The Grand Tourney of Albion 1101
Being a tale of journey’s end and hope renewed; an account of the proceedings at Eton in 1101AF by Gwalchmai ap Maelduine, an exile of Caer Glas, warrior-bard of the Beomarisian line, hearth-guest and sworn companion to Lord Robert Falcon of Warwick.
I travelled to the Grand Tourney alone and without companion, but my journey was pleasant and marked well with fireside songs and tavern friends aplenty. Albion seemed a place of pleasing smiles and rousing music, a refuge from the wars that rage yet across the seas to the south, and away across the mountains beyond the north and eastern frontiers. I was drawn in truth by tell of survivors of the fall of my family and distant homeland; I had heard something of the fate of Caer Glas, of the matter of the Hiraeth, of rumours of their second fall, and of those heroes staunch enough to thwart death thrice in as many years. And I heard also of the beauty and poise of my childhood companion Branwen ferch Owain; not drowned but saved by the grace of the ancestors and the touch of fortune’s bounty.
And so I arrived at Winchester in search of the tourney ground; finding nothing but bare earth, I was momentarily confused, only to be greeted and led by guardsmen of Lord Hugo’s household to a waiting transport circle – and a secret (and I was assured) entirely secure location elsewhere in Albion. It was apparent that the lords of Albion had seen one two many social events disrupted by uninvited guests and this time they wished to avoid the risk of strange adventure looming to devour and menace the flower of their court.
On arrival I was treated most courteously and introduced to Lords Hugo Charenten and Jay Wychwood in whose name the revels had been provided. I was shown to finely appointed apartments and invited to enter the lists of tourney-fight and contest for the morrow. Thinking it impolite to refuse, I gave my name and pledged my entry into the Grand and Bohort melee contests, and also thought it meet to assay an entrance into the tests and trials of the “art of war”.
And then familiar voices and faces from dream and hope combined; before me stood my lady Branwen, and close by my battle comrade Aisla “cat-claw”, both appointed in the fineries and costume of courtly Albion, both in apparent health and fair spirits against the circumstances of our exile. Branwen was shocked to see me, Aisla more curious of the manner of my survival from the loss of the “ravensong” in the winter waters of our voyage into exile. For a time we swapped stories and memories and toasted comrades gone down into the sea or loamy earth; I gazed long in wonderment at these women of my childhood past and I thanked the spirits of otherworld for the whims that spared us the burnished cruelty of unkind fate.
Later I learned that Branwen had taken a husband since her arrival in Albion, and that her husband’s name was Percival de Gales, a nobleman of Avalon, now mendicant wanderer with the rest of his people. For a time I remembered wistfully my childish hopes and dreams and then toasted Branwen’s happiness and wished her well, we none of us can tithe our lives to shades of things which may not be. Life is to be taken and lived; regrets are like sour wine, better drained at once – not savoured.
And then a wonder in truth, another reunion, and a strange one at that; Lady Katrina of Albion brought into the hall the wounded figure of a onetime battle-comrade of the Sherburn Volunteers, the Bard Eolas Eburos, who had fought and won honours at Monte Cassino and at Sherburn Keep, and had been driven mad in the last days of resistance on Caer Glas. Eolas was wounded in the eye and seemed comatose, but he was not unexpected – Lady Branwen had brought a knife of strange omen and Lady Katrina herself spoke of a dream involving the stricken Bard and the weirdling blade. In truth I could add little to the discussion of the wound and dream; but I was willing to offer aid where I might and stood guard with my sword-hand ready.
Healers of Albion were consulted and wise men spoke wise words without apparent effect, but although Eolas stirred like a man in sleep, he appeared no closer to waking.
Then at once the torchlight dimmed and a chill wind ran through the hall; and to my astonishment, I saw a shade approach to fallen Bard and more, the shade wore the countenance of a man whose funeral I had attended, and was known long dead in the nations of the heartlands – the ashen face of the Druid Bratan of the Black Isle. I caught Branwen’s eye, for Bratan was well known to us in life, for the old man had taught us both of tales and hearth-wisdom during our youth in Beomarise-town, but Branwen was as transfixed as I and we neither of us spoke or moved before the shade began to speak in a distant whisper.
