Solo GPC

498 (Session Two)

Lost in the Forest

Having seen to the safe departure of Merlin, Herringdale made swiftly for Sarum and a meeting with Countess Ellen.

“My lady,” he said when he’d finally arrived, “I have reason to believe that I may be able to locate the son of Prince Madoc.”

Countess Ellen looked simultaneously excited and worried.

“If I grant you permission to seek for the heir, I shall be losing my best knight, and one of the best knights in the kingdom, at a time when I can not spare him.” She thought for a bit. “But I suppose it is worth the risk. Do your best to locate him, and quickly. I will put off the Saxons for as long as I can.”

Because Smuggy II was still recovering from his arrow wound, Ellen gave Herringdale the use of Earl Roderick’s old charger, a white warhorse named Lightning. With her blessing, he rode north, across country trails to Donington, then along the King’s road to Cirencester and on to Bourton. His first task was to find the knight who had visited Sarum and told of Madoc’s son over the Yule holiday.

Arriving at Bourton, Herringdale made for the small fortified hall that housed the town’s lord, Sir Blizack (the first name that came to my mind, and an appropriate one at that). Over a simple meal of salted fish and dense bread, Sir Blizack related what he knew, which turned out to be very little. He had never heard of this “King of the Forest Sauvage” that Merlin spoke of, certainly. He was happy to point Herringdale down the right path into the forest, however. He also gave Herringdale a warning: since the death of King Uther, the forest, always a wild and untamed place, had been growing increasingly dark and…unnatural. The cotters who lived along the edge of the woods even swore that from year to year the boundaries of the Forest had been somehow…expanding.

“Just ride down yonder trail past the Rollright Stones and over the stream. You’ll find yourself in the Forest soon enough,” said Sir Blizack. “Stay on the trail and you’ll come to the lands of the Earl of Tribruit.”

Herringdale thanked Sir Blizack for his help and, after a night spent on the floor of the knight’s hall, set off along the eastern trail. In due time, he spotted the Rollright Stones, then passed over a babbling brook. The trees, which had been somewhat lightly spaced up to this point, began to close in around him. Soon he was surrounded by thick growths of ancient trees on all sides, the trail ahead the only possible way to proceed. The woods seemed unnaturally still and smelled of rotting organic matter. Even the sound of Lightning’s hooves and the hoof-falls of his other horses were muted by the soft, spongy ground of the forest trail. Although it was mid-morning, the canopy of leaves overhead gave the forest an eerie half-light.

The trail twisted and turned around the largest trees, and Herringdale often had to push low-hanging branches out of the way as he rode. He was thus quite close to the wooden palisade marking the boundary of Tribruit before he even spotted it. It was a small wall, only about eight feet tall, but it was enough to impede his progress. As he approached, two helmeted faces poked up over the top edge of the wall.

“Who goes there?” barked one of the guards.

“I am Sir Herringdale of Salisbury. I have come seeking the King of the Forest Sauvage.”

The middle section of the wall swung open and three knights on foot emerged. Herringdale could also hear dogs barking behind the wall, and over the sound of that, the sound of hooves galloping off down the trail. The knights had spears and shields, but were not in overtly hostile stances. Still, it was clear they weren’t keen on Herringdale being there.

“These lands are not for casual travelers and trivial quests. Turn back now, stranger, by the order of Earl Meilyr of Tribruit.”

“Trivial quests?” asked Herringdale, appalled. “Know that my intentions are to bring an end once and for all to the troubles that have vexed our lands!”

“Then find another path,” said the lead knight, unshouldering his spear and leveling it at Herringdale.

Sir Herringdale unsheathed his sword in response. “Do not threaten me. I will ride this road, the Earl’s permission or no!”

At that the three knights advanced. Herringdale put spur to horse and attempted to bowl them over. Two managed to get in a jab as Lightning thundered through. One spearpoint failed to penetrate Herringdale’s mail hauberk, but the other caught him square and punched through the metal links, opening up a long gash as it slid along his ribcage (10 hit points damage—ouch!). Hardly noticing, Herringdale galloped through the gap in the palisade and tore off down the road. On his heels the guard dogs came running, barking and snapping. Up ahead, he could just make out flashes of the rider who had departed upon his arrival as the trail twisted and turned.

