hoard ... I have never seen such runes as appear on the gold - but you have tested and it is good gold.... I do not think we have cause to fear"
"Still, I shall miss the Warhost - it has been my family for so long..."

"Should we tell everyone who has bought the Tavern?" she asked...
"They will find out soon enough" he replied.


"We shall find a new life back in the Homeland...  It is time to get aboard..."

Their hands clasped for a second and gave a tender squeeze. The wedding may have been at Beltane, may have been only a year and a day ... but, possibly there would be more for the "Widow" Agnes and Vollsanger....





Thursday, 4 October 2012

Scene Four - Prentissed


Scene 4 - Prentissing

Caarg was no more pleased on the day that he managed to free himself of his charges then any other day that Wulf could remember..
They had dutifully splashed water upon themselves and each had made some effort to straighten their tatters and rags, and then Caarg had pulled the wide oaken door completely open and led his charges out from the room that had been their home for most of their lives - down the long stone stairway and out onto the Courtyard....

Caarg held his black horse whip in his hand - but there was no need for its use..    Each of the 37 lads knew only too well the pain that whip could inflict - and today was in some ways a change and a holiday. Not one of them really knew what would happen today. Not one of them knew where they would be sleeping that evening, nor what the future would hold...  It seemed to each of the boys that it could not prove worse than the years on the Fostery Hold... they hoped.

As they came to the courtyard, Wulf could see a similar line of young girls being led from the tower on the opposite end of the square. He could see Lyssa who used to play with him some two years before. Before they were separated. She was turning in to a tall lass, deep red hair and a turned up nose. Wulf had always thought her beautiful, even her sharp freckles across her nose. The others had teased him mercilessly when they were first parted. "Spotface" they called her - but Wulf still thought her striking and sometimes dreamt of her at night as he huddled under his blankets. They could have been a Lord and Lady in a fine Castle or Keep, with servants and squires, and ladies in waiting...  Now she was being led out with the other girls into the shade of the leanto against the wall.

Wulf lost sight of her as he was pushed back against another wall and shoved into line with the other lads.
"Get to the back Cripple"  muttered Caarg grabbing some of the other boys and putting them into line..  Wulf hunched a little more and limped to the rear.
"yes - get back Cripple" said Danto, "If I am going to be picked as Smith I don't want anyone seeing you and thinking I could be weak"

Danto had a good chance of being picked to Prentiss with a smith, thought Wulf. He was a good few inches taller than all of the other lads and already strong in arm. He practiced his strength by lifting the benches and beds from the floor in the Hold. He had determined over a year ago that he would have a proper skill and claimed that his father had been a smith before he had died at his forge, killed, he said, by followers of the Nything.
Wulf dutifully stepped further back. He did not want to spoil Danto's chances.  Danto was probably as near to being a friend that Wulf  had in the Hold. Danto's strength had protected him a number of times when others decided to make fun of the Lame kid, who seemed so nimble at meal times....

At last, Caarg was satisfied with the line of boys and presumably his counterpart with the girls was equally content, as the large bell high in the West tower started to toll. THey all looked expectantly towards the Courtyard entrance where two thralls were turning the wheel to open the giant iron Gates. None could remember seeing the gates open before and each knew that if they closed again today while they were still inside, it would mean that no-one had seen fit to take them for Prentissing - and like as not they would end up turning those wheels just like the thralls.

Life outside may be unknown - but for each in the line it was difficult to imagine that it could be worse than life inside the hold.

One last glimpse of the gates before their eyes were turned down to the ground. Caarg had warned that it would be death or maiming to have the affrontry to look a free man or free lady  in the eye when at the Fosterling...  No one fully believed - but no-one wanted to be the one to test the threat.

Wulf chanted his personal mantra in his mind. "Eyes down to the ground. Move into the background. Don't appear too fresh or youthful or you may end up in a brothel with some of the girls. Don't look too strong or you may end with a lifetime of heavy work as thrall, or rowing in the longboat of some trader."

Danto may prove lucky with his ambition. He had a notice around his neck which Caarg had written. Danto thought it told that he was the son of a Smith and good for the trade. Wulf did not know - he did not have his letters. He had never had a chance to learn. All Wulf knew was that there was no card around his neck to show his skills. He did not think he had any really.. other than dissembling... He was quite good at that... But that would not get him prentissed.

Looking at the ground he could see the feet of those who came to look and to prod. Twice he was told to look up and open his mouth as someone examined his teeth. He knew the rules. His eyes were tight shut as he looked up.  He smelled the stink of sweat and leather... He heard the rustle of rich velvets and the sweet aroma of a pommander. He heard voices raised and voices wheedling, and deals being struck all around him.
He heard Caarg's slimy voice saying "They are all like my children ...  of course I must see them prentissed but for years I have paid to keep them strong and healthy so your lordship would have only the best"
There was a jingle of stel and money passing hands as he heard another of his compatriots taken out of the line and taken away...
He could hear everything, sounds highlighted while his eyes were fixed upon the ground.