And these the words the shade spoke;
Sins of the father, sins of the son,
Sins of tomorrow, days yet to come
Sins of the mother, blood from the brow,
Sins of the past to shatter a vow
And though I understood little enough of the meaning, my blood was chilled and I thought of my own foster father’s crime against my mother and I was silent.
Branwen blanched herself, and the warriors of the hall came still closer to protect the Lady for she was well loved amongst the nobles of Albion and their champions, but when the strange knife slipped from between her nerveless fingers it was I that stooped to pick it up and offer it quickly to the shade.
Some looked at me aghast for it was an impulsive action, but I trusted the appearance of my teacher and childhood friend. The Shade for his part inspected the knife and then passed it back to Branwen, pointing a bony finger downwards at the bandages concealing Bard’s wounded eye.
Branwen knelt then and used the knife to cut away to wrappings from the bleeding eye socket, and then hesitantly touched the knife-blade against the wounded flesh. At once the wound lost its deathly hue, and even as the knife turned brittle and black, the colour returned to the face the fallen Bard and Eolas breathed again with the breath of the living.
The Shade drew apart from us then, and striding out and away from the company of the living, the revenant of Bratan departed the court of Albion in a swirl of cloak and mist.
But I was not satisfied to leave matters there, and together with Aisla “cat-claw”, we two rushed from the hall in pursuit of the shade, eager to learn something of the fate of Bratan and the mysteries of the otherworld.
All the time the spectral figure grew harder to discern against the night, and unwilling to lose the opportunity to speak again with a slain friend returned, I leant close and questioned the shade about the tales of my childhood learned at the knee of a living man.
And the shade spoke to me of the fate of Rhydderch “open-hand”, and the curse of Angharad “tawny-wave” and though the knowledge of the matter flooded back to my mind I knew I had never before known the secrets of the telling.
And then Aisla leant close to the shade and spoke and received reply, but what Aisla learned she chose not to speak of, and merely kept her counsel in close reflection.
And then the shade was gone from the realms of men and Aisla and I shared a look and remembrance both of times past and memories cherished against the night.
As the night grew old I spent time in conversation with comrades and strangers alike; I spoke with Branwen and Eolas restored, I swapped tales with the champions of Albion and I thanked the fates that had blown my life to these shores – an exile I was but a favoured one to have found friendship and wonder in equal measure.
The morning dawned bright and the lists were prepared and readied for the games to come; and as the lords and ladies and common heroes of Albion prepared to do battle in sport for the accolades of hearth-fame and legend, I took the opportunity to learn something of the people and clans and households of the land.
Of the noble warbands present at Eton the greatest and most numerous were the host of House Karlennon and the Company of the Boar, while strongly represented was the fellowship of the Spears of Lugh, the household of the Charenten Clan, and the mendicant Thruddite warrior-band. Many smaller houses were represented; but eclipsed by individual heroes of note and wide renown who were present in great number, needing no flag or pennant to announce their name and lineage.
I felt my heart fill with pride at my presence amongst so many august champions of Albion and resolved to do my utmost to uphold my honour, and to present as favourable an impression as possible of the Household of Lord Robert. I equipped myself as well as I was able for the trials to come; I wore a shirt of mail from Estragales, I carried a broad oval shield lent me by a mercenary in York, and for a weapon I carried a longsword of proud Cymrijian steel, a trusty wound-blade that had saved my life on many occasions before.
The single melee was the most keenly contested title, and dressing my sword and armour for battle; I met and overthrew these stalwart champions and bold duellists;
Corrigan Grimmir, whose device of a mask told of past sacrifice and whose swordplay though spirited, was distracted by thoughts of that Lord’s imminent wedding to the estimable Lady Katrina. I feinted and hacked, and Corrigan fell with a handsome scar to show his new wife.
Rafe Loriner, a proud officer of the Company of Boar, whose attack was rash and courageous but fell entirely upon my guard. I struck quickly and finished the duel with a slash to Rafe’s valorous skull.
Captain Piers Audeley, the commander of the Company of the Boar, who wore a fine hat to accentuate his dashing profile. But alas for the good captain, the hat fell across his eyes. Seizing the opportunity, my attack was blunt and distinctly without compromise.