Lightning proved a most able horse, and Herringdale kept pace with the rider, although he wasn’t able to catch him up. Eventually the pursuing dogs dropped off, and then it was just the two riders, making their way along a darkened forest trail.

After an hour or so of riding, the forest suddenly opened up. It wasn’t a clearing so much as a part of the forest that wasn’t completely overgrown. Herringdale could see fields scattered among the copses of trees, small hamlets and farmhouses dotted here and there. It appeared to be a large wooded vale about three or four miles on a side. In the center of the vale sat an impressively large wooden motte-and-bailey castle. Herringdale could now clearly see his quarry, still riding along the road and making for the castle.

Urging Lightning to one more burst of speed, Herringdale tore down into the vale, also making for the castle. The outer gates remained open, and he rushed in—then pulled Lightning to a rearing stop. Before him in the bailey was arrayed a small unit of fighting men: about 40 to 50 lightly armed warriors armed with spears and javelins, and a dozen knights on horseback. The knight in the center was richly accoutered and had a herald to his right, mounted on a rouncey and holding a flag of truce. Herringdale signaled that he was willing to talk.

The rich knight and herald rode forth. Herringdale studied the knight—his mail was of the finest gauge, expertly woven and supple. A great fur cloak was draped over his shoulders, and his hair and mustache were immaculately trimmed and oiled. The leather of his gloves, boots, even saddle and bridle, were of the highest quality and intricately tooled. Clearly this was a man of some importance and substance.

“You have come to the lands of County Tribruit,” said the knight. “I am Earl Meilyr, and I suffer no one to pass beyond my lands. You have entered into a dangerous and forbidden realm. We are just men, but beyond are monsters and a land of the lost. Allow us to escort you back, from whence you came, without quarrel.”

“I can not agree to your terms, sir,” said Herringdale. “I have come in search of the King of the Forest Sauvage, and I will not be turned from my quest.”

“Then you must remain here as my hostage until ransom is received. Until that time, you are a guest in my castle.”

Wounded as he was, Herringdale had little choice but to accept Meilyr’s terms. Shortly, his squire—who we would soon dub Baldrick for reasons that will become apparent—and pack horse, having been left behind at the border post, were delivered, and Baldrick was told he was to carry word of Herringdale’s capture back to Salisbury.

“My lord,” said Baldrick, “I have a cunning plan.”

See, one of the tricks to running a single-player campaign is that you have to make up for the lack of the “dice pool” that a group of players represents. In other words, if you have a roll that the whole group gets to try, and you have three to five people all rolling, odds are good that someone will come up with a success. Certainly if everyone fails, it’s not for lack of trying. With a single player, on the other hand, it’s always make or break. So I try to have, as much as possible, helpful NPCs around to add some dice rolls when things are crucial. Call it the “henchman effect.”

At this point, the scenario mentioned that with a critical Courtesy roll, a plan could be put forth that would allow a hostage knight to continue on into the forest. I called for a Courtesy roll from Herringdale. Failed. I decided the squire, as a knight in training, might get a shot. Not knowing the squire’s Courtesy skill, I did the “double d20 method”—roll a d20 to generate the actual skill rating, then a second d20 to generate the result. First roll came up a “4”. Second roll (with a second dice) came up…“4”. And thus was born Baldrick.

So what’s the cunning plan? As the GPC puts it:

Once a knight gives his word and his squire is sent, then honor requires that it is, among gentlemen, as good as paid. And so, considering that fact, perhaps the earl will allow the party to depart into the dangers beyond? The earl is amused, and allows this.

And so, as Baldrick rode back to deliver word of the ransom, Herringdale was allowed to go on alone into the forest. Never say this guy isn’t brave, if nothing else. Nor is he completely stupid. With the Earl’s permission, Herringdale stayed on at Castle Tribruit for three months in order to gain back all the hit points he’d lost in combat against the Knight of Tusks, Sir Cynrain, and the Earl’s guards. During this time, he heard many tales of the Earl’s valiant efforts to fight against the  dangers, unnatural and natural, of the woods—the periodic raids from savage forest folk, strange creatures, and fell magicks. Several of the Earl’s household knights, Herringdale found out, were actually strangers who, like him, had been taken hostage by Meilyr and, after hearing his tales, decided not to pay their ransom but to instead stay on in his service. Although he admired the Earl and his brave men, Herringdale was not similarly tempted. He rested, ate well, and healed up. Then he headed off into the forest alone. Best to be fully prepared, right?

