Monday, 10 June 2019

Scene Thirteen - Reflections on the Skildir

Free the Lands of the Skildir

The rain dripped from the branches, splattering on weathered pelts but failing to penetrate to the skin. Joints ached from remaining still too long, but it was only an hour since the last hunting party had moved through the valley below him. Patience is learned. That moment when you think you are safe is the time that you get careless. Best to wait until you are sure. Many have failed to reach mature age, let alone into their late sixties through premature action. Bundled by his side, carefully wrapped in waterproof skins, the battered lute rested against his right knee. The knap-sack with precious papers was also well hidden under his cloak. It was too wet for adding to the intricate map that he had been working on, but this part of the hills was well studied. It was time to move down into the wide and open lands in the valleys below him. The Bread Basket of Norsca it was once called - now named Karelia, even the settlement of Archangel carried that name, and after years of occupation, the land was beginning to return to its green and fertile nature..

Ceded to Heyami at the Treaty of Thrones in the year 1103, 16 years ago. There were youths in these lands who had never known their Norscan heritage. Who only knew their imperial masters, the Mempo. There were others as well. People who walked quietly and kept themselves to themselves.

Some would welcome a travelling Bard, occasionally food and a warm bed for the night. But many still had fear and worried about repercussions and reprisals. And so he crouched in the shrubs and trees on the hills overlooking Archangel - (Karelia he reminded himself) and watched from a distance. His stomach was full. He had eaten well from rabbit caught the day before. There was still mead in his flask so other than the rain all was well.

As he waited, his thoughts passed to the War Host. He wondered if they had better weather in Albion. It seemed strange not to be with the War Host - For many years his life had revolved around the factions, and the people who lived and fought so bravely to make the world a better place. He had watched their heroics, seen some die, had sung in praise of the former and had done his best to provide a fitting memorial for the latter....

His mind went to the song that he was penning at the moment. Yes, it was at times like this as he sat, silent and hidden in the undergrowth, that songs would spring to his mind....
The Lost Hero Song. He liked the chorus that was developing..

"I can't find a rhyme to your name...
 You're a a hero I know ! It's a shame!
 It's all the same to me 
 But the annals of History 
 are written by the Bards and Skalds you see
 So your wondrous daring do and mighty deeds
 Are fine - but there is one thing that they need
 A name with easy Rhyme 
 Is essential every time
 So tough my friend, there's no mighty song for thee... "

He would enjoy singing that to some of the "so-called" heroes when he found his way back to civilisation.

No, he would let the War Host go their own way while he scouted out the lands in front of him. A visit here. A song there. A bit of news to one group. A message passed to another.
The war host would not miss him. They may be having sun and fun at their gathering. He had heard that Merlin would be entertaining with Dragon Fire in the sky... that would have been worth looking at...

His mind drifted back to the Tavern. He had parted sadly from Moxi, Minibar and the Boss Lady. He had delivered the pensions sent by the "Widow" and given them the options on returning to the Hearth of Norsca, or being free to stay on and support the War Host. They had decided on the latter, but he felt satisfied that they were no longer tied to the post due to poverty. It was not a fortune, but Agnes had sent more than enough to keep them comfortably for a few years should they so wish.

The Mercenary had also had his share. He was also still with the Tavern when the Bard had left  Ravensberg but with cash in his pocket it was anyone's guess how long he would stay or how much the prospect of a greater return through combat would be the appeal. Either way - he wished him well.

The rain began to lessen. A chill was still in the air, but there had been no sign of the enemy for over an hour. Vollsanger felt safe enough to stretch his legs quietly... You could feel that the sun was setting somewhere behind the wall of clouds and storm clouds. It would be getting dark early tonight. Indeed it seemed like dusk already.

Almost time to make the journey into the back streets of the town. Find a place for the evening. An opportunity to talk with locals and tell a story or two. Time to remind another group of an old protest song and a call to arms - not here and now - but in time...  Time to sing of the Skildir. Time to sing
"Free the Lands of the Skildir"

and mead ...   mead would be good...

