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Pendragon: Beast Quest

Rating: 3 votes, 5.00 average.
Monday, February 10, 2014

(After playing the Pendragon introductory scenario “Beast Quest” with Logan Scott, Bo Lewis, Kyle Matheson, James Brown, James Williams, and Aly McDonald Sunday from noon until 5:30 p.m.)

In the days of yore, before the reign of King Arthur and his mighty Round Table, there were knights who might someday be part of that illustrious king’s entourage and of the Round Table. That would be in years to come, however, for in the Year of Our Lord 492, they were young knights who did not yet know their way.

The powerful Uther Pendragon had spent the last years consolidating a large part of Britain into the huge kingdom of Logres. His wars against the Saxons, members of his own household, and against other rebellious lords had become legendary already. He was now finalizing his conquests in a battle against Duke Gorlois, who deeply insulted King Uther by refusing his hospitality, departing court without permission, and by killing several of Uther’s knights.

But that is another story. This story focuses on five knights who had been newly knighted into the court of Duke Ulfias and were attending the feast that evening.

Our story begins with the Pentecostal Feast held by Duke Ulfias in Ratae of the Kingdom of Logres. King Uther Pendragon was Duke Ulfius’ major ally, overlord, and liege, but he had declined to attend the feast, instead sending a large selection of animals and exotic delicacies.

Sir Nonius the Red was only of average size but had thick, curly red hair and a bushy red beard that stood out from his face. It was also said that his red hair covered his body from head to toe, almost like a beast. He was of Roman heritage and the Christian first born son of the knight Nonellius, and had been born 21 years before. His colors were the green Stag Trippant over a Per Saltive of red and white. It was rumored that though he was of solid constitution, he was actually quite weak. He was suspicious of those around him.

Sir Gwarddur was a strong knight who was said to have a body like steel. The Cymric knight was a merciful Christian known to be temperate and generous. The fourth son of the squire Ywain, he was born some 20 years before. His coat of arms was a picture of another knight that he revered: Sir Buddfannon.

Sir Buddfannon, also called by some “The Dark Knight” was said to have the softest hair and hands in all of the kingdom. He had long, flowing golden locks and was beautiful to behold. His face was as clean as a baby’s bottom. Despite his wondrous looks, he was known for being cruel. So, so cruel. He wore black armor and his sign was a yellow bat on a black shield. He was Cymric, a Christian, and the firstborn son of the squire Hyfaidd.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue was Roman born. His smile was disarming and made men trust him, often to their dismay. He was known as one of the largest knights in all the land and was very, very strong, though he was even faster on his feet than he was powerful. He had black hair and was clean shaven. What men did not know was that lies crossed his tongue as easily as water flowed down a river, and he never forgot a slight. The son of a Roman-born knight by the name of Donicus, he was the fifth son, but hoped to be first in line for his father’s heritage soon. He was older than any of the other knights, having seen 30 years go by. His coat of arms was a red field on which reared a black viper with a gold underbelly.

Sir Gothryn was known for being very chivalrous: chaste, forgiving, modest, generous, merciful, and temperate. He was also an exemplary Christian and God had blessed his goodness with protection, his skin being strong enough to turn blades from his heart. The Cymric third son of the squire Murien, he had a charming smile and was 19 years old. He had short cut blonde hair and a trimmed beard. He was known for his jousting ability and his coat of arms was a gold Stag Trippant upon a Saltire with a white cross in a blue background.

His squire was called Rhiwalon of the River. He spoke in a distinctive Irish brogue, though he was Roman-born, and had very long fingers. The fifth son of the knight Pertacus, he was 18 years old. He had auburn hair and was known to be honest and merciful.

Many gathered together an hour before the eating time, at around five of the clock. Knights and ladies mingled, talked, and seated themselves. The nobles would arrive later, closer to dinner time.

Sir Buddfannon skulked in the shadows. He watched the antics of the other knights and bided his time, waiting for an opportunity. He saw it.

Sir Gwarddur stood alone until Sir Buddfannon approached him.

“Have you ever killed anyone?” Sir Buddfannon asked.

“No,” Sir Gwarddur confessed, much to his shame.