Riding through the town of Alchester, Herringdale was soon back into the dense, dark forest, making his way along the thin trail towards Rainsborough, the eastern edge of County Tribruit. The border guards there, a haggard bunch of hardened veterans, gave Herringdale space in one of their huts to sleep, but refused to speak of anything having to do with a King of the Forest or anything else even vaguely supernatural in nature.

The next day, Herringdale plunged off into the woods. He had been told by the Earl that if he stayed on the path he would eventually come upon a certain Buckingham Castle, but he had no idea how far that ride might be.

As it turned out, Herringdale made the journey in a bit less than a day’s time. Arriving at Buckingham, another wooden motte-and-bailey, he was introduced to the castle’s lord, Sir Yves, a lithe, slightly-built knight with a cunning look to his eyes. Sir Yves informed Herringdale as the gloom gathered overhead that he offered no man hospitality lest that man engage in a horse race, for racing horses was Sir Yves’ favorite way to pass the time.

Giving his word that they would race the next day, Herringdale was allowed to sleep in the lord’s hall. The next morning, bright and early, Sir Yves was ready to take his guest out along the race path. The two men walked the path, so as to be equally familiar with it. It looked to be a fairly easy route that twisted and ran through the woods, up and down some gentle slopes and over a small rivulet before arriving back at the castle. Satisfied, Herringdale went back to mount up for the race.

Unfortunately, he would be riding his charger Lightning—not really a race horse, and temperamental like all warhorses. But it was his only horse besides his pack horse, so he had little choice. For his part, Sir Yves had a fine looking courser named Thought. Herringdale thought little of his odds of winning, but the condition was merely that he race Sir Yves, not that he defeat him.

With most of the castle staff assembled to cheer on their lord, the two riders met up outside the gates. At Herringdale’s signal they were off. Almost immediately, Sir Yves and Thought pulled ahead. Worse, Herringdale quickly became aware that the course seemed to have changed rather dramatically. It was nowhere near as well-marked as when he’d walked it, and there were fallen tree trunks and other obstacles in his way. As he rode on, the trail became harder and harder to follow, then he lost sight of it and Sir Yves entirely. After riding for a short distance more, Herringdale came to the sinking conclusion that he had managed to get himself lost in the Forest Sauvage.

Des wasn’t too pleased with this turn of events, but I know I was happy—now I could break out the awesome “Lost in Sauvage” table. Sweet! But first Des wanted to make another Hunting roll to find her way back to Buckingham. I decided to allow it. After all, any Hunting roll in Sauvage comes with a whopping -15 modifier. To offset this, she decided to invoke a Passion. She chose Loyalty (Lord)—Herringdale had sworn an oath to Countess Ellen to complete this quest, and getting lost was about the worst thing he could do at this point. Unfortunately, the Passion roll was a failure. Sinking into melancholia, Herringdale rode off into the woods, becoming thoroughly and irrevocably lost.

I rolled for Day One on the “Lost in Sauvage” table: “Bandits (1d3)”. The d3 roll came up “1”, so Herringdale was eventually shaken out of his melancholic reveries by a filthy woodsman trying to rob him with a pointy stick. One swipe of the sword and the woodsman bothered Herringdale no more. But where in the name of all the saints was he?

With only his personal effects and what he was wearing to his name, things were looking pretty grim. Herringdale found a small brook and settled in for an uncomfortable night in the forest. Once the sun went down, the woods were pitch black and Herringdale slept fitfully. Periodically the shriek of an owl, growl of a woodland creature, or—once—childlike giggling startled him out of his sleep. He said a prayer of thanks when the light of dawn began filtering through the canopy overhead.

Without a clue of where to proceed, Herringdale picked a random direction and headed off. The day passed without incident, and again he made camp and passed the night fitfully. His meager provisions were quickly running out, but the forest seemed mostly empty of game. Another day and night passed uneventfully, and the last of Herringdale’s rations were used up.

The following day, as he searched for water and edible mushrooms, Herringdale came upon a fairly robust stream. He decided to follow it upstream and see where it might lead. As he rode alongside the brook, the land became increasingly hilly and rough. After about an hour, he could sense Lightning getting nervous. Soon after this, he spotted a large, breadloaf-shaped hill up ahead through the trees. No trees grew on it save one at the summit, a blackened, dead oak, its gnarled branches twisting up to the leaden sky overhead. Beneath the matrix of roots, Herringdale could make out a large burrow that looked to have been carved out of the earth with giant claws. As he took this in, the smell of rotting meat was wafted to his nostrils by a chill breeze. Unnerved, Herringdale turned Lightning around to go back the way he’d come.

Standing in his way, about twenty yards into the trees, was what looked like an old crone. Her skin was a strange livid blue, or so it seemed in the half-light of the woods. Dressed in filthy rags, her hair hanging in ragged strips, her back bent, Herringdale could make out her ropy arms that terminated in large hands tipped with black, iron nails and her rictus grin revealing a row of teeth filed to jagged points. The grin began to grow wider and wider until it seemed to literally stretch from ear to ear of the crone’s face—then it grew some more. The mouth opened and opened and opened until it seemed wide enough to swallow Herringdale’s head in a single gulp. Then the screech started, an unearthly scream that tore at Herringdale’s ears and filled his veins with ice water.

Even with a high Valorous, a -10 modifier such as that imposed by the scream would hurt anyone’s odds, and Des blew Herringdale’s Valorous check. Blindly, he dug his spurs into Lightning, who was whinnying in terror, and horse and rider tore off into the woods. Behind them, the hag, still screaming, lept Evil Dead-style high into the air. Herringdale could hear the doppler scream coming down from above. Flailing blindly with his sword, he failed to land a blow against the incoming hag, who landed on Lightning’s haunches, bringing the horse down as she sank her iron claws into the hapless beast. Herringdale was sent flying.

Landing softly on a bed of decaying leaves, he was up in a flash and running for his life, the sounds of Lightning’s screams and the rending of the horse’s limbs ringing in his ears as the hag began to gorge herself. And that’s what happens when you roll “Fae Encounter” on the “Lost in Sauvage” table. Sheesh.

Things were indeed looking grim for Herringdale now. Out of provisions, without a horse, hopelessly lost in an evil, enchanted forest. Things began looking up a bit over the next two days—consecutive rolls of “Beast Encounter” put Herringdale in contact first with a boar, then a fallow deer. Both animals were successfully run to ground by the knight, who hacked both to pieces with his sword and devoured as much raw flesh as he could cram into his empty stomach.

Then, after a week of wandering through the woods, Herringdale caught a real break. I rolled a “20” on the “Lost” table: “Local Inhabitant”. Herringdale was saved! It played out thusly:

Early that day, he found a fairly large river and began following it downstream. Presently, the river led to a clearing and a ford. At the ford, Herringdale saw a curious sight: a knight had set up camp alongside a trail that crossed the ford. Tent, horses, the whole deal. By the looks of it, the camp had been there a while—dead leaves were clustered in the folds of the tent roof, and so forth. Why would a knight camp out in the open for such an extended period of time like this? Herringdale approached cautiously.

When he came up close to the tent, he was met by a tall, finely-featured knight emerging from the tent.

“Greetings, traveler!” said the knight. “I am known as Sir Lance.”

“Er, greetings,” said Herringdale, somewhat confused. “I am Sir Herringdale of Salisbury.”

“My, my,” said Sir Lance, picking a twig out of the links of Herringdale’s armor, “but you have been through the mill, haven’t you? Come rest and refresh yourself inside my tent.”

Inside were two folding stools and a small table laid out with a pitcher of wine, a loaf of bread, and selection of cheeses. Herringdale ate hungrily. Once he was sated, Sir Lance smiled.

“Better? Good. How about a joust?”

“A…joust?” asked Herringdale. He’d never heard the word before.

“I will show you. Come.”

Sir Lance rose and headed out of the tent, Herringdale following curiously behind. In the clearing beyond the tent were two horses and about a dozen spears—or so they appeared. Sir Lance showed Herringdale how the spear shafts had been scored in a way to make them more likely to break apart on impact, and how the spearheads had been replaced with stuffed leather pads. He then explained the idea behind jousting “in the upcoming manner,” as he put it. Herringdale was a bit bemused by the whole thing, but agreed to give it a try.

“Excellent!” said Sir Lance. He mounted his charger and indicated for Herringdale to mount the other horse. They rode out to opposite ends of the field. Sir Lance saluted Herringdale.

“Ready?” he shouted. Herringdale nodded. “Good—have at you!

Sir Lance charged, and Herringdale did the same. Call it beginner’s luck, but when the dust cleared and Herringdale was bringing his horse around, Sir Lance was laid out on the ground. But he quickly sprang to his feet, beaming.

“Well done, sir! Best two of three? Have at you!

On the second pass, Sir Lance fumbled and struck Herringdale’s horse.

“Drat! That disqualifies me automatically. Well played, sir.”

Herringdale wasn’t sure he should be thanked for something that he still didn’t fully understand, but he decided to press his advantage.

“Tell me,” he said, “have you ever heard of the King of the Forest Sauvage?”

“Indeed I have,” answered Sir Lance. “There is much I know, though little I can tell.”

“What can you tell?” asked Herringdale, a little irritated.

“Come, let us ride back to Castle Brun,” said Sir Lance. “I will talk more there.”

The pair rode back along the trail and soon arrived at a wooden motte-and-bailey castle.

“The lord here is Sir Garmon,” Sir Lance informed Herringdale. “He is a most gracious host.”

As Herringdale entered the bailey, he was met by a knight of tremendous dimensions, a proverbial jolly fat man who welcomed Herringdale with a terrific belly laugh and hearty slap on the back.

“Come!” said Garmon. “We were just getting set to sit down to a feast!”

Still weak from his ordeal in the woods, Herringdale couldn’t refuse the offer. He was led to the castle’s hall, where he found several tables groaning under the weight of a sumptuous feast. There were around a dozen other knights there, and Herringdale gladly joined in the gorging that soon transpired. The fact that Sir Lance had taken his leave little bothered Herringdale at the moment.

Hours later, his belly fit to burst, Herringdale was shown to his chambers, a private room with down mattresses, silken pillows, comforters, the works. He slept the sleep of angels that night and awoke completely refreshed. Despite his intention to speak to Sir Lance, Herringdale was soon swept up in another all-day feast. By the time it was over, he was ready for bed again. Again he rested well.

The third day, he was determined to go back to Sir Lance’s camp and ask him some questions. Sir Garmon begged Herringdale to stay, but the knight was in earnest to get back on track with his quest. And so Herringdale left the Castle of Ease and sought out Sir Lance again.

(Des dodged a bullet here; she kept making Herringdale’s Energetic rolls or missing his Lazy rolls. Had she made a Lazy roll at any point, Herringdale would have found himself lost in ease and comfort for the remainder of the year…)

After a couple more passes of the joust (“Have at you!”), Sir Lance shared what he could about the King.

“He lives in the heart of the forest. Many have sought for him, and a few have found him.”

“Like who?” asked Herringdale.

“Oh, let’s see…Sir Sun…Sir Moon…”

“I see…” said Herringdale. “How do I find him?”

“Take the road north out of Brun and you will come to it in time. As you are such a natural at the joust, please take my compliments and my horse. I have more in the stables back at Castle Brun.”

Thanking Sir Lance for his generosity, Herringdale rode north. By mid-afternoon, he reached a small town set among the trees of the forest. Despite its remote location, the town seemed almost unnaturally clean and prosperous. Men and women wore the finest linens and silks; even the dogs and goats seemed well-groomed. The center of town was dominated by a bustling market. Hitching his mount, Herringdale toured the merchants’ tents and saw wares of such variety and fine manufacture as he had only seen before in London.

But he had not come to shop. Spotting two town guