The Jug and Ferret
Just a quick note about the results of the Hiraeth visit to the opening of the Jug and Ferret, the establishment of Sir Corax Corvidae and Nanny Ogg.
In attendance were Scipio Caradoc (of the Braich Bras), Marik, Lady Theadora (Scipio’s mother), Lady Branwen Ceirwyn ap Nudd (the wildmage), and Abbas Ionus Tobus (in disguise). We were later joined by Meudwy ap Moanan, Lady Aisla (in a dress), and Lady Kelpie (the velvet mage). Our journey both to and from the Jug and Ferret of Londinium was aided immeasurably by the invention of Aelfric the Damned, whose coach and horses conveyed our ladies and luggage safely through the night.
Well, we arrived and announced ourselves, and then the pub was shifted to another dimension by the peculiar powers of a strange board game. An alternative noble house of Albion arrived and claimed the rights of rulership. The first night progressed and many of our number were present when an Albion warband was engaged by a sizeable force of demons and mindless Unliving. Fierce was the fighting but fortunately none were slain.
Later that evening a squire to the ‘Paladins of Danu’ arrived at the tavern and spoke at length about his desire to see the return of the ‘Fianna’ and the overthrow of false Ard Righ Ash, or in the words of the Abbas, ‘deep furrow’. Disguised as he was, the Abbas could not help but rise to his full spate of ranting and condemned the Dragon visitor in ringing tones before the gathered peoples of Albion. Many men glanced sideways and prepared knives for the morrow.
As the night wore on I introduced my Mother, the Lady Theadora, to those others of the Hiraeth present, we drank long toasts to those left behind in Cymrija and debated long into the night the nature of existence and death. Bards and Minstrels played songs of joy and loss and few eyes were dry with the absence of passionate tears.
In the morning the matter of the Demons was explained if not resolved; they were literally pieces of the board game animated by strange adventure to exist for real in the alternate Albion in which we had found ourselves.
A warband went in search of them again, accompanied by most of the Hiraeth including the ‘Hiraeth Peasant’ most knew to be the Abbas. The Demons guarded a skull, which was required to solve a game puzzle, and the fighting was fierce around this contrivance. The Abbas stood forth boldly and debated theology with his demonic opposite number before being bodily planted in the soft earth by a tumultuous succession of mighty crushing blows. Ironically he was healed and defended by many, and Carrot McYokel was heard to remark “… that he seemed possessed by the Morrigan herself“.
Later, tragedy of a sort. The Abbas was challenged by several men present to identify himself and defend, if he could, the alleged slander he had offered the followers of beastkind and goddess worship. The Abbas launched in a long tirade that accused those present, diversely, of necrophilia, sodomy, group discounts at whorehouses where their mothers worked, rutting with each other, rutting with themselves, etc etc etc. At the last the exposition was ended by the knives of two men, a noble of Albion who took the life of the Abbas and a noble of Caledonia who took his tongue.
Scipio has elsewhere lodged his sworn account of the matter.
Hmmm, well then, after the death of the Abbas and subsequent duel, the warriors and ladies of the Hiraeth settled down to play cards, drink wine, and talk softly of diverse things.
This reverie was briefly interrupted when a force of human bandits set up stockade within a bow-shot of the hostelry. Angered greatly at this clear and present danger to wine woman and song, the warriors of Albion and allied forces raced to strike the inane grins from the faces of these taunting wastrels. The engagement was made more complex by the good defensive position of the bandits and their use of ranged attacks. Several times the Albion host charged to be broken back by flights of arrows and offensive magic. At the last however, Ceirwyn the Wildmage and Gavaril Iron-Grinder (mightily frustrated at the loss of his chance to duel the Abbas) broke free and charged the fort. Ceirwyn shattered the bows of the bandits by causing the wood of their construction to warp and dance to the tune of the forest deep. Gavaril struck down many with his heavy hammer and axe and stood triumphant until a young female bandit cut his legs out from under him and would have slain the dwarven barkeep but for the timely interception of Caradoc.
As afternoon grew into evening we prepared ourselves for the masked ball and many sights were beheld that never have been beheld before. Caradoc of the Braichbras adopted the likeness of a giant asymmetrical frog-beast, Amphibior, terrible was his visage, and at the last he deemed the costume too frightening for the gentle appetites of Albion and painted his face instead with runes of death and slaughter.
Ceirwyn ap Nudd deemed his native dress costume enough, and adding leaves of red and gold to his usual green, deported himself well with a great cloak of green velvet atop a coat of glimmering mail. Marik ap Taranis wore a tunic of soft golden silk burnished with the hues of sunset and sunrise. His normal bestial attire seemed almost picturesque in conjunction with his mask of peacock feathers. Meudwy ap Moanan wore his armour and finest cloak and painted his face with ceremonial woad – his mask was a glower of disdain for those that doubted his war-prowess or hatred of the Dragon Nation. Scipio Leonidas wore a long coat of blue velvet and concealed his features behind a harlequin mask. We were joined also by a Cornish peasant named Herbert, a snail-farmer of some repute, who wore the mask of a devil over his peasant-smock to better hide his features from the ‘nobbs’ present.
Of the ladies, Branwen wore a gown of the purest white and painted her pale skin paler still beneath the mask of the unicorn. Aisla ‘Cat-claw’ wore a dress of fine and noble aspect which revealed a hitherto unknown quality of feminine virtue to the feral mercenary leader. Her mask was that of an owl, and her fine features were mirrored in mock by the sharp lines of an airborne predator. Theadora wore a gown and robe of the finest silks of Nova Roma, a mask of feathers and sparkles which burned in the firelight and tantalised the appetites of many warmed by wine and good cheer. Kelpie wore a low-cut gown of purple velvet, her laughing features hidden by a mask of colour, her outer form cloaked in the caress of silk.
As the masked ball progressed many incidents occurred, some light-hearted, and others with a darker ring. Finn of the Tuatha de Danaan, a Dragon of warlike reputation, made himself known and challenged Scipio to defend his recent remarks about the lack of validity of the stone of kings. A debate ensued and both men expounded the virtues and principles of their positions. At the last a truce was agree and invitations made to the remainder of the Hiraeth. Caradoc Braich Brais desired not the company of Dragons however, and turned his back on Finn as that notable offered his hand in truce. Fierce words and discussions ensued, and Queen Elspeth herself was forced to request a truce in this matter, that bloodshed and duel should not disturb the peace of a peaceful gathering. Caradoc at last agreed to talk to Finn of the Tuatha, and the discussion ranged long and hard, to end with words of partial compromise and the potential for neutrality at least between the Hiraeth and Tuatha of Erin. Most interestingly perhaps, Finn was accompanied by one of the ‘wild fae’ of Erin, a race of immortals unaligned with the Dragon Nation and following not the commands of Ard Righ Ash.
Lady Zavra and Lord Hawk (the Warmaster of the Tarantulas) offered their regards and more tantalisingly, an offer of aid, to the peoples of the Hiraeth in their struggle against the Cymrijans. A Stave returned the weapon he had borrowed from the Hiraeth and purchased another. Lady Theadora learned much of interest and won a debt of gratitude from the werewolf, Nethrax Gereshen.
Scipio and Aisla and Branwen danced a variety of dances from Albion and performed with vigour in demanding circumstances. At times the dance floor resembled a battlefield with falling couples and clashing pairs staggering to the left and to the right. Branwen bowed out early in a move that proved unwise, for moments later she was drenched from head to foot in ruby wine spilled at the approaching tumble of Carrot McYokel and his partner.
As the night grew on, the demons from the game board returned in force, and striking in unison with human bandits from the realm of myth and imagination, struck from all sides against the gathered partygoers. The fighting was hard, not made easier by heeled boots and lacy velvet frock-coats, at one stage Ceirwyn, Marik, Caradoc, Scipio & Branwen lay bleeding in the darkness after a massed assault from a wave of howling fiends with red faces and unsightly polearms.
On played the Bards and with spirit, although strange adventure had plucked one of their number from them and replaced his form with a apparently malign replacement. Alias the Bard was gone and in his place a man without morality or respect for his companions.
At the last however, the host of Albion was victorious and the leering faces of the foemen disappeared into the night, seen off with a last hurled throwing axe produced like magic from the voluptuous curves of Lady Theadora’s gown. Tired yet exhaulted from the dancing, drinking and slaughter, the warband of the Hiraeth and their ladies retired to sip unfamiliar liquor or slumber in dreams of their lost homeland.
The morning brought fresh fighting, and breakfast was interrupted by more of the red-faced fiends with their cackling laughter and wild expressions of chimp-like malice. The curse of the board game had not yet been ended and fresh parties of warriors were sent out into the strange streets of alternative Londinium to search for clues and an answer. When a solution was found at last, the fiends from the board of mischance followed the tired revellers back through the rift to the “real” Albion and in mounting frustration, Lord Hugo declared a pogrom of blood and death against the inter-planar interlopers.
Animate statues were smashed to pieces with the aid of the Hiraeth axe ‘tornado’. Flesh golems were rended down to cooking fat, and cowardly skulking villains destroyed in their hundreds. Not everything went well for Albion forces, however, and sudden counter attacks caused disarray and injury on many occasions. Neither our women nor our healers nor our bards nor our children were safe from the predations of the forces of the game. Hugo at last declared a march and we strode forth to destroy the gathered minions of this strange circumstance in a pitched battle once and for all. Our line stood firm, theirs attacked in fury. Harsh blows wove a tapestry of blood and wounding as the lines moved back and forth like surf upon a morning shore. Many the foe we killed, many of companions fell in turn, at last it seemed the battle was won, for the numbers of the enemy grew ragged. From the side of the fighting a princess of the alternative Albion approached and with strident demand, called immediately that the game be brought out to her possession.
Hugo, affronted by the woman’s manner, prayed her be silent and await the battle’s conclusion. In response the princess transformed into the likeness of a giant bemuscled demon of the pit whose voice alone could throw men to their knees and cause women to faint away in horror.
Bitter was the fight now, with the appearance of their dark master the previously scattered game fiends attacked anew. Scipio duelled the giant demon for some dozen strokes before the abomination tired of the game and threw the Roman from his feet with a gesture, before delivering a fatal wound of horrific proportions to his downed opponent. Hugo fell, and Caradoc, and Marik, and Ceirwyn, and a host of others – the healers were hard pressed to save the fallen from the dread grasp of final death. The demon of the game had been wounded and wounded sorely itself and the earth around its scaly form was burned and desolate from the touch of acid blood and poison-sweat.
Finally, the game was brought forward in truce and the giant Demon stayed its hand and accepted the offer with malign humour. With barely a word it departed the realm of Albion and left its followers behind in a sullen line of fiend-faces betrayed by their master.
Looking left and right the remaining abandoned game-beings attacked in a rush finding nothing but death on the blades and points of Albion weapons. In destruction the forms of the adversaries fell hollow and empty to the soil and with wonder the survivors of the fight looked as the physical trappings of the animate forms fainted in the wan light of the afternoon sun.
All but one, a young female bandit, the one who had earlier overcome Gavaril in the skirmish at the fort. Surrounded by Albion warriors she challenged one to duel for her freedom. Scipio accepted this and Hugo relented the dictates of his pogrom. As hard as he fought, the Roman found as little luck as Gavaril had the day before, and before long a leg wound had prevented him from continuing. Claiming victory and freedom the young brigand bowed and ran from the field, her bright green cloak fluttering in the light breeze till it was lost from sight to those who marked its passing.
And that my friends, is all there is to tell. Lord Hugo and Corax Corvidae offered their thanks for the aid of the many folk and guests of Albion who had striven to the benefit of all. Best wishes were exchanged and promises made, future assignations planned and intelligences shared. At the last, the warriors of the Hiraeth departed tired but filled with enthusiasm and joy at the nature and spirit of their new neighbours, allies, and friends.
From somewhere, the spirit of the Abbas probably watches. Does he feel anger or sorrow? Or is he quietly pleased to see his people prosper? Some questions gentle reader, to which we shall never know answer.