The other knight walked away, disappearing again into the shadows.

Sir Gothryn entered the hall in his fine clothes; his squire, Rhiwalon, coming close behind wearing a tabard with his master’s colors. Sir Avitus followed after in a half cape and saw that Sir Gwarddur wore a half cape under a cloak, an extravagance. He looked around for someone important. He was disappointed when he didn’t see anyone of rank above his own.

Sir Nonius entered the hall, taking two cups of mead and looking around for Sir Buddfannon, of whom he had heard many stories. Instead, he found Sir Gwarddur, who told him that Sir Buddfannon had just left. The two shared mead and grew to know each other better. Sir Gwarddur mentioned that he could drink a great amount of mead, perhaps more than any man in Logres. Taking offense at this boast, Sir Nonius also boasted of his own drinking prowess. However, though both of them considered trying to best the other, they both realized that this was not the place to test their prowess with drink.

Sir Avitus found a small group of ladies and gentlemen and joined their conversation of knightly exploits, the state of Logres, the recent wars, and other interesting things. Several ladies in the group laughed as the knights make merry. He soon found himself introduced to a lady of the court.

“Have you met Avitus the Forked Tongue?” another knight said in introduction. “They say he speaks with a beauty unknown to the greatest of poets.”

The maiden was of Roman lineage and spoke Sir Avitus’ language of Latin. Though he spoke well, the maiden was friendly, but put him off. Then he told her and the others a wondrous story of his intense training regimen to become a knight and why he was a squire well into his 30th year of life. The lady still declined his invitation to sit at the table.

“You seem a fancy knight of many summers, but there is another that perhaps you could introduce me to?” said she. “A mysterious, dark figure. Sir Buddfannon, do you know him?”

“You said dark,” Sir Avitus said, jealousy raging in his heart. “Are there any other defining features?”

“I’ve heard that he has flowing blonde locks and the softest hands in all the kingdom.”

Sir Avitus looked around the room but did not see any sign of Sir Buddfannon, whom some called The Dark Knight. He told the maiden he would tell her if he saw him and she thanked him kindly.

Sir Gwarddur was also introduced to a Cymric lady of the court. However, he failed to impress the maiden with his language and his own custom. She seemed to be merely tolerating the man and polite to him. Of course, he talked mostly about the knight he thought of so often: Buddfannon.

“Oh!” the maiden said. “Where is Buddfannon? I’ve heard such things about Buddfannon. You know Buddfannon? Where is he? Could you introduce me to him?”

Sir Gwarddur, burning with a jealousy that Sir Buddfannon seemed to elicit in all men, set his eyes to looking about the hall, but of Sir Buddfannon, he saw no sign. He had last seen the knight skulking by the fireplace, but he seemed to be gone.

“If you see him, I would love to meet him,” the fair maiden said.

The squire Rhiwalon of the River found a Cymric woman to introduce to his master, but he did not speak Cymric well. He eventually pointed at Sir Gothryn and called his name. The fair knight joined the two but, as Rhiwalon had not yet been able to learn the name of the fair maiden, the introduction was clumsy, at best.

“Ah fair …” Sir Gothryn said to the maiden.

He looked to his squire for the name of the fair maiden but the boy merely shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

“… fair maiden,” the knight continued.

That maiden was, indeed, fair and seemed to like the knight’s boldness in introducing himself to her instead of waiting for another. She agreed to sit with him when the food was brought forth. She also asked if he knew Sir Buddfannon.

“I really don’t know him,” Sir Gothryn said with a frown.

He wondered where the cruel knight might be. He was nowhere to be seen.

Nonius the Red approached one of the serving wenches. He beseeched her for a backrub as, being almost completely covered with thick, red hair, his back often itched him terribly. It was almost as if a curse had been placed upon him at times. However, he spoke Latin, which the girl did not, obviously speak, and he had great difficulty in making himself understood by her.

“Would you like the honor of rubbing Nonius the Red’s back?” he said.

“Buddfannon?” she asked.

“You don’t want Buddfannon,” Nonius told her. “You’ve got Nonius the Red here!”

He continued to flirt with the young girl.