Free the Land of the Skildir

"Where gentle rains once fed the crops now blood stains all of my kin
 Farmers and their families all butchered by the greenskin

 We'll Fight to free the lands of the Skildir
 Fight to free the lands of the Skildir
 Fenris Teeth to Archangel
 Through Mountain field and range, we'll
 Fight to free the lands of the Skildir

 It almost breaks my heart when I think of devastation
 I swear I'll stand and pledge my arms to destroy the whole green nation

 I sometimes hear the vicotry horns, the Drachenguard in Battle
 I dream I see the lands all free growing green with sheep and cattle

 And the only time I feel alright is when I'm into drinking
 It sort of eases the pain of it and levels out my thinking

 The weight of Torsten's sacrifice, pain of following his orders
 But now the Daygahz brands my skin, "No Mempo in our Borders"

 As each day comes around and we're only into fighting
 My ma would like a letter home but I'm too tired for writing

 With yellow fire of passion, Black cross of secrecy,
 The Sons of Torsten wield a flag to keep us Green-skin Free

 And now I hear the victory horns, the Drachenguard in Battle
 and now I see the lands all free, growing green with sheep and cattle

 We'll Fight to free the lands of the Skildir
 Fight to free the lands of the Skildir
 Fenris Teeth to Archangel
 Through Mountain field and range, we'll
 Fight to free the lands of the Skildir"

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Scene Twelve - Decisions - The Hearth of Norsca

The Hearth of Norsca

"Tell me again how it happened"

The "Widow" cupped her mulled wine between her hands as she looked into the flames of the hearth.
The cottage was old and had seen years of renovations, but was the place that she had been raised, and was still more home than the Tavern had been, though she remembered the days of travelling with the War Host with quiet nostalgia. But those days had passed, she had made her decisions and the quiet life seemed comfortable. Chickens and Ducks in the keep, her garden to provide vegetable and fruit, and passing traders for her other needs.

"Bothvar was good to us, and after Agna died I pledged that I would support the War Host, even in the bad days when I was declared "Non-Wolf" for poisoning Thorgrimm - Bothvar never declared me renegade, and always had a kind word. Tell me again how he left us.."

In the shadows Vollsanger gazed into the fire, happy to be sitting with the Widow at the fire. He remembered fondly the "year and a day" of marriage with Agnes following the night that the Beltane fires were brought to the Crimson Moon and he found himself wed to his companion. A year and a day - but their paths then parted - he back to the War Host and she to her retirement in the depths of Norsca.

"I did not see it all - but this is the tale as it will be told in the Mead Halls, a tale of deception, bravery, self-sacrifice, honour, the Gods and bravery of the peoples of Norsca....

It was after the time of trials of the Court of Crimson and Gold....

Sable who had been released from the mists surrounding Elvesham.

During his time in which he was pacted with Wade of the Unduku he hunted down and ate Hod the blind god of winter. This unleashed a chain of events that was almost cataclismic for the Wolves, in particular but also the rest of the Peoples as it affected the End of the World.

Because Hod was not there to throw the mistletoe dart guided by Loki, Baldur did not die!  Baldur must die if we are to have Ragnarok. If he does not die then Baldur would be the last living soul standing among a pile of burning waste as the world tree and Midgard fall into the Gannungagap (the yawning void that separates Mussplehiem from Nifflehiem) 

In the confusion Wade seeing his chance stole Skuld the Norn who represents the future Skeins of life, so that he could write his future and secure his destiny. 

As seems so often the case when dealing with the Gods, it seems that only the Trickster could help.  Loki was approached by a the luna wolves who attempted to make a deal with him. He agreed that he could fix the problem. After all he’s done it countless times before when Thor got himself into trouble. Hadn’t he borrowed Freya's cloak of golden feathers and fooled Thrym the giant. Or turned himself into a mare to distract the stallion that was building the wall around Asgard… well, we’ll not talk about that, other than to say Odin's Horse Slipnir arrived 9 months later, but that was another story" 

Loki agreed to help saying he could fix the problem but he needed the essence of Hod, a vessel capable of holding the essence of a god and a mistletoe dart, which the wolves agreed they could get. Loki agreed to meet them at the midnight Thyng two nights hence and in front of Odin fix their little problem and return his step brother to the Vanir. 

On that fateful night Loki arrived and asked them to produce the items, reminding them of their agreement that it was all of their doing. They had struck this bargain, it was all on them what ever happened next it was all on their heads. To which they all agreed. 

The essence of Hod was brought forward and then the Dart of Mistletoe, however he refused one after another the vessels offered stating they were not capable. 

“Ah, but no problem I know of such a vessel” he declared and conjured Bothvar to stand in front of him. Then with his dagger cut out his eyes. The Thyng was in uproar, but Loki admonished them spitting vehemence and bile back at them telling them that they had agreed to this. 

They had agreed that it was on their heads. They had said so before the Gods.  Now Loki bid welcome to Baldur the beautiful who played his favourite game of getting people to hurl things at him knowing nothing could hurt him. 

Then leaning low to Bothvar he guided his hand and threw the mistletoe dart sending Baldur to Nifflehiem. Cementing Bothvar as the Hod incarnate. 

Hod reminded the wolves that Bothvar would have them cry not one tear and he will gladly pay this price to save one Norscan from having to. And that is the tale of how Bothvar became Hod."  

The silence deepened. the old bard poked the fire and the embers sparked.

The widow reached into her apron and took out a piece of parchment, rolled and seemingly well read ...  She handed it to the Bard, who accepted it gingerly... He recognised the broken seal of the Jarl of the Hearth, Odinspear.

Unrolling the paper, he scanned the contents. A call to all Tradesmen and Tavern Keepers. Norsca was in dire need of good Tavern keepers and loyal Norscans to come to the aid of the nation. Since the Treaty following the Battles with the Greenskin Empire, the Breadbasket of Norsca had been ceded to the Mempo, and as a result much of the produce needed to keep Norsca thriving was no longer there. Norsca needed to be smarter and more efficient. The best of all traders and keepers were required to make sure that the land could thrive.

"I kept my promises to Bothvar.. The Crimson Moon has followed the war Host for 15 years. I think the time has come for The Moon to stop travelling, and to take up a permanent position to support the people's of Norsca. I am going to call it back and we will look after the peoples of Norsca itself. Build it into Stone and Mortar. A permanent memory of all that we have achieved"

"What of your people?" The Bard asked, "you have many loyal supporters who have traveled with the Crimson Moon through many lands and many dangers?"

"They will be free to return with the Tavern, or stay with the War Host should they so desire. I shall send you with moneys to ensure that those who wish to return can do so with enough gold in their pockets that they can choose their new life. I think the Mercenary will probably stay with the war Host - you shall make sure that he is rewarded for his loyalty. As to all my friends, go to them, explain why I make this decision, and tell them that the Widow will always welcome them back and that the Crimson Moon will always be their home should they wish it..."

The fire burned low and Vollsanger stretched his legs out - thinking of the journey that he would have to take.. once more to the War host... maybe his last...


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Scene Eleven - On Tramp

Vollsanger put down the battered instrument as he ran his hand around the rough repair on the edge of the Guitar. "Should hold for a while" he mused. His hand reached for the horn at his belt, then he remembered that he was far from the Tavern and his Mead ran out weeks ago. 

Stretching his feet, he wiggled his toes to remove the cramp. Sleeping too many nights on the ground was telling on him, and though he did not like to admit it, he wasn't getting any younger. He brushed a hand through his hair ("Platinum Blond - not White" he reminded himself) and tried to find a comfy piece of trunk to settle himself. Rubbing the excess glue from his fingers he took for his small alchemy kit and reached into the stream to clean the mortar and pestle...

He quietly hummed the new song that was going through his brain "Valeria of Mythodea", a song that reminded him of the heat of that Land, the dust and the sand, the fighting and strange creatures he had met, the Taverns and the Dancing Girls, the friends and musicians he knew there. As he mused his fingers touched upon the small silver coin he always held in a special leather pouch at his belt - a rough coin, with raised features, solid and strong. His deft fingers, more used to caressing the neck of a lute, picked out the outline of the Boar and strange lettering like a blind man reading an imprinted scroll. Turning the coin in his hand - he felt the outline of the ship upon the rear - "Hope Dies Last" he muttered to himself ... "Huzzah!"

A chill wind stirred and he shivered, and wrapped his furs a little closer around him, wondering if it would be safe to light a fire, but he was unsure of the lands, had not seen another friendly creature for days, and was far from a safe path. Another night travelling and hiding in the day and he would hope to see some landmarks that he recognised.

He hoped to join the War Host and see old friends in the Crimson Moon before he tried passage to the lands of Mythodea. He would not have time to call at Dunholme, but the word was that the Oathsworn had set up camp near the front lines - and that would be his next goal - the Western section under the Adamant Banner. the Spirit of Dunholme would be where the Dunholme Household took up residence

Rumour had it that there were bright new taverns to see in the Tross. Sadly, the Black Pearl had burned to the ground last year, and the Klabautermann, the Jollie Rouge, and the Scorpions Inn had all suffered from the troubles at the battle front. All taverns that he had written songs for! He would have to pen some new ones for the Red Star, the Norderby and his old favourite the Winstube. Maybe he would see some of the lasses that appeared in those old songs, maybe see some new faces. Most important, he wondered who he would find there from the Oathsworn, his Brothers and Sisters in the Mead Oath...

A crack in the undergrowth... A quiet footfall...  The Old Bard quietly pulled his guitar under his furs and blended into the undergrowth as he had done for many years.....
"Old Bards should never die" he mused "They should just decompose!!"
He resisted the temptation to snort at his own humour...

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 Fricassée.....

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]