Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Pendragon Campaign: Year 485 part 2: The Adventure of the Chalk Horse

Sir Godrick of Baverstock, played by Silv
Sir Galen of Woodford, played by Aimee
Sir Tywin of Stapleford,  played by Caroline
Sir Valiance of Steeple Langford, the spare.

Following a full day and night of merriment and celebration, our four newly-dubbed knights collapse onto straw heaps piled in the Great Hall of Sarum Castle. Rudely awakened later the next day by the booming voice and toe-prod of Sir Leoric's filthy boots, water skins are thrown at them along with a loud intonation demanding that Tywin, Valiance and their "lazy-bastard Christian friends", get "their fat, pox-riddled arses out of bed and onto horseback before I lose the toe of me boot up them!"

Befuddled, bemused and somewhat puzzled, the four knights, forgetting for a brief moment that knights are not supposed to let anyone (even other knights) speak to them or treat them that way, very quickly assemble on horseback, in the courtyards, with all their shiny new-polished war-gear ready to go.

"Right then!" thunders the sickeningly jovial Pagan household knight, without so much as a hint of a hang-over about him. "It's time that you young pagan knights were initiated into the higher mysteries of the Cult of Epona. Just like me and old Saint," Here, he pats the aging courser beneath him, in order to make clear to whom he refers, "were about twenty winters past." Sir Leoric glances around at the two Christian knights, Godrick and Galen, as well. "Oh don't worry yourselves lads. It won't drop off or anything just because you're attending a Pagan rite. Who'd you think invented Christmas anyway? Right, the grooms are ready. And we're off!"

With that, the aged knight kicks his equally old horse forward onto the drawbridge, where the other knights are surprised to it caper about as though it were itself but a foal. With five mounted grooms leading the PC knight's coursers falling in behind (acting as temporary squires) Sir Leofric leads the knights off in the direction of Uffington.

"Uffington!" Sir Tywin loudly voices his confusion (too loudly for the suffering Valiance), "What great urgency has us riding there?"

The jovial knight is only too happy to explain. Whats there? Whats there? Why! Only the Great White Horse of Course. Tomorrow is the feast of Epona, when the goddess was foaled into the world at the site of the Great Chalk Horse carved into the Hill. At moon-set this night, you'll race round the horse as every Pagan knight of Salisbury has done on being knighted every year before you. And you'd better damn well not let these murmuring bloody lambs of Christ next to you win!"

It's a long ride to Uffington from Sarum, especially given the late hour at which the knights set off from home. Along the way they pass many signs of a coming festival. Horse hair plumes are tied to fence posts and field markers. Peasants arrayed in colourful clothes erect maypoles and tents, or else set trestles out on the village green. All under the baleful glare of the local priests. Indeed, it is long past sunset, with the moon itself about to rise, before the five weary knights, their assorted mounts and the five groomsmen come into view of the Great White Horse chalked out on Uffington Hill.

If the young knights expected any great festivities to be in progress they are sorely disappointed. The only soul to be seen is that of a tonsured Roman monk, haunched over in prayer, a white hobby-horse thrust stick first into the ground before him. Confused, the young knights look about, but note only the studied mask of indifference upon the face of their guide. Sir Leofric shrugs his shoulder nonchalantly, still mounted atop his old Courser. Alone among all the horses present, Saint does not seem the least bit put out or fatigued by the long journey from Sarum.

Finally, as the move finally comes into view above the horizon, the young priest roars a Latin invocation to banish demons before spinning about on his heels, coming face to face with the mounted party. Eyes still closed, he raises the hobby horse above his head, points it's head vaguely in the direction of the assembled knights and roars "Begone Demon, Harlot! Whore of Satan!" Keeping his eyes closed a moment longer, he finally opens one eye to peer out at the knights, as if he had expected more of a reaction than simple, confused silence.

Seeing only the small party of knights before him, sighing deeply, the young priest picks up his hobby-horse. Dejectedly, he turns his back on the heroes and begins marching back downhill. Sir Leofrics studied expression of indifference has not changed, but the other knights gaze upon one another open-mouthed. Finally, Sir Godrick shakes his head and spurs his mount forward a little. It transpires that the friar had sought to rebuke a Pagan Sorceress called the Lady of Foals, a fierce demon who, each year, organises a profane festival that features a horse race around the mighty chalk outline of the Uffington Horse. But, as no-one is here except the knights, he assume the festival will be taking place at the "other white horse" this year.

"Other white horse?" Sir Godrick asks.

"Yes," says the priest, "the one at Avesbury. I swear these Pagan witches change the location of their rite every few years just to vex me. Will that be all mi lord?"

While the young priest continued on his weary way back to the Abbey, Sir Godrick rode back to his companions. " I don't suppose you knew about the change of venue did you Sir Loeric?" Tywin asks with a narrowed gaze.

"Me?" guffaws the jovial knight. "My initiation into Epona's mysteries was twenty years ago my young friend. How was I supposed to know they'd moved it? The priest certainly didn't?"

Not buying it for a moment, the other knights ask their guide just how far it is to Avesbury from here. "Why," comes the predictable answer, "It's only thirty five miles from here. If we leave the rouncies and our armour with the grooms and ride our coursers, we might just make it."

Sir Tywin has just enough time to remark on how convenient these facts are before the five knights are ahorse once again. This time they ride their swift war-horses as opposed to their tired riding steeds and run like the wind. For what seems like hours (and may well have been) they rode, Sir Galen quickly falling behind the others after failing to duck a protruding tree branch. Eventually, the lead four find themselves in a glade wherein dozens of people feast and partake of good food and wine. Though peasant fare it tastes delicious. All the knights graciously refuse, they have business this night, but as they ride on the chance upon a glade just uphill from the feasting wherein dance scantily clad and lusty beauties, each of whom exposes even more of her flesh with each turn around the maypole. Beckoned closer by this bevy of busty beauties, Sir Godrick casts aside his reins and runs towards the maypole, where he becomes lost in the festivities and in the arms of an earthy pagan lass (failing a lustful check in the process).

Meanwhile, a laughing Sir Leoric roars cheerfully about "Christian virtues" and leads his two remaining companions ( Valiance and Tywin) onwards.

Not long after, a lone horseman and a tired horse stumble into the glade. The sight of so much food after such a long days ride becomes too much for poor Sir Galen, and he too succumbs to temptations of the flesh. Albeit temptations of a different sort than those that capture Sir Godrick.

Riding on, the three remaining knights race through the knight. Sir Valiance's horse (carrying, as it does, a much heavier load than it's cousins) soon wearies and begins to fall behind. As the moon reaches it's zenith, Sir Leoric and Sir Tywin reach a narrow bridge. "At this rate," comments Tywin, "our horses will be useless by the time we even get there." Sir Leoric simply smiles at this and says nothing. Instead, he points to the way ahead. The bridge is barred by three knights in full armour, bright pavilions arrayed behind them.

"Halt!" Demands the lead knight. "We have been tasked to allow no knight to pass who does not first joust against us!".

"Fine by me" announces Sir Twyin, "Lend me some armour and we'll joust." Sir Leoric himself easily unseats the lead knight and rides on into the darkness.
"Can't wait for you laddie. try to keep up!" 

Fuelled by his passions, Sir Tywin also unseats his opponent after the first pass. Though offered a chance to rest in the leaders pavilion, the energetic pagan knight declines and rides on. Quickly catching the older knight, Sir Tywin cannot but help but note that while his own steed is near collapsing, Sir Leorics has barely yet worked up a sweat. Not long after, Sir Valiance also arrives at the bridge and is also challenged. Though Sir Valiance looses the joust, his courage in competing without armour (for the knights had none that would fit so massive a knight as Sir Valiance) impresses them all and he is allowed to pass. He too, refuses the offer or rest and presses on.

Finally falling behind Sir Leoric, Tywin and his knackered steed finally arrive at the glade below the Avesbury horse just as the bottom of the moon is touching upon the horizon. There he is greeted by the most beautiful woman he has ever seen: the Lady of Foals (see left). Dressed in a gown of purple velvet, with long dark tresses and lavender eyes, she welcomes the young knight and examines his horse with pursed lips. "Do you intend to ride this night or allow your mount to rest?" she asks. Sir Tywin does not long pause in giving his answer. "Let her rest," he bids her, "She's done enough this night." Smiling, the Lady whispers something in the ears of Tywin's mount and then beckons him forward into the circle of dancers. There he is pushed towards the centre, where he comes face to face with a laughing Sir Leoric, who embraces him fiercely with a warm, booming, "Well done lad!".

Not long after, Sir Valiance rides into the clearing on a horse than is breathing fit to burst. He too is approached by the smiling maid and he too is asked the question: "Ride or rest?" Like Sir Tywin, he takes pity on his poor, faithful mount and resigns himself to participating in the race as a mere observer. However, there is no time for Sir Valiance to join the dancing. The last rays of the moon sink below the horizon.

"Mount up, mount up!" cries the Lady of Foals, "Yes you too, good sirs! Can you not see your mounts are rested!" And yes, the knights beheld, as if by some miracle they were. Leaping into their saddles, the two knights, spurred on by a cheering, bellowing Sir Leoric, soon outpaced the many villager lads and merchants sons on their ponies and nags until all that remained before them was the lady herself and her magnificent white charger. Laughing, she turned in the saddle to face them and called, "Follow me!" As they drew closer, the two knights suddenly found themselves on a mysterious plane, where a golden yellow sun already lit the sky as though it were noon and emerald grass sprung to one side rather than allow itself to be crushed beneath the pounding of horse's hooves. At last, when it seemed they had rode all morn, a golden hill appeared before them. Racing onwards, they pursued the Lady of Foals up the hill's gentle slopes to find themselves at a tinkling, silver water fountain besides which sat a golden chest.

Smiling, the Lady of Foals slid from the saddle, partaking of the fountain's water and allowing her horse to drink deep. Still luaghing merrily, she bid the knights to do the same. "Let your horses drink deep of the sacred water. It is all they seek. But you, before you lies a choice. Partake of the still clear waters yourself or else dip your hand into the chest and carry away what gold can sit in the palm of your hand. Both knights chose the fountain, as they drank felt strength and stone suffuse their bones (improving Con and Str by 1 point each permanently). Their horses too, had seemingly grown in stature, their coats somehow glossier. Their teeth somehow whiter and more healthy. Was this then, why Sir Leorics horse had lasted the night so well.

As a mist rose around them, the Lady informed the nights that their time here in Epona's realm was done. But as Sir Valiance faded from view, the Lady closed with Sir Tywin (with the highest appearance sta of the two at 16) and stroked his cheek softly with a perfect hand. "As for you, you may claim another prize if you wish it. Simply call my name in any wooded glade at the full moon and I will come to you." As he too, faded away into the mist, the young Pagan knight heard the Lady whisper her true name into his ear.

Once again, Sir Valiance and Sir Tywin awoke to Sir Leoric's gap-toothed grin and busy beard peering down at them. He offered them his praise and welcomed them both into the mysteries of Epona. Meanwhile, far off, Sir Godrick and Sir Galen awoke to find themselves in an empty field, with not a person nor scrap of food in sight. Amost as if the festival in the glade had never been.

Over the next few days all five drifted back towards Sarum Keep. Soon after, with winters final gasp, they returned to their own Manors. Yet they would not remain there long. Already rumours began to reach them of a massive Saxon army massing in the North. When the summons to Sarum came, they were ready. There, one morning scant days into their sixty days military service, their attention was drawn by a great clattering of hooves on the castle drawbridge. Peering through windows, they saw a young man bearing the Shield of King Uther ride through the courtyard in the company of a great many knights. Someone whispered the name "Sir Madoc!" (see left). This then was the King's famous bastard son. Realising something significant was afoot, the four knights hustled towards the main hall in time to see Prince Madoc stride across the aisle to bow before the High Seat, where sat Earl Roderick himself.

The Saxons, Prince Madoc announced, had indeed landed a Great Army in the North. Duke Lucius of caercolun has been ordered to hold the north, but the King will not be swayed from his campaign against Aelle in the South. The army of Salisbury was to marshal with the King at Silchester in three days for the Kings muster. With that, Prince Madoc made his excuses and left the castle. Earl Roderick himself gave a short speech that filled the Great Hall with the cheers of his men. But any fool could see that the Countess Ellen was grave. The army would march on the morrow.

The four knights each found their own diversions on this, perhaps their last night in the comfort of a warm castle. Sir Godrick retired to the Chapel to prey. Sir Galen found himself a comely serving wench to bed. Meanwhile Sir Valiance simply got himself roaring drunk. Sir Tywin, perhaps, made the best use of his time, attempting to flirt with the Lady's Adwen and Gwen. Alas, he made some passing comment with regards to Lady Gwens "curse"  (20 on his flirting roll) that drove the young lass from the Hall in tears, with a concerned lady Adwen close behind. Vexed, he tried to find himself a serving wench to dally with, but found that word of his disgrace had spread quickly throughout in the keep and, in an unusual display of solidarity for the much-loved Lady Gwen, found himself snubbed by every servant he approached.

Three days hence, the four knights find themselves part of the army that assembled at Silchester. Gathered around the Kings Tent one morning, they caught their first glimpse of King Uther Pendragon, an imposing, handsome man a few years younger (and considerably better looking- see left) than Sir Leoric. The King delivered a speech, informing all present that the treacherous Duke of Cornwall had refused the Kings summons. Yet still the army of Logres had men enough to face any Saxon horde, even were it to contain every Saxon in Britain. After receiving a loud cheer, the King returned to his tent. A few murmers could be heard concerning the absence of Merlin, but the army seemed confident enough. Later that night, Earl Roderick gathered his seventy knights and hundred men-at-arms together atop a small rise. There, he divided them into lances. Godrick, Galen, Tywin and Valiance were grouped under the banner of Sir Elad, the Earl's Marshal, along with Sir Leoric, Sir Brogan and six knights from the Marshal's household.

Two days later, they caught the Saxon Army at Mearcred Keep. Sir Godrick spent the eve of battle in the arms of a lusty lass named Rosie. Sir Tywin however, had other desires and instead sought out one of the fancier, youngest and cleanest of the camp whores. Not wishing to father a bastard, he sought pleasures at the back door and was much put out to find that the young lass would only embrace such a mortal sin in return for half a pound of silver. He relented, however, when faced with a simple choice. "It's too late now to find another oh my fine young knight. You must simply pay up, or risk facing your Gods on the morrow as a virgin boy!" Grumbling, he paid up.

Morning saw the two battle lines face one another, the Saxons army twice as numerous as that of Logres. Yet, to the great surprise of the four young knights, the Saxons had not a horseman to be seen. For several hours the two armies stared at one another across the small creek, until finally a single war drum began to sound. With other drums taking up the martial beat, the Saxon army began to advance until, after crossing the creek, the army of Logres rushed to meet them at the call of a silver horn.

Yet for once the canny old Marshal's battle ken deserted him. Steering his banner towards a group of Saxon huscarls (left) armed with swords and shields, he and his knights found to their horror (and at the last possible moment) that the Saxons had cunningly hidden their great spears in the long grass. In the initial pass, Sir Valiance (taking a critical hit) was knocked unconscious from his horse and his squire near-killed tryin to save him. Further on, Sir Elad rallied his scattered men around him. Though caught by surprise he had lost only one man -Sir Valiance- in the first charge and, seeing the Saxon scum attempt to drag the young knight away for ransom, spurred his command back into the fray. For an hour and a half the Earl's Banner and the saxon scum fought over the oblivious form of the young knight of Salisbury, each time managing to prevent his capture by a hairs breadth but being forced ever further and further away from his fallen form. Finally, just when the young knights capture seemed inevitable, his three friends called upon their passionate hatred of the Saxon foe and near-singlehandedly drove back the Saxon horde pawing at his unconscious form. Inspired, the rest of the lance fought with renewed vigour, until a space had been cleared around Sir Valiance's prone body.

Even now, just two hours into the battle, the wounded and less-steady men of both sides streamed away back to their respective camps. Though outnumbered, the Knights of Llogres had the advantage of fighting from horseback. Yet the fiercest fighting by this point could be found where a scant dozen knights clustered around one of their own. For another hour the Earl's Banner fought where they stood, carving out a rampart of dead saxons from which to defend themselves.

At last, horns blew on both sides and the battle lines parted. Though Sir Brogan and a household knight had perished during the desperate defence, Sir Valiance was carried back to his own lines alive. And so it was that the four knights returned to Salisbury together to lick their wounds.

A few weeks after the battle, Sir Tywin found himself standing on a wodded hilltop, beneath the full moon. Whispering the true name of the lady of Foals into the wind, he felt a breeze stir behind him. Turning, her came face to face with his raven haired beuaty. She smiled, and kissed him. If he wanted her, she promised, he could have her. But only if they agreed to marry for a period of seven years. After which she would leave him behind. Forever. The pagan knight earnestly agreed and so it was, that winter, that the first of the four PC knights was wed. Though he would not yet now it, a babe grew in Sir Tywin's wife womb. A babe that would be born, half-fae, that coming autumn. Meanwhile Sir Galen too, had a baby on the way, yet he did not know it. Back in Sarum Castle, a young maid pondered her growing belly and wondered how best to send to word to Woodford manor -or even if she should bother to do so at all. Her family were Pagan, and cared not one whit if her babe had a father or not. Perhaps, she would simply return to her cottage in the deep woods, where nan stirred her potions and mother knitted magical cloaks from the fur of faerie-wolves. Yes, she thought, it would be good to visit home once again.

Session Notes: 
I was very pleased by how this session turned out. I was very gratified to see how hard the players fought to protect a character who is, essentially, the temporary character for any player who loses a knight mid-session. The two Christian Knights failing the Quest of the White Horse was a very apt, if entirely unexpected development and now Sir Tywin has himself a fae-blooded wife. Though she brings no lands as her dowry, she does come with an appearance score of 25, a stewardship skill of 20 and the ability to brew a single potion once a year. The marriage also netted him an additional 250 glory, making his stange new wife the talk of Salisbury. As to what will happen to the children (if anything) after the seven years are up? Who knows? I haven't worked that out myself yet. I might just leave the whole issue up to a dice roll. Finally, what will become of Sir Godricks's bastard son? Will he ever meet his father? Will Sir Godrick ever learn he has a son? Of course he will! This is Pendragon we're playing. As for how I plan for them to meet, well, the players (and you readers) will have to wait and see.


The Angry Lurker said...

Damn good adventure and read.

David Larkins said...

Great stuff! It's funny to be back reading about Saxons and Uther and all that. Such uncertain times...

I have plans in the offing to run the White Horse Vale adventure once we transition back to knight-centered play. I've never run it before and it looks like it'll be a real hoot.

And after that display of heroism around Sir Valiance, you might suggest the group consider generating a Loyalty (Group) passion. :)

Dangerous Brian said...

I'm glad you guys are enjoying these posts. Thanks for letting me know. I always appreciate feedback on these play reports. Especially given how long they are. I know not everyone is a fan of Actual Play reports at all, let alone long ones.

I thought long and hard about running a magical adventure so early in the campaign -especially given the events scheduled to occur next year. As the Uther period continues, I don't plan on having any more unscripted magical events. But running the quest as a mystery cult initiation seemed like the best way to run it early.

Thank you for that excellent suggestion Sirlarkins! If fighting over the body of a fallen for 6 hours isn't enough to generate a passion, I don't know what is.

Again, thanks for all the feedback guys.

inrepose said...

Great fun reading your frolics and fun. I was part of a 2 year Pendragon campaign which had some similar action. I have will to dig out my old wine-stained rules - it was 23 years ago and my memory is fading. However the injuries sustained during combat are still healing.

Dangerous Brian said...

Lol. Yup. Those recovery times are a killer arn't they?

Shannon said...

Now that was a good and interesting read. I've never played Pendragon but your write up is tempting.

Dangerous Brian said...

It's a great game. Take a look at sirlarkins page, the RPG Corner. He and his wife are running a solo Pendragon game. If their write ups don't snare you, nothing will.