Slowly he became aware that there was someone in front of him.
 Too far away for feet to be in his line of vision. He could smell nothing in particular except for the bitter hint of the hot sand on the walkway. He could hear nothing .. in fact that was what confused him most, there was someone directly in front of him he felt sure - but he could hear no breathing, no rustle of clothing, as though a statue had walked from the alcoves and was even now standing in front of him...  

"Tell me of this one" The voice that spoke in front of him was rich and deep in tone. A voice that could be both commanding and courteous at the same time. The voice seemed to pour like honey and it was all that Wulf could do not to immediately look up to see the source of that sound.
"Ain't nothing but a cripple this one."answered Caarg, a little confused, as he hardly expected much interest in the quiet lad who scurried around on his bent foot and kept out of his way.
"But I am sure I can give you a good price for him if your lordship is interested.." He sounded doubtful.
"I am no lord" laughed the Voice, with a resonance of bells and echoes, "I am but a traveller with the Guild.. But if he has a bent leg then he can't run far."
"Oh he wouldn't run from your lordship, urr your Sir-ness" exclaimed Caarg quickly, "All my boys are trained from a young age. They know the meaning of the whip and will be pleased to obey - won't you boy?" The last was directed at Wulf who almost forgot himself and started to look up .. As he opened his mouth to answer - he reeled as Caarg cuffed him around the ear "Eyes down boy !!

Wulf remained silent as he stumbled back to his feet - eyes still downcast.
"Can he move ??" asked the Voice quietly..
"Oh Yes" said Caarg, seeing the opportunity to get rid of the one parcel that he thought would remain. He can get around pretty fast - just a limp. Show him Boy" -
Wulf felt that the whip was out again rather than saw any action - but he limped in a small circle - his left shoulder still hunched over... Not too slow, not too fast - just enough to show that you can't do all the heavy work.."

"He'll do " said the Voice.. "How much??"
The voices of Caarg and the stranger drifted away as they walked out into the sunshine and towards the small booth where the Quartermaster sat with his men at arms keeping talley of the day.

Wulf was left standing against the wall wondering what change his life was to take...
It was half an hour later that the Voice returned..
"Follow me boy!" He said and Wulf dutifully fell into step behind. Now he could see the leather boots, used but serviceable, worn down at the heels but without holes or patches. Heavy britches were above those boots with strips of fur and leather wound around to keep loose material from tangling into the boots.  

No word was made as they found their way to the iron Gates. Wulf dearly wished to look up - to see what those Gates really looked like from underneath - a sight that would be glorious to see - but his knees trembled and his leg hurt and his foot cramped as he limped along. Eyes resolutely upon the floor.

Outside the gates it was hotter than before. No shade was here. the uneven stones of the roadway burned his feet and smells of the huts and shacks that formed the outer ring around the hold smelled of sewage and rotten food. A dog charged up and yapped around his feet but the Voice did not seem to notice - just walked steadily onwards at a pace that seemed just the right speed for the limping boy...

Soon the ramshackle buildings were passed and the unlikely pair headed into the woodlands that surrounded the township. After an hour the Voice said "This seems like a reasonable place" and headed into the woods and into a small clearing,
"Look up boy - you are no Fosterling now - you've been prentissed"

Wulf looked up tentatively. Firstly at the clearing. The trees here were tall and straight and had silver on their bark. The ground between the trees was mossy and quite open. The clearing itself was covered in grass and there was clear sign that a fire had been burned in the past. In fact the Voice was even now rummaging in some undergrowth and pulling out some kindling and a small bundle that looked like clothing.

Wulf had his first chance to see the man who had taken him from the hold. He looked to be about six feet tall when he stood. His clothes were not those of a rich man - but they were serviceable and looked to be light, warm and waterproof though the sun shone strongly today - they did not seem to overheat the wearer. A dagger was in a leather sheath at his side - but no other obvious arms.
Something was wrapped in the bundle that he had puled from the undergrowth which could be a sword or axe - but Wulf could not see. A dark green shirt of a fine weave peeped out from above his doublet leading to the face of a man in his forties. A neatly trimmed beard, brown with wisps of grey, a full mouth and dark piercing eyes. Wulf hesitated to look into the eyes. He had been told to look up but did not want to offend his new lord... His quick glance gave him the impression of depth and darkness and almost a hint of humour...

"Please sir ... to what am I prentissed ??" Wulf hardly dared ask the question - but it blurted out of him ..
"Why ...  to the Bard's Guild" laughed the Voice .. "You are now the prentiss to Gwyddgrug the Bard" ..   The Voice started to put the  kindling together for a fire.
"But.. B.B . but I can't sing or anything " stuttered Wulf..
"What ??" Laughed Gwyddgrug?? " You are not prentissed as a Bard !!!  you are prenitssed as a servant to the Guild .. You will be cleaning and  clearing and doing as you are told.. You a Bard !!!" he smothered his laughter .. "Now get on and make this fire up - and then go and fetch water and start laying out a camp .... And make it snappy or you will feel the heel of my boot!

At least he was out of the Fosterling Hold thought Wulf..  It was the start of a new week....
He never liked to think more than 7 days ahead .. and rarely that far ...