Next came another Boar Company warrior, one Isaac Trooper, a battlefield medic and talented practitioner of rushed surgical procedures. A bold attempt saw my opponent land the first blow against my armour of the day, but in response I stuck him senseless with an upward slash.
Then three more fighters of Boar Company eager to erase the past defeats of their comrades; in quick succession came Thomas Hobbes, Aaron Cooper and Rufus Tanner. Champions these in earnest, but not in the field of melee combat – Hobbes was a fine singer and in respect I struck not at the throat as I cut him down, Cooper was a runner and fast as the wind, but a pair of swift wounds to the leg hindered his movement and provided a belaboured if comprehensive victory, while Tanner was a consummate archer and distant slayer of men, but he wore only light armour which proved no match for my mail as we traded equal blows till he fell unconscious.
And then three gentleman duellists of ready wit and dauntless resolve; Jharik potion-wise the High Alchemist fought with a single sword and wide-brimmed headgear and was despatched with fluid grace, Aethen Tyrel struck high and fast but my blade turned his assault and cut the wind from his chest, and then Master Guy the Oneiromancer whose stance was practised, but whose silken robes were no proof against my edge of hard cymrijian steel.
Now the competition began in earnest, and next three opponents were cunning war-fighters with tricks and talent in reserve; Khaine Strife was a one-eyed killer of wicked speed and it took a brutal downward slash to render him comatose, Dragon Estilan was a sea-elven champion and a wielder of the walrus bone blade of unchancy aspect, and I chose not to suffer that edge but stepped inside his brutal assault to wound his breast with an rising counter-cut to spray blue sea-foam ichors to blanch the faces of the onlookers, while last I met Lord Nevyn Brock “the dragonhart”, and “honeywords low-slicer”, and though a diplomat and man of peace, this friend of Morghun Cymrijia was passing dangerous and quick, and he was the first man of the lists to wound my left flank sorely, and it was only with an improvised lunge from the ground that I knocked him from waking sense.
Next two seasoned longbow archers and a veteran killer of wide renown; Mat Luhhan was a champion of the bow and well equipped with roundshield and flenching-knife and his pleasure in melee was to close chest to chest to spill the vitals of his foeman, but even as this dangerous man sprinted forward I leapt back and managed to cut over and below the shield-guard to curtail his assault in a pair of bloody-sweeps, Olroid McBoar was far-famed himself for brutal killing and though he was slowing now with the weight of age and a dozen war-injuries, he came on with deadly intent and I struggled in earnest to survive several wounding blows to fracture this killer’s skullcap from a defensive crouch , and then came Guillieme “Will” Tanner, a smiling longbow man and genial host, but geniality fled upon the lists at Eton and Guilleme pressed me hard and performed a disarming feat to flick my sword from hand to the pressed earth, diving forward to snatch up the blade in the nick of time I finished Guilleme with careful defensive stokes and no little wary admiration for his war-cunning.
Now evening approached, and I sought out several more fighters of skill and hard reputation before ever I would rest for feast and friendly repast; Lysander Constantine had the appearance of a foppish dandy of little account but in truth he fought like a demon possessed by the fires of hell, his sword was keen and forged by sorcery and never did it strike but that sparks and vapours were hurled into the dusk, and then came a downpour and still we fought like furies until at last my dogged perseverance was rewarded and Lysander lunged overlong to meet my counterthrust to his vitals, after Lysander, his cousin Lucien had a hard example to follow, and in truth he proved a better sailor and wit than land-fighter, though his manners were as always correct and worthy of praise, and then Gerard Karlennon, Sheriff of York, “mighty-girth and plain-speaker”, well armed and equipped for bloody-battle was this man, but my heart still sang from the pleasure of contending with the skills of Lysander, and I made fast work of the duel, for Gerard’s stance betrayed an unfamiliarity with the Cymrijian style of sword-killing.
Two of the exiled clan “The Spears of Lugh”, met me next, and two proud warriors thereafter were adjudged indisposed to fight; Sagramore was a Cymrijian champion and close ally of House Charenton and his arms and armour were of impressive quality and showed all the marks of a man well used to hard affray and skirmish pleasure, he and I fought equally-matched for a time, and blow rang in counterpoint to blow as we circled and looked for momentary advantage, that boon fell to me, and I stepped right quickly to aim a pair of swift cuts to the side of Sagramore’s stalwart guard to strike him down senseless to the earth, a brief pause, then stepped up the mighty Solarion, another of Lugh’s “Spears” and a giant in truth, the tourney-ground shook with his pacing, and the forest stirred in the half-light with rumbling of his thunderous mirth, but Solarion chose to fight me with paired daggers and I was quick enough to jump back as he surged forwards and the advantage of fighting distance and blow without return won the duel for me in swift measure.
This was to prove my last fight of the first day of the tourney, for the next two opponents I sought were found in no fit state to contest the field from my sword; Lord Jac the High Sheriff had been injured seriously in his contest with Aisla “cat-claw” and had withdraw from the contest, and the Thruddite warrior Ebric “spine-splitter”, a gladiator and pit-fighter of fearful reputation, was found too fatigued to contend further in the tourney, and bidding me luck and fair fortune he yielded a bloodless victory with a cheerful wave.
A great meeting of the Albion Lords and aristocracy present then occurred, and after that was presented a feast of astonishing size and variety. At the council meeting was discussed many matters of state and importance; the Lords of powers and Albion reaffirmed their hatred of the Nation of the Gryphons, and of the Unicorns, and of the Vipers, much was spoken of the “invasion” of the Story Fae, though no firm conclusions were reached, the Scathen ambassador “Tongue” of Clan Hollowtooth spoke of his desire for “warpstone”, and promised to forge weapons of power and to use disease and plague to lay the enemies of Albion low with vile enchantment and pervasive blight. (At this last I spat and touched the iron of my sword to avert evil, for no survivor of Yr Dreig’s plague-madness on Caer Glas could consider such sanctions an honourable recourse of just government). Many then spoke of matters pressing; and I heard of demon-priests who devoured the eyes of healers and wore raiment of orange fabric, I learned that the Gasharim still existed and menaced Teutonia yet, that the realm of undead horror called the “summerlands” was steadily throwing off the yoke of its Lich-tyrants and knowing fresh conflict between the tree-dwelling Owmen and the stern warrior “shining-ones”, that the High Incantor the Harts was missing, and that the fleets and armies of that fair land were now close to full strength again their admirals and generals of sea and land were full confident in their ability to wage war against those that looked with envy and hatred upon the country of the wellspring and source of fair-government.
And then the feast; and by my faith it was a thing to behold and wonder at – so many sweetmeats and delicacies, the fruits of forest and field and sea combined in a delightful aroma of kitchen-sorcery and worldly repast. And there was not one pie but there was a hundred, and each pie a miracle of cunning design and subtle flavouring – and though the Bull of Cymrijia, Eomear Geffrin Moghun, might have reckoned himself a pie-eater of surpassing girth and capacity, I’d wager that even his voluminous appetite might have balked at the consumption and devouring of the pies of Albion, so large and lardily-stuffed with wholesome meats and dripping flavours, so cleverly wrapped with golden-brown pastry and so elaborately devised of crust-artistry and kiln-leavened perfection. Indeed, it is a fortunate thing that no ambassador of the Dragon Nation was there present to view the pie-wealth of Albion, lest assuredly, the “Bull” and his levies and his legion of cooking-thralls would even now be laying siege to the Kitchens of Eton and causing mischief and inconvenient strife to the household of the Grand Marshall, his feast attendants, and his meat-vendors.
And after the pies the cakes; and as wholesomely meat-stuffed and carnal-scented were the pies, the cakes of Albion were their equal in sweet-spiced temptations to the tongue and nostril alike. Cakes in formation arrayed in sacrificial offering to the appetites of weary warriors and hard-talking councillors and courtly wits, cakes drenched in strong liqueur, and cakes fashioned in the likeness of fantastic beasts and all the creatures of the forest and forest sky – some required a conscious act of artistic sacrilege to devour, so perfect their union of taste and substance.
And after the cakes the hard business of drinking and carousal, and though I would love to recount the attributes of the many wines and spirits and unseelie concoctions I sampled at the hearth of Lord Hugo, I fear I would stray unwittingly into the realms of poetic invention, for in truth the evening swiftly dipped below the reliable focus of bardic recall.
Morning arrived like a hammer blow to a beaten copper disk; I was swiftly roused by the voices of warriors making ready to complete the trials of single combat for the melee lists, and all around the boasts and battle-claims rang out as proud men and women prepared to trade their flesh for reputation in the gleaming court of swords.
After the fighting the day before, four champions of Albion were reckoned closest to the accolades of tourney triumph; Lord Benedict Karlennon, Lord Pelleas D’vor, Lady Aisla “cat-claw”, and to my surprise and slight embarrassment, one Gwalchmai ap Maelduine, a guest of uncertain status and distinctly dim renown. I had entered the tourney in the hope of refreshing my skills in single combat, and in the hope of winning honour and reputation for the hearth of my host-Lord, Robert Falcon. Now it seemed victory itself might be possible, and with this recognition I confess I suffered again the nervous uncertainty of a far younger man.
My first opponents of the second day were three fighters of reputation and hard war-talents; Yoso of the Sake was a far-travelled easterner with a great double-handed sword of prodigious weight and reach, broad sweeps and cuts declared his intention to maim, but despite his practised mastery of the form, the match was one-sided, as my shield bore the brunt of the assault and my own lighter blade whipped quickly to wound my foeman a half-dozen times before he fell to the earth, Esekial Cheever was a man of curious aspect, angry and withdraw, his face a cloud of rage, but he fought cleverly with a well-balanced blade and a study round-shield, so we were matched and my cuts deflected, I won with a war-trick, a sudden stagger forward and then a shield-lunge, his sword was trapped against his flank and I struck thrice beyond his now impotent guard to overcome this hard fighter, Auriel Henbane was herself already a legend in some quarters, a lady-gladiator of skill and scant remorse, and warily did I meet this challenge, but when our swords clashed and rang out with vigorous energy I discovered a flaw in her technique and moved quickly to best exploit it, with a rising diagonal slash that first weakened and then breached the armour beneath her shoulder to drive a deep wound across her chest. Once recovered, Auriel expressed a desire to learn the secret cut, and much charmed by her personality and manner, I obliged.
Next I fought three warriors of the Beastmen, proud emissaries from distant Siberia and ready defenders of Albion’s cause in war and ritual and song; r’Ant met me first, and proved a wild fighter with club and stave and sweeping coordination, but in my experience two weapons are no fitting match for a sturdy war board and blade, and while his blows rained upon my shield I wounded him sorely with flagrant cuts and improvised slashes, l’Ume, was a loremaster and cunning strategist to his people, and having watched the outcome of the previous duel, he chose a war-trick of his own to begin his assault, taking throwing knives from a hidden pouch and hurling them with deadly accuracy at my throat and breast and groin, but a shield is a fighting man’s best friend, and catching the knives harmlessly I closed swiftly and claimed victory before l’Ume could gain the measure of my fighting blade, and last of Beastmen I fought v’Ar the singer, and in truth this fight proved heroic in its difficulty and circumstance.
Like r’Ant before him, the Beastman bard v’Ar, fought with paired fighting weapons and I sought a quick victory by closing with shield and striking hard at chest and throat and skullcap, but my overconfidence was almost my undoing, for v’Ar proved supremely skilled with the form, and battered my defences with an epic combination of accurate cuts and deadly lunges. We matched stroke for stroke and violence for violence until our armour hung in battered useless strips and we hurled our broken helms aside, and at last we knocked each other senseless with simultaneous blows and fell together in a wounded swoon. But such a contest could not end inconclusively, and when restored to a semblance of health returned we took up our weapons again and leapt once more to the fray. This time we fought with single sword against lone blade, and though the engagement was similarly close and passing difficult, at last it was my cut that penetrated guard and tumbled my valiant opponent for a deciding second time.
The contest was now drawing to a close, and the next warriors I fought were hard and tested battle-heroes, eager killers, and full-cunning in all the tricks of war and single melee; Percival de Gales, was a champion of Avalon and the man my beloved Branwen had chosen to wed, he was well-armed and equipped this Knight, and fought with dangerous efficiency, seeking ever to trap my lone blade against the pair he wielded practised ease, long blows I rained upon his armoured form, and first his gauntlets turned them, and then his pauldrens, and then his gorget and then his helm, and at the last I won through the simple expediency of destroying Percival’s armour before my own buckled, not a pretty fight, but against a stern opponent the result spoke volumes enough. Next I fought Dane Stormcrow, an exile from outremer realms, and master of a pair of flickering unworldly blades which danced with a shadows of dusk at noon, Dane fought well and skilfully, and his sword-feats had already seem him defeat champions in the tourney, yet I remained cautious and allowed his designs to develop and fall sterile upon the ready defence of my sturdy shield, and at last Dane was overthrown by a sudden rush and blur of bloody-cuts, for I was tiring fast from the fray, and felt my muscles burning with fatigue.
Now four names alone stood between my sword and victory; Lord Benedict Karlennon, the Grand Admiral of the Fleets of Albion, Lord Hugo Charenten, the Grand Marshall of the Armies of Albion, Sir Pelleas D’Vor, High Incantor, Past Champion, and Companion of Summer, and Aisla “Cat-Claw”, Present Champion of Albion, Last ruler of the Hiraeth, Scourge of Cymrijia and Maiden of Battle-feats.
Lord Benedict came first and he fought well and bravely, and his abundant stamina threatened to overcome my flagging reserves of strength, he favoured sword and shield and practised cunning counter-attacks and efficient parries while seeking advantage wherever it lay. The match was even, but I had a slight advantage in reach and made the difference count with feints and cuts and desperate lunges; at the last my armour was battered and broken but Lord Benedict fell bravely to the earth, yielding consciousness where he had refused to yield ground or advantage.
Lord Hugo came on next, and his body was wreathed in fabulous armour of gleaming silver. The Grand Marshall fought with paired swords, and he proved a veritable demon in the fray, with swift attacks and well-judged cutting sweeps. In truth I did not strike a blow against the Lord Hugo but that he returned it in full-manly force; and in the end I triumphed for the sole cause that the Grand Marshall distained to imprison his flowing locks beneath an armoured skull, and so where my rude helm of iron plates and stiff leather protected the flesh beneath, Lord Hugo was wounded twice to his left temple and his right, and was struck to the ground while I merely stood reeling from the force of blows deflected.
And then the Past Champion Pelleas D’vor, full-dressed in warlike array and carrying a stout tower shield and beaked-axe, a man of perilous reputation, he had remained to fight the liche-lords in the summerlands when sane men fled, and yet ‘twas he, not his darkling adversaries who now grinned the hideous smile of indomitable fate. Ill-omened was this fight from the beginning; the very first testing blow I struck against the shield of Pelleas caused my father’s longsword of stern cymrijian steel to shatter and break with a terrible rending scream of broken metal and I paused in shock as Pelleas generously stood off and allowed Lord Benedict to offer me his own blade in replacement for the fight. Then battle was joined in earnest and for long minutes we circled as we sought advantage and tested defences, always Pelleas striding forward as I was forced to give ground in hateful backward paces. I hacked left and right, above and below his great shield but found no gap for my borrowed steel, I feinted first one way and then the other, and I exhausted the store of war-cunning passed down to me from the wisdom of Meudwy ap Moanan and Moyhirra ferch Gwyn against this man’s iron resolve and maddening grin. In places I had weakened armour, but in truth I had not touched flesh, the fight grew on and I found myself resenting the constant surrender of ground and so resolved myself to leap forward to clash shield against shield to end the matter swiftly. Oh foolish impulse! Pelleas judged my intention and shifted his shield to trap my own in a feat of breathtaking artistry and helpless now beneath his broad axe, I felt blow after blow descend and breach my mail and I was at last overthrown by a man of Albion.
But strange fate intervened to rescue my chances of victory in the tourney, for though Pelleas had overthrown me; to my astonishment other men had triumphed in battle against that awesome fighter where I had not. The Beastman v’Ar, the weapons master Dane Stormcrow, and Sir Percival de Gales, had all defeated Pelleas, and so despite my own defeat, only one other fighter matched my record in the tourney. I knew then that legend and honour of a fallen land lived yet, for my last opponent and the one warrior I could not fight was Aisla “cat-claw”, of Caer Glas and the Hiraeth.
Aisla, like me, had triumphed in every fight but one, she too had fallen to Pelleas, and so our accomplishments were perfectly matched as we came to stand full-armoured and war-equipped before the waiting throng. But sharing a glance we put up our blades and unstrapped our helms, and looked long moments to faces drawn with the memory of distant painful times and oathsworn promise against the curse of night. We exiles of Caer Glas had faced death and murder and worse at the hands of our mainland Cymrijia foes, and against the promise of short hopeless struggle we had mingled our blood and sworn warrior-oaths to go together across the bridge of swords to the otherworld, never raising hand or blade in peace or war against the motley kindred sword-brethen of that desperate union. I could no sooner contend battle with Aisla than I could change my shape like the wizards of old; nor could Aisla raise sword against me in defiance of faith-sworn and custom-forged.
“You are the champion of Albion, Aisla, take your accolade my sister, I will not offer you battle.”
But Aisla laughed and said,
“I cannot, for the battle has not been fought or won.”
I then held out my hand and asked,
“Can we not stand together and hold his accolade between us?”
But Aisla shook her head and placed her sword down at my feet,
“I am champion of this country brother and have long supped the cup of glory and grown full-sated of the champion’s portion, it is fitting to make a gift to a kinsman returned from death’s embrace, this tourney is yours, I yield the field and salute your victory.”
And I accepted the gift, for to refuse generosity is an affront in the eyes of the spirits and ancestors my people swear by.
And that is the true story of how I won the grand fighting tourney of Albion.
But there were other competitions and other victors and worthy fights; Sir Lucien Constantine was the champion of the art of war, so skilled was his line in the ways of battle-cunning and subterfuge, the flat-races were won by Sergeant Cooper of the Boar Company, the Archery contest found Sergeant Tanner of the Boar Company the finest crossbowman and Master Matt Luhan the finest archer of all, Lady Kia Aryllin narrowly triumphed over Sir Thurstan in the strange game of bowls, Thomas Hobbes (again of the Boar Company) proved the finest Bard present, the finest cooks were the Ladies of the Brothel for a truly spectacular creation, and a beautiful young lady whose name I sadly missed, was triumphant in the singular pursuit of hanging suspended by her fingers.
The last of the contests of the tourney was a great bohort melee, to be captained by the highest placed winners in the Art of War competition. To my happy surprise I found that I had finished second to the esteemed Lucien Constantine, and so was awarded the honour of captaining the second bohort team. From those I had fought and met at the tourney I chose the following fighters to join me in the fray; Pelleas, Aisla, Sagramore, Ebric, Auriel, Guy, Dane, Guillieme, Solarion, Yoso, Matt Luhan, Khaine, Lavernius, Eburos, and together we made eager battle with the Lucien’s force. Our line was strengthened with shields, while lucien’s mustered many archers and ranged fighters. When the signal to begin was given I called out an ordered march to engage the foe with shields held high and wary, and by fortune and design we were victorious and swept our mock-foeman from the field.
Great were the cheers from our fighters, and we acknowledged swiftly the courage of our foes. Lord Hugo granted a purse of gold as a prize, and with pleasure I distributed it amongst our warriors.
And then the tourney was ended, the Queen had awarded all the champions with bright tokens of her acclaim and prize-purses bursting with shining coin, and the spirits of Albion were passing high and fair in the summer sunshine.
I had achieved something more than the small ambitions I carried to the tourney also; I discovered that fate had been less cruel than I feared to my fellow exiles, that a beloved friend had found happiness in the arms of a worthy man, than a wounded comrade had been restored to health, and than foremost of all, that in Albion a man might triumph in honour and simple courage, and that somewhere in the world the ancestors of my people still smiled faintly upon the line of Rhydderch and Angharad “Tawny-Wave”.
In faith then,
This account I leave in memorial to the deeds performed at Eton in Albion in the year 1101 AF, that strangers might wonder at the ways of this country, and distant comrades might smile at the deeds done in sport and council and martial test.