Mistress of strange adventure
Some years ago in Albion the tide of wars had waned a space, and those Knights and bravos once well-employed in the fighting and skirmish-fields of this fairest of lands were left adrift and without gainful employment as the realm flourished in the golden months between high summer and mellow russet autumn.
A woeful prospect this! For many young men of heart and earnest admiration had taken their spurs that very spring on the chance of royal favour, and upon the patronage of sturdy battle lords and eathered free-lance captains of guile and cherished war-cunning.
The peace for these restless heroes-in-waiting was beyond endurance, and hopes well-nurtured on the promise of ransom and conquest and valorous awards in reckless tilt, were hard-denied and vanished against gentle silhouettes of hearth-fires and rustic idyll.
Some fled overseas and across the borders of Albion to the wilds and uncharted extents of the barbaric lands beyond. Some more risked the disfavour of court and officers of the crown by fermenting private feuds and duelling with swords and lances over slights high and bold or entirely insignificant. Some few besides took themselves to the verges of the land and played robber-knight and feudal tyrant to assuage their violent lusts and unrequited yearning for bloody warlike play.
But my tale does not concern these boorish fellows; instead allow me to introduce three brothers of Cornovii, of the line of Marcus “yellow-hair”, and well-favoured yeomen of the province were these, and full-possessed of dreams and hopes for passionate quest and wild romance upon the tourney-fields and courts of the prosperous extents of wider Albion. And though they had fair young wives of wholesome aspect and manifest charms at home; their youthful hearts new lusts for adventure and glory before the simpler pleasures of family and winter hearth.
The eldest, a handsome youth named Argyle, was broad of shoulder and dark of brow, a seasoned knight was he, and well-practised with sword and shield and all the worldly arts of list and levy.
The middle brother was named Faerun, and where Argyle was broad, this youth was a thin as a whip, with a narrow face and flashing green eyes and an archer by preference and full-deadly with the flight pulled close across his slight-muscled chest.
And the youngest of the three was named Alisander, and his face crowned with a shock of tumbled curls, and his manner was light and jesting, and never yet had a companion known aught but pleasure in his company, and where his brothers were hardened warriors by turns, he alone was green and unpractised, and from simple practicality he wielded a quarterstaff as rod and walking stave combined.
And together these three resolved to leave their hearth and home in search of strange adventure, the better to test their mettle in the fallow-times betwixt the wars that raged across the realm.
Said Argyle to his kin,
“It is not meet that proud fighters should practise abeyance from martial ways. Let us seek injustice that blood should flow to staunch our hungry hearts.”
Said Faerun to Argyle,
“Aye, you have the right of it, though battle has fled there are villains enough beyond the verge of the forest and past the debated borderlands of proud Cornovii.”
Said Alisander with a smile,
“And brothers, should you wish company to drive away the wights and fiends with poor-voiced singing and meagre-cooked rations, well, I’ll be your man!”
And it came to pass thereafter, that as the brother-knights were taking their ease under the eaves of a waystation inn close to the Vale of Avalon, a woeful father and a wey-faced recent husband came to lament their misfortunes in meads and barley-wine.
The elder man supped deeply and declaimed;
“A curse on the lord of the raven tower!”
And then the younger added his bitter reproach to the first,
“A demon in a man’s skin that so much be taken for such little coin.”
And continuing in this vein, the pair swapped curses and maledictions and drank until they thought it better to slump abed than remain upright, and this they did without reserve and further comment.
But in the morning the brothers approached the now subdued men and asked,
“Whyfore your lamentation and maledictions, has aught wrong been done against thee?”
“Why yes kind Sirs,” the elder man spoke,
“Against me and mine and he and thine,” and here gesturing to include the younger man in the discourse.
Interested now in earnest, the brothers gathered close and listened as a dreadful tale was spun, and they learned in turn that nearby a village was afflicted by a terrible curse, and though the calamity was invisible it was widespread and touched all with the talons of misfortune.
“It is all the work of the Knight of the Raven tower milord,”
Said the father,
“By enchantment he has turned the minds and hearts of the maidens of our fair village and made them wanton and maids no longer.”
“Foulness indeed,” Argyle mused.
“By what symptoms beyond debauchment may the enchantment be known?”
Faerun inquired, his keen mind already considering the strategies best employed to defeat sorcery and witchcraft so deployed in dire abandon.
“By hard words and haughty ways and eyes raised high to kith and kin,” said the father.
“By lascivious ways and unclean thoughts,” added the husband with a shiver.
“And now I have heard enough,” declared Argyle,
“I shall encounter this devil peradventure, and my sword shall exact a price for your woes goodfellows, and no little coin will it take!”
And in the custom of those times the brothers resolved to seek this quest alone; and by virtue of his years, Argyle was the eldest, and ‘twas his pleasure to first stake name against peril in the cause of just slaughter and strange adventure.
“Wait a moon alone should I not return my brothers, for if I fall, the time between will teach the brute careless ways once more.”
And with these words of cautious wisdom, Argyle tightened the straps of his armour and readied his wargear for the battle ahead. Then leaving his kinsmen to wait anxiously for his return, he strode away and deeper into the vale, towards the shadows and the Tower of the Raven Knight.
A day and a night and a day once more did Argyle travel, until at last he came to a clearing in the forest of the Vale and looked across to a Tower built of ebon stones and wreathed in grey-green ivy fronds.
Sighing satisfaction at the object of his quest, the young man lowered the visor of his helm and drew his sword to stride quickly across the evening glade.
Thrice he knocked upon the great oaken door with the pommel of his weapon, and thrice the echoes of the sound rang out and back from the forest verge.
And then the door was opened.
Sorcery perhaps, for no porter nor warden was seen present beyond the threshold by that knight.
And upwards then, and round and up and up again, three flights of stairs and three hallways with doors bolted and fixed, until at last Argyle came up into a chamber lit with rush-lanterns and narrow window slits less bright than shadow.
And there at last he gazed upon a denizen of the tower, and this was not the Knight of Ravens, but a maiden risking ravishment and more besides by her very presence.
But how beautiful she was! And how her pale skin gleamed like the moon reflected in a midnight lake, and how yet her lips were brushed with scarlet shadows, and how her eyes shone lustrous with fair amusement, and how her breasts were raised and shaped by a garment of fine brocade and bone, and how, oh how, her scent crossed the room in entrancing coils, the delightful musk of heady spice mingled with the fragrance of midsummer eve.
Argyle was lost from the first, and removing his helm he knelt entranced and lowered his eyes in shame at the passions surging from his body, uncalled but hard awoken by the presence of this dream maiden.
And in turn the Mistress of the Raven Tower came close and spoke soft words into his ears, and those words I may not repeat lest I bring sorcery to life through my own telling!
“My Lady,”Argyle murmured, “There is danger here; we risk our lives to remain.”
And then she laughed and touched his face and though Argyle had a sweet wife of his own in Cornovii, his thoughts were trapped and lay pinioned close between their beating hearts, his eyelids grew heavy and his breathing short, and in a moment he was captured and entranced and even as she rose once more, he knelt yet as a slave to the passion conjured in those shadowed moments.
“Not my life, my pretty one,” she whispered with a wink.
And thereafter Argyle served the Mistress of the Raven tower by day and by night, and since his knightly garb displeased her, she dressed him instead in the silks and garments of past maidens who had dwelled there. And thinking nothing of the wider world he was devoted to her every whim and pleasure, and in turn the Mistress demanded much, and her ways were passing strange, and though she took him as a lover it is truth that his pleasure was oftimes less than hers. And some nights he wept at the customs his Mistress practised with dauntless enthusiasm and hard attention to the details of the flesh. But though he woke each morning and swore great oaths to depart and flee the Raven Tower his heart and pride would not let him loose, and come the evening he served the Mistress as eagerly as ever before.
And a moon passed swiftly, and elsewhere in Albion two brothers drank a toast to their fallen kinsmen and pledged anew their hearts and words to avenge his unknown fate. In the morning Faerun dressed his body in hunting leathers and raised his bow, hanging a pouch of arrows over one shoulder and a single-edged shortsword in a sheaf from the other.
“Wait a moon Alisander, and should I not return you may choose to follow my path or return safe and well to home, it is not meet that three brothers should be slain to leave our sire without sons.”