Buddfannon finally appeared, striding to the middle of the hall. He was much smaller than the other knights, but his blonde locks flowed over his black clothing like a golden river. He wore gloves to protect his amazingly soft hands and the symbol of a bat was on his shoulder.

He asked, in a voice as large as all outdoors, if there was a chance to earn glory there.

“Do you want glory in combat?” Sir Avitus called.

“No,” the Dark Knight replied. “I just want to know if there is an opportunity for glory!”

“Do you want to wrestle?” Sir Nonius the Red called.

“I’m not challenging anyone!” Sir Buddfannon said.

“That sounds like a challenge to me!” Sir Gothryn said.

“Someone should probably wrestle Buddfannon!” Sir Gwarddur quipped.

Other knights looked upon the man. A few of the knights laughed, as did many of the ladies.

“How quaint,” one knight said loudly.

Sir Buddfannon sulked off to the darkness once again.

I will remember this, he thought.

The lady who had been talking to Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue returned to his side.

“Is that Buddfannon?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“THAT’S Buddfannon?” she asked incredulously. “What a cad.”

He asked her if she would like to join him for dinner. She declined with a polite laugh.

Sir Gwarddur was approached by the lady he had been talking to before.

“You must introduce me to Buddfannon,” she said to him. “You know him, don’t you?”

“I’ve never heard of him,” Sir Gwarddur lied.

“But I thought you said you knew him.”

“Uh … have you a sister?”

“I have … I have two.”

“All right, yeah, I know Buddfannon.”

“Well introduce me, introduce me. Please. I wish to meet him. He’s so mysterious.”

Sir Gwarddur looked desperately around the room but again saw no sign of Sir Buddfannon.

Dinner was soon served and the knights and ladies all sat at the table in their respective places based upon their notoriety. Only Sir Gothryn had found a lady to sit with him. The other knights sat alone. Sir Buddfannon left his gloves on during the meal, to better protect his amazingly soft hands. Rhiwalon sat with the other squires. The nobles arrived just before the meal itself was served.

As they all were assembled and in their places, the servants brought drinks and the knights’ attention was drawn towards the lords’ table. Speeches were made and Duke Ulfius called for toasts.

Dinner was then served. The food was carried in on large platters by servants. It was magnificent. There was beef, pork, white bread, cheese, fruit, eel pie, poached trout, broiled cod, grilled lamprey, stuffed pheasant, venison steaks, boar haunch, bear ribs, potted dormouse, roast peacock, pickled caviar, salted dodo eggs, swan liver pate, walrus fin soup from Norway, elephant brains in cream, unicorn flank in oranges and dates, pickled flamingo tongue, and caviar of kraken. To drink, there was mead, fine wine, and even brandy.

Sir Buddfannon always tended to eat delicately in order to protect his soft hands. He could not control himself in the wake of the amazing and delicious food and dug in, getting grease on his gloves. Other knights controlled themselves though many of them ate vigorously, including Rhiwalon and Sir Gwarddur. Sir Nonius enjoyed his meal, enjoying the look and smell of his food as much as he enjoyed the taste.

Sir Gwarddur noticed a beautiful shock of blonde hair on a nearby lady and was about to speak to her when he realized she was wearing men’s clothing and then recognized that he had mistaken Sir Buddfannon for a woman.

Sir Gothryn well enjoyed the fair maiden whose acquaintance he had made. Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue continued to talk to the lady whom he had failed to impress earlier in that same evening.

Once everyone had eaten their fill, entertainers of various types came forth and showed off. Hired entertainers went first, in this case a troupe of professional acrobats stunned the assembly with dangerous-looking leaps. Speeches were then given by several knights whom Duke Ulfius had invited to speak. Volunteers came forward to perform after that. Some sang, recited poetry, and such. Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue sang a great ballad to the delight of all those present.

More ale flowed and there was more speech-making, reading, and singing or playing of musical instruments by drunken boasters. Some of the ladies, squires, and even nobles left for bed. Other fellow knights boasted and talked of themselves; one small group of four knights had far too much to drink and started a boasting contest. One of them was Sir Pellinore, a good-looking, large, strong knight. He was one of Duke Ulfius’ young knights and noted for being very valorous and brave. He was also noted for being a hunter. Some of the other knights waved over the five knights who found themselves together on that evening.

They sat with Sir Pellinore and the other knights. Sir Avitus joined the boasting contest with wild abandon, lying brazenly about some of his own adventures and valor. He was drunk on the brandy that had been provided and boasted shamelessly, impressing everyone around him with his lies. Sir Nonius was guzzling mead and was deep in his cups.

Sir Gwarddur told tales of his own generosity and the good deeds he had done in the name of giving. Sir Gothryn talked of some of his good deeds, always mentioning his squire as being of great support to him.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue believed none of the stories, assuming they were all lying as he was.

Rhiwalon of the River kept his faculties about him and merely watched as the knights drank and boasted.

Pellinore was obsessed with hunting and the other knights teased him about how much he hunted. They dared him on to try his skill against ever-greater and more fantastic beasts. But, for each creature they mentioned, he had a long-winded, death-defying tale of one of his former conquests. When dragons were mentioned, he noted that he had already killed a wyrm with the aid of but 100 men, only half of them having died in the battle.

“My valorous comrade,” Sir Gothryn said, not believing the tales, “maybe you are expanding upon conquests, a little much, don’t you think?”

“What say you, sirrah?” Sir Pellinore said, his face going red. “Are you calling me a liar to my face?”

The other knights looked at each other. Even Sir Buddfannon came out of the shadows to laugh. Then he faded back into the darkness.

“I do,” Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue said boldly, looking at Sir Gothryn.

Sir Gothryn merely nodded.

“Fine, Sir Avitus Snake Tongue, or whatever your name is!” Sir Pellinore said. “Perhaps tomorrow, instead of joining Duke Ulfius’ hunt, we should undertake our own quest to find some rarer beast.”

“What about Glatisant, the questing beast?” one of the other knights said.

This man had been ribbing Sir Pellinore earlier about his hunting prowess.

“Why don’t we find him?” that same knight went on. “I know where he is in the Forest Sauvage. We could easily find a point during the hunt where we could leave the main body. After all, with Pellinore, the great hunter along, we should be back by noon, well before the others.”

The other two knights who sat by Pellinore laughed.

“Yes,” Sir Pellinore said. “Yes. I like that.”

He turned to Sir Avitus the Snake Tongue.

“What about you, snake-tongued-knight?” he said. “Will you join us on this quest to find the questing beast?”

“Of course,” Sir Avitus the Snake Tongue said with a sneer and roll of his eyes.

“And the rest of you?” Sir Pellinore asked. “Will you all join us?”

“Of course!” Sir Gothryn said.

“Here here!” Sir Nonius the Red shouted.

“Yes,” Sir Buddfannon said.

Sir Gwarddur merely waved, being drunk on the mead he had plied throughout the night.

They all agreed and a promise was made to keep mum on the subject, it being a secret quest for the nine knights and the squire present. Everyone was sworn to secretly.

They parted.

* * *

At dawn, Sir Nonius the Red stumbled into the courtyard, his head aching, and his stomach churning. He had drunk far too much the night before and was paying for it now. Sir Gwarddur was there to greet him; he wore a tabard with Sir Buddfannon’s face on the front and back, which confused Sir Nonius for a moment. When Sir Buddfannon saw the man’s coat of arms, he was also a bit confused. Other knights, squires, and ladies gathered. Sir Pellinore looked red-eyed and unkempt, but seemed astonishingly vigorous for so early in the morning after such a late night.

They all assembled as the servants hustled around and provided horses for their use. Women laughed, the smell of warm, mulled wine wafted across the familiar reek of horses.

“Oh God,” Sir Nonius the Red muttered, holding his head with both hands.

Duke Ulfius’ herald called out “All mount up, the gates are open!”

In the distance, beaters could be heard tramping through the woods, keeping the wailing hounds on their leashes and attempting to flush the prey from its hiding spot.

They listened for the horn to announce the beginning of the hunt. Only Sir Nonius the Red, Sir Pellinore, and Rhiwalon of the River heard the horn and urged their horses forward first as the dogs were released. The other hunters lagged behind.

They raced after the dogs, down the road. The animals dodged off to the right, over a creek, and into the woods. Everyone rode after them. As they leapt over the creek, Sir Nonius the Red slid off the side of his saddle and landed in the water. Rhiwalon of the River proved his name apt as he, too, fell from the saddle and into the drink. Sir Pellinore likewise slipped from his horse with a cry and the leaders suddenly lost their advantage. Another knight also fell into the river, cursing.

The other knights sent their horses flying over the creek, Sir Gothryn stopping and dismounting to help those who had fallen. Sir Avitus also reined his horse to a stop on the other side of the creek.

“You can’t even stay on your horse!” he called to Sir Pellinore.

Sir Pellinore glared at the man but said nothing.

Sir Buddfannon’s horse leapt over the creek and those who had fallen into it. He winked at them as he flew over like a bird.

“Oh, I needed this,” Sir Nonius the Red said.

He began splashing himself with the creek water as if he had intended to fall in order to take a bath. Sir Gothryn helped them out of the creek, looking goggle-eyed at Sir Nonius and wondering if the fall had addled his brains.

The knights quickly recovered their horses and caught up with the rest.

They soon arrived at a clearing with blackberry bushes growing within. There was no sign of their prey. Sir Avitus looked around as if he might see something. Sir Gothryn climbed off his horse and searched the ground. Sir Gwarddur climbed down and picked and ate blackberries.

“Who needs a fox?” he called.

Sir Gothryn mounted his horse once again.

“This way!” he called before he sent his horse into the woods.

The rest of them followed. Sir Avitus guessed the man was just lying but he followed anyway.

They crossed a barley field. A fence stretched across it and they sent their horses over it in pursuit of their prey. One of the other knights fell and hurt himself. He waved for the rest to continue without him. He had been the same knight who had fallen into the river.

They reached a copse of elm, the ground covered with exposed roots and vines. Sir Gwarddur’s horse stumbled on the roots. Everyone laughed, led by Sir Buddfannon.

One of the other knights pointed and nodded. They were at the place where they were to separate from the main group.

“We must go this way,” he whispered.

Everyone was looking for the fox they pursued, but only Sir Buddfannon saw a bit of red in the woods.

“The fox is over there!” he called. “I saw it! Go get him!”

Most of the troupe crashed in pursuit of the fox while the knights and squire who had sworn to search out the Questing Beast lagged behind and then slipped off in another direction, soon losing themselves from the main group in the Forest Sauvage. Some of them were seen by Duke Ulfius’ other, older knights. Their disappearance was marked.

So it was that Sir Pellinore, Sir Nonius the Red, Sir Gwarddur, Sir Buddfannon, Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue, Sir Gothryn, two other knights, and the squire Rhiwalon of the River left the main party of Duke Ulfius to find the Questing Beast.

“There’s supposed to be a cleft boulder, such as if a giant once sank his axe there,” said one of the other knights once they were free of the main party. “Just beyond is where the beast sleeps. Let’s go.”

He led them off into Forest Sauvage. Both Sir Avitus and Sir Nonius the Red were suspicious of the other knight and so watched him and the surrounding forest.

An hour passed. Then two. Then three.

“I can’t find the landmark anywhere!?!” the other knight cried out. “Do any of you know where we are?”

Later he moaned about their fate.

“We should not have left the hunt!” he said.

“You haven’t done this a lot, have you?” Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue said with a sneer.

Everyone became disheartened except for Pellinore.

Sir Nonius the Red drank from his wineskin to put off the heat of the day. The contents immediately returned to his mouth as he vomited them forth, his belly still rumbling from his indulgence the night before. He passed the wineskin around, getting it away from him as quickly as he could.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue noted that the quest was more of a farce and the great hunter, Pellinore, did not even know where to go. Pellinore looked at the man.

“Instead of vile words from the mouth of a snake, perhaps we should all be trying to figure out where we are,” Sir Pellinore replied. “You are as lost as the rest of us. So instead of doing nothing, perhaps you could do anything.”

Then he held up his hand.

“Forsooth,” he said. “Perhaps we should stop for a rest and a bite to eat. The day is warm, everyone is hot. We are bickering with each other, with our comrades in arms, and tired from the night’s drinking.” He looked at Sir Nonius the Red, who was wiping his mouth. “Let us find a place where we can sate our hunger, quench our thirst, and rest for an hour before we resume the quest or return to the hunt. Is that agreed?”

The other knights there agreed though Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue merely glared at his fellow knight. He had been cut to the quick and felt his gorge and his hatred for the man rise.

They came upon a pool fed by a small creek with a clearing along the near bank, a perfect place for a short rest. The members of the party dismounted, hobbled their horses, and rummaged through the saddlebags to find provisions of bread, meat, and cheese. They sated their hunger and quenched their thirst. Sir Nonius the Red finally felt his belly settle down.

The other two knights, Sir Gwarddur, Sir Nonius the Red, and Sir Buddfannon all succumbed to the good food, the warm day, and the last two days’ exercise, falling asleep in the glade near the pool. Pellinore chuckled when he saw these fellows nodding off. He stood up and began to strip off his hunting leathers.

“Who’s for a swim?” he said.

“I am,” Sir Gothryn said.

He and Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue stripped down to their undergarments and entered the water, Sir Avitus making sure his great sword was close enough to Rhiwalon of the River that the youth could throw it to him in the event of any ambush. Sir Gothryn handed the squire his spear and then waded into the water until it was up to his neck and stood enjoying its coolness on such a hot day. Sir Avitus entered the water until it was up to his waist, looking around suspiciously. Sir Pellinore enjoyed the water, dunking his head under and wetting his hair. Sir Avitus began to exchange barbed words with Sir Pellinore, disguising his insults with compliments.

“So, are you enjoying the water a second time?” Sir Avitus asked, poking fun at Sir Pellinore again.

As the knights cooled themselves, Rhiwalon of the River saw a spear point sticking up from behind a bush.

“Men in the bushes!” he yelled.

Four arrows flew out of the cover, two of them striking Rhiwalon of the River. Six more arrows flew towards the swimmers in the pool of water. One arrow struck Sir Avitus and two struck Sir Pellinore. The other three disappeared into the water.

Bandits came out of the brush. They were the scruffiest-looking fellows ever seen by the knights and were covered in dirt and mud and filth. One of them wore leather armor though the rest seemed unarmored, though they were all armed with spears and bows. The man in armor held a greatspear; a mace was tucked into his belt. It was Gwion, a bandit of scummy disposition known to live in the wilds of the Forest Sauvage.

They quickly moved to the sleeping knights.

“Kill the sleepers!” Gwion shouted. “Keep those in the water at bay!”

“Throw me my sword!” Avitus the Forked Tongue shouted to Rhiwalon of the River.

Rhiwalon of the River retreated to those knights in the water even as they made for the shore.

Two of the bandits killed two of the other knights who were deep in sleep, stabbing them in the faces with the spears. Seeing the murder, Sir Pellinore, Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue, and Sir Gothryn screamed and rushed out of the water towards the bandits. Both Sir Avitus and Sir Gothryn rushed the bandits near Rhiwalon of the River, Sir Avitus grabbing his greatsword from the squire even as Sir Gothryn picked up his spear. Sir Pellinore rushed the bandit on the other side of the pool.

Sir Buddfannon leapt to his feet even as Sir Nonius the Red and Sir Gwarddur awoke and looked around sleepily. Sir Nonius the Red leapt to his feet and grabbed up his shield and his spear as Sir Gwarddur picked up his great spear.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue brought down his greatsword on the nearest bandit, cutting the man in twain. The blow took the man on the collarbone, smashing and cutting bones as it went downward through his ribcage, nearly cutting the man in half. The bandit didn’t even have time to scream before he died. Next to him, a bandit stabbed Sir Gwarddur with his spear, bloodying the man. Gwion the bandit watched his men and goaded them on. Sir Pellinore rushed the bandit on the other side of the pool, knocking aside the spear thrust and beating the heads and shoulder of the bandit.

“Varlet!” he screamed.

Sir Buddfannon attacked the bandit nearest him, running him through. The man screamed and fell to the ground, bleeding from the terrible wound. He turned and saw the man whom Pellinore had struck turn and flee, running almost right at the knight. Sir Buddfannon swung at the bandit, who ducked out of the way of the blow. It slowed the man enough that Pellinore to catch up to him and strike him about the head and shoulders, beating him to the ground.

“Well done, Sir Knight!” Pellinore said to Sir Buddfannon.

Sir Gothryn found himself fighting with a bandit. Their spears clattered against each other.

Rhiwalon of the River rushed at Gwion even as that man moved towards Avitus the Forked Tongue. Avitus struck down another bandit, cutting him deeply in the side. The man fell with a cry.

“To me!” Gwion shouted. “To me!”

Sir Nonius the Red rushed a bandit who stabbed him in the midsection with his spear. The knight fell to the ground as consciousness fled. Not far from him Sir Gwarddur charged another bandit, who stabbed him with a spear.

Sir Buddfannon handed Sir Pellinore his clothing but the man ran by him, racing across the glade.

Sir Gothryn grabbed the bandit he faced by the shoulder and shoved the spear through the man. He pulled the spear out and flung him to the ground. The man died without a sound. Then he turned and began to run across the glade, snatching up his shield as he ran.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue and Rhiwalon of the River faced Gwion.

“Some knight!” the bandit said with a sneer. “Afraid to face me on your own, eh?”

“I’ll take you on one-on-one!” Avitus the Forked Tongue cried.

He shouted at the squire to back away. Rhiwalon of the River turned towards the knights across the clearing.

More bandits came out of the underbrush slowly. They all had bows in their hands and were pointing at the various knights. Only Sir Buddfannon and Rhiwalon of the River saw the brigands.

“Come at me, villain!” Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue said to Gwion.

The bandit leader grinned evilly.

Sir Gwarddur barely stabbed the bandit he faced with his great spear but it was only a sad blow that bare winded the man.

“Did a breeze just brush me?” the bandit quipped.

Sir Gwarddur did not find it funny.

Across the clearing, Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue was stabbed mightily by the great spear of Gwion. His blood splashed on the green grass of the glade, but still he snarled at the man he faced.

More bandits came out of the underbrush. The knights were outnumbered at least three to one. The archers were ready to fire. Sir Gothryn stopped in his tracks when he saw the additional bandits. He prayed to God that he would survive the day or at least have a good death. Rhiwalon of the River saw more bandits come out of the underbrush near the pool of water.

Of them all, only Sir Gothryn heard, in the distance, what sounded like the yapping of approaching pack dogs.

The bandits suddenly stopped and looked around. One of the bandits with a bow hesitated and cocked his head as if listening.

“What!?!” Gwion called out. “Do Ratae’s hunters venture so deep into the woods as this? Hurry men, let’s be off. We’ve booty enough to drink for weeks, and no sense losing it now!”

“No!” Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue called.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue brought his greatsword down on Gwion, who tried to block the blow with his greatspear. The sword struck like the hammer of God, breaking the spear and then creasing the bandit’s skull, cutting it wide open. The blow cleft the bandit in twain from his forehead to his belly.

Sir Gwarddur swung at another bandit as he attempted to flee but missed completely.

“Cowards! You flee before the hunt!” Sir Gothryn shouted at the fleeing bandits.

Then they all heard the baying of hounds. Sir Avitus ran to his clothing while Sir Gothryn strode across the glade towards the fallen Sir Nonius the Red. Rhiwalon of the River began to bind the wounds of one of the fallen bandits in hopes of interrogating him later.

In the next moment, a huge monster broke through the foliage, heading towards the pool. Its head was that of a huge serpent with prickly scales running down its neck. It seemed to be a mixture of leopard and lion, though it sported the hooves of a deer. From its stomach issued what sounded like a pack of dogs baying.

It ate them whole? Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue thought.

The beast stopped when it saw the knights. It considered them all for a few moments. Its gaze caught Pellinore’s and, for a few moments longer, in striking silence, beast watched knight.

“I must have that creature,” Pellinore muttered to himself, overheard only by Sir Gwarddur.

The beast turned and galumphed back into the brush.

“Let the bandits go!” Pellinore yelled. “Running into the woods, naked and without order, is an invitation for the slaughter of us all. It is lucky that all of us are not already dead!”

Then he grabbed up his sword and ran into the bushes after the beast.

At that moment, Avitus the Forked Tongue considered that Pellinore might have been telling the truth about some of his hunts. He’s insane, he thought.

Sir Buddfannon, Sir Gwarddur, and Sir Gothryn followed Pellinore into the underbrush. They found Sir Pellinore fairly quickly. The man was hacking at the brush, cursing at the branches and thorns. The other knights had to cut their way to him. There was blood on Pellinore from numerous cuts and scrapes from the brush.

“I was right on its tail but the bloody creature just disappeared!” he bellowed. “Help me from this mess, will you? I can’t move. These bushes are full of little daggers that are sticking me all over. Arrrrgh!”

They extricated Sir Pellinore and returned to the clearing where everyone cleaned themselves in the pool. Only Sir Buddfannon was unbloodied. They took the bodies of their fellow knights and put them over their horses. Sir Buddfannon thought it would be delightfully cruel to steal from the dead knights, but decided not to touch the bodies with his soft, soft hands.

It took them several hours to find their way back, and it was well after dark when they passed through the gatehouse. No sooner had the horses been stabled when a herald appeared, informing them that Duke Ulfius wished to see them immediately.

They soon found themselves before the duke.

“Where have you been?” he demanded with an angry growl. “What has happened that you come back here so late, bearing dead and injured knights?”

He looked at Sir Pellinore.

“I went off, with my fellow knights,” Sir Pellinore said, gesturing to the two dead knights. “We went as they had challenged me to find a beast in the woods that would be the greatest kill of all. I went in search of it.”

Duke Ulfius glared at the knight and then turned to Sir Avitus.

“And where were you, Sir Knight?” he growled.

“I was accompanying Sir Pellinore when we were attacked by bandits,” Sir Avitus said, bowing deeply. “We did manage to kill their leader but many of them made off like cowards.”

“Where were you, Sir Knight?” Duke Ulfius said to Sir Gothryn.

“I followed Sir Pellinore after the beast we were all hunting,” the knight replied. “We fell in with bandits, killed quite a few of them. They ran from the sound of what we thought were hunting hounds, though it was a strange creature.”

The Duke turned to Sir Gwarddur.

“And you, Sir Gwarddur, where were you?” he said. “Were you with these others?”

“Yes, I was with them also, trying to show Buddfannon how to fight,” Sir Gwarddur replied. “He just had no idea.”

Sir Buddfannon’s face went red and he glared at the other knight. He swore to himself to never forget the slight.

“And what have you to say, Sir Buddfannon?” Duke Ulfius said to the man.

“As you can see, I have the least amount of wounds,” Sir Buddfannon said. “Which means I was the most successful and saved everyone! Including the helpless Gwarddur.”

The other knights glared at the man. Before they could speak in their defense, Duke Ulfius spoke, admonishing them for their brashness and foolishness.

“Until this moment, no knight of mine has died in such a thoughtless manner,” he said. “For the next four months, you will perform those duties which no other knight desires. You will stand guard in the rain and cold, you will hold nighttime watches, and you will ride the most swaybacked nags as can be found in the kingdom.”

Then he angrily dismissed them all.

So it was that after a month of the worst duties of knights, they were sent off as Knights Errant for three more months. They were to go into the wild, right wrongs, and learn, as a group, to iron out your differences and become the best of friends, or not return until they were.

During that time, Sir Pellinore also decided that he was going to find the Questing Beast: Glatisant. He swore he would someday catch that elusive beast.

* * *

During their days as knights errant, Rhiwalon of the River’s palfrey broke its leg and had to be killed.

By year’s end, Sir Buddfannon’s father died. As the firstborn son, it gave him control of his father’s meager possessions. Also in that year, Sir Nonius the Red was ordered to marry one of the ladies of the court by Duke Ulfius. She was a minor noblewomen with some land.

Sir Avitus the Forked Tongue’s older brother died, making him fourth in line to inherit his father’s lands and goods.

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