But Alisander smiled bravely and pretended not to hear these words of fair wisdom, and waved instead as Faerun strode away towards the Vale and the Tower of the Raven Knight.
A day and a night and a day once more did Faerun travel, until at last he too came to the clearing in the forest of the Vale and looked across to the Tower built of ebon stones, well wreathed in grey-green ivy fronds.
But Faerun was a cunning man, and looked well from concealment lest his presence be spotted from within, and there from the undergrowth he saw his brother’s shield and wargear hanging untended from a yew tree beneath the shade of the tower.
Swearing vengeance he strung his bow carefully and half-nocked a flight to the twine, padding across the clearing as the shadows of evening lengthened and the sunlight diminished to a wan golden glow.
Not once did Faerun knock upon the great oaken door, but all at once the hinges groaned and sang and the ancient wood swung inward.
Sorcery no doubt!
And full-warned the young archer leapt within, his keen eyes searching for a throat to pierce full-measure with fletching of his shaft.
And upwards then, and round and up and up again, three flights of stairs and three hallways with doors bolted and fixed, until at last Faerun came up into the chamber lit with rush-lanterns gleaming and narrow window slits framing the last moments of the day.
And there at last he gazed upon a denizen of the tower, and this was not the Knight of Ravens, but to his eyes a maiden risking ravishment and more besides by her very presence. But Faerun was a cautious, clever man by birth, and padding forward he glanced beyond the lady to the shadows, and there in shock beheld his brother living yet but garbed as a maiden too!
He snarled, and raised his bow to shoot, but just as his fingers quivered and his eyes lined up on the throat of the Tower-Maiden, his heart flushed hot and burning and his breath came close in choking gusts of unexpected passion.
Oh how beautiful she was! And how her milk-white skin shone smooth as alabaster, and how yet her lips were dipped in burnished shadow, and how her eyes gleamed bright with wicked jest, and how her breasts rose shapely as faerie mounds at dusk, and how her hips were wrapped in silk and brocade, and how, oh how, her scent swept across his face in fragment vapour, the heady dreams of fertile union mingled with the sudden violence of the summer storm.
Faerun was lost from the first, and lowering his bow he knelt entranced and felt tears welling from his eyes in shame at the tide of lust rising to drown his breast in passions hard awoken by the presence of this dream maiden.
And in turn the Mistress of the Raven Tower came close and spoke soft words into his ears, and those words I will not repeat lest I bring sorcery to life through my own telling!
“Ah Lady,” Faerun murmured, “There is glamour here; we risk our minds to remain.”
And then she laughed and touched his cheek and though Faerun had a loyal and hardy wife of his own in Cornovii, his thoughts were trapped and lay pinioned close between their beating hearts, his eyelids grew heavy and his breathing short, and in a moment he was captured and entranced and even as she rose once more, he knelt yet as a slave to the passion conjured in those shadowed moments.
“Not my mind, oh swift one,” she whispered with a wink.
And thereafter Faerun served the Mistress of the Raven tower by day and by night, and since his forest garb displeased her, she dressed him instead in rags and a collar and bade him walk on all fours and speak only in barks and yips as might a hunting hound. And thinking nothing of the wider world he was devoted to her every whim and pleasure, and in turn the Mistress demanded much, and her ways were passing strange, and she demanded that he spend all hours save one as a hound, and in that one she took her sport and practised customs strange and bounden-full with unchancy moment. And some nights he wept at the customs his Mistress practised, and some dark hours she commanded he pleasure her “maid” as well as ever he had provided solace to the Mistress before. But though he woke each morning and swore great oaths to depart and flee the Raven Tower his mind and shame would not let him loose, and come the evening he served the Mistress as eagerly as ever before.
And a moon passed swiftly, and elsewhere in Albion the youngest brother drank alone beneath the eaves of a lonely inn and thought back on the words spoken by Faerun. But in faith he could not turn where his kinsmen had not, and dressing himself well in a cloak and sturdy tunic of motley hue, he took up his stave and strode away to the waiting Vale.
And a day and a night and a day once more did Alisander travel, until at last he too came to the clearing in the forest of the Vale and gazed in wonderment at the Tower there, a thing of stone and ivy and raised bulwark arches raised with artful decayed abandon.
And there beside the tower was a yew tree hung with Argyle’s shield, and close by a willow tree hung likewise with broad knife and bow, and by these things did Alisander know that his kinsmen had come here, though not how they had faired against the Knight of the Tower.
Whispering a prayer to the hearth spirits of his father’s home, Alisander took a firm grip on his quarterstaff and walked across the clearing, his eyes full-wide with cautious appraisal, and his heart fast-beating with anticipation at the contests and trials to come.
Pushing gently at the oaken door with the iron-shod tip of his staff, Alisander’s eyes widened further yet as the all at once the hinges shrieked and wailed a grinding note as the door swung fully inwards.
Sorcery beyond a doubt!
And stomach-rumbling with unease the youthful knight passed the threshold and peered with, waiting scant moments for his bright eyes to adjust to the gloom, and raising his stave to ward the approach of foemen from above.
And upwards then, and round and up and up again, three flights of stairs and three hallways with doors bolted and fixed, until at last Alisander came up into the chamber glowing dark with rush-lanterns smoking and narrow window slits draining of soft evening light.
And there at last he gazed upon a denizen of the tower, and this was not the Knight of Ravens, but to his eyes a maiden risking ravishment and more besides by her very presence. And Alisander gazed unknowing and wordless for beside the maiden were his brothers, and Argyle in the guise and dress of a maid also, and Faerun crouched at bay like a hound and full-attendant with his lips to the tower-maiden’s beautiful down-turned palm.
“Is this truth?”
He murmured quietly, feeling his heart beating hard and his eyes now watering with the scented smoke in the shadowed chamber, but even as he felt amazement turn close upon the demands of swift action, his passion rose in waves and fiery heights and his breath caught close as his gaze was caught and held by the Mistress of the Raven Tower.
Oh how beautiful she was! And how her white-marble skin was framed as perfection by the drape of her midnight hair, and how yet her lips were painted red as the winter berries plucked fresh at the dawn, and how her eyes sparkled green and flecked with shimmering motes of mystery, and how her breasts were trapped close and high by a stola-robe bound tightly across her hips and one shoulder, and how, oh how, her scent rose to snatch away his memories of the wider world, the sweet mingled fragrance of innocence lost and the dawning hunger of fertile union mingled with the passionate evocation of springtime revelry.
Alisander, like his brothers before him, was lost from the first, and dropping his staff from nerveless fingers knelt entranced and felt his heart swell to bursting point even as his own passion burned hotter yet, and dark fancies without name were painted-close on the face of this dream maiden.
And in turn the Mistress of the Raven Tower came close and spoke soft words into his ears, and those words I will not repeat lest I summon whole a shade of this sorcery to drive our minds and hearts to poor distraction!
“Oh beauty,” Alisander murmured, “There is evil abroad; we risk our souls to remain.”
But then she laughed and touched his lips and though Alisander had a sweet and fair wife of his own in Cornovii, his thoughts were trapped and lay pinioned close between their beating hearts, and his thoughts grew heavy and his breathing shallow and fast, and in a long crystal moment he was captured and entranced and even as she rose once more, he knelt yet as a slave to the passion conjured in that unworldly company.
“Not my soul, my little one,” she whispered with a wink.
And thereafter Alisander served the Mistress of the Raven tower by day and by night, and since his modest garb displeased her, she dressed him not at all, but with the collar and harness of pony and bade him carry her hither and hence in the forest and surrounding Vale, and him bound by pole and bridle to a fine-caparisoned pony trap carved and beautiful with the graceful images of bird and hind. And thinking nothing of the wider world he was devoted to her every whim and pleasure, and in turn the Mistress demanded much, and her ways were passing strange, and she demanded that he spend all hours save one as a pony, and in that one she took her sport and practised customs from distant climes and strange manners of artful significance and oftimes uncomfortable form. And some nights and days beside, he wept at the customs his Mistress practised, and some dark hours she commanded the presence of all three brothers to amuse and divert the strange imaginings she conjured from the smoke and shadows of the Raven Tower. But though he woke each morning and swore great oaths to depart and flee that unworldly place, his mind and shame would not let him loose, and come the evening he served the Mistress as eagerly as ever before.
And so the world turned, and a year passed, and another, and still a third, and then the wars returned to gentle Albion and the Knights sought battle once more, and rallied to flags and banners across the length and breadth of the land, and the long peace was ended as the season of strife returned in full-earnest, and clarion call of violent glory was sounded with loud passion throughout the realm.
And in Cornovii the wives of the three vanished brothers mourned them anew, and in truth they had waited this long for news and now considered the time for mourning was close-ended, and though painfully bound in memories fast and absolute, as widows in a kingdom at war their duty was to the living and not the dead.
And the wife of Argyle took another husband, and he a man of Bristol and a farmer of wealth and rural graces, and though no hero, his manner was bold enough, and his prospects were fine since the need for grain outlives the lust for war.
And the wife of Faerun took another husband also, and he a man of Winchester and a merchant-artisan, and though an introspective, soft-spoken man, his eyes were wise, and when war and violence threatened his custom was to offer neither threat nor provocation, but to weather the storms of battle as one might weather a winter storm with simple quiet resolve.
But the wife of Alisander eschewed such simple practicality, and she a soldier’s daughter herself, and a spirited young woman with flashing eyes and ruddy-auburn hair, and a fiery temper bound close in a wit as sharp as tinker’s knives, and body lean and quick and nimble and beneath a quirky winsome brow. And her name was Lunette, and though others spoke otherwise, she knew her man lived yet, and resolved herself to find the truth of the matter by close examination.
And headstrong and reckless though she doubtless was, Lunette was no fool, and taking precautions against the perils of quest and strange adventure, she armed herself well with puissant talismans wreathed close in the confoundment of spells and petty magic. Against curses and bedevilments she carried a pot of pungent goose-grease blessed by an elderly spinster. Against beguilements and sundry enchantments she carried a whetstone kissed by blacksmith’s bride. And against fell glamour and faerie misdirection’s she took up a polished circle of beaten silver, once an heirloom, but now a article of cogent pragmatism full-wielded in the object of her quest.
And travelling north Lunette came close on the path of the missing brothers, and at the verge of the borderlands and the Vale she chanced upon the inn where three years before her husband and his kin had rested and spoken oath upon the quest.
But now there was little news of the depredations and evils of the Knight of the Raven Tower, and where once the citizens of the surrounding region had known cause to complain and lament their proximity of this dread despoiler, now it seemed the plague had past, and save a generation of bawdy-tongued wantons to deride their menfolk with unladylike barbs and sharp-spoken derision, there was presently scant cause for complaint for the presence of the Knight-villain had diminished to mere local rumour and ale-room myth.
But Lunette was nothing if not persistent, and at length she discovered the truth of her husband’s quest and of the promise the brothers had spoken to fight and deliver the region from the dominions of the dread Knight of Ravens.
And taking directions from those who cared to remember the dark times, Lunette ventured also into the tangled woods and forgotten paths of the Vale forestry.
And a day and a night and a day once more did Lunette travel, until at last she came upon the clearing in the forest of the Vale and gazed in critical assessment of the Raven Tower, and of the unworked stone, and of the ill-trimmed ivy, and at the Yew tree with a decaying shield, and at the Willow with a rotten bow and scabbard, and at a lonely abandoned stave fallen between the angle of a crooked cleft-Ash in the shadow of the tower.
And resolving if nothing else to confront the owner of such sloppy stewardship, Lunette crossed the clearing in long strides and pushed immediately at the heavy oaken door at the base of the tower.
All at once the door ground inwards with a complaining shriek of grinding hinges, and Lunette paused scornfully to anoint the workings with grease to ease the future passage of visitors and tradesmen lest the torture upon ears and nerves grow more insistent yet.
And upwards then, and round and up and up again, three flights of stairs and three hallways with doors bolted and fixed, and at each of these Lunette peered and pushed and tested the hallways with her polished roundel of silvered metal, intent on the smoky reflections and kissing the whetstone for luck on her passing. And then at last she arrived at the hall where rush-lanterns breathed-out scented smoke to cast serpentine shadows in the half-light permitted by the window slits.
And there at last she gazed upon the denizens of the tower, and no Knights these and no true maidens either, but to her eyes a strange and dark wondrous sight, for beside a women draped from neck to loins in robes and appointments fair impractical, were the three lost brothers and one bedecked in maidenly guise, and one crouched down with a bone between his jaws, and one, her husband no less, his head bowed and bound in reins held close by the strange Mistress of the Raven Tower.
“Stand aside witch and release these men!”
Lunette demanded, her voice quavering a little, but her anger flowing hot and close and providing the courage she needed to confront the source of strange adventure. But even as Lunette spoke these words, the Raven woman approached and smiled and worked enchantment in the movement of her hips and the shadow of her perfect lips.
And Oh! How beautiful she was! And how her snow-white skin was smooth as sunlight upon fine parchment, and how yet her lips imbued the dream of scarlet passion mingled close with forbidden lust, and how her eyes taunted innocence and beckoned sweet damnation and mysteries unknown to men, and how her breasts heaved slowly with her breath and moved closer yet with every little footstep, and how, oh how, her scent rose to snatch away faith and love and knowledge of quest and hope, and rise yet in union with the quickening of fire and maidenhood, a delirious fragrance spiced with the wicked dreams of flesh and fancy.
And Lunette would surely have been lost had she not clasped the whetstone in her left hand, and gathered the silver roundel close against her own breast.
And even as the Raven woman reached out and whispered words I will never repeat from wise caution and abeyance of ill! Even then, Lunette remained safe from the charms and dire magic which had so unmanned her husband and his brothers in times before.
“Have you no words for me little blossom?” The Mistress of the Raven Tower whispered.
But Lunette chose instead to throw the whetstone high, which as every wise woman knows, is fair proof against the enchantment. And then as the Mistress of the Tower looked askance a space, Lunette struck out with her right fist clenched about the silver charm and pummelled a fine blow to the crown of the head.
“And let that be a lesson and more yet should you prove remiss!”
Lunette called in triumph as she looked down upon her husband’s stricken captor.
But the Mistress of the Raven Tower had only groans in response and chose to lay quiet lest the blow be repeated.
And thereafter the spell was broken, and the brothers were free of the enchantment which bound them to strange custom and weird bondage, and coming to their senses they quickly dressed themselves with blushes and stammering words and rushed here and there beneath Lunette’s scornful gaze as they made what garb they could from the scattered wealth of the raven tower.
Until at last, their dignity returned a degree if not restored entire, the brothers presented themselves to Lunette in sheepish array and offered an escort to the realms of man and civilised climes.
But Lunette shook her head and turned away,
“Go, by all means, return to your lands and the wars without, but I shall stay and make good the misadventure which has afflicted these lands henceforth.”
And as she spoke the Mistress of the Raven Tower came close and stood behind Lunette, with her head bowed and hands presented in the manner of a supplicant.
“It is right and just that the offender should make restoration and penance in a manner full and appropriate.”
Lunette declared in a stern voice, but maybe the light in the chamber tricked the eye then, for as Alisander looked a last time into the face of his wife he thought to see amusement and laughter and … something else … in her eyes where the lips spoke only just restitution.
But no matter, he conceded; the ways of women are oftimes a source of baffling consternation to even the wisest of men.
And thereafter I can tell no more of the customs of the Raven Tower and of the Mistress and Lunette, for this tale I had from the lips of the youngest brother and he bound for a far country with a new wife of his own, but he swore to me and I say to you now that this tale is truthful and mayhap a lesson to the proudest of spirits against enduring confidence in the face of strange adventure and weird beguilement.
And of the other brothers, well, I heard tell that Argyle joined the navy and serves yet in the southern fleet as a lieutenant. His face is handsome yet and in truth it is said that he lacks for little company and kinship amongst the brethren of the waves.
And of Faerun, sadder news I fear, for that brother joined a stern religious order and left the shores of Albion for distant parts and climes and as hard a time he experienced at the hearth of the Raven Tower, harder yet the deprivations he now undergoes, for the brother monks he calls comrades now are flagellant zealots and full-resolved to preach the virtues of moderation and abstinence to the very hearths of the matron mothers in the underdark.
And so my tale is done, and you have it whole and complete, and in truth as strange a tale as it may be, stranger yet may be found in the wilds and wild places of Albion, for knowledge and civilisation are naught but fine silken drapes thrown simply before the deeper mysteries and astonishing wonders of the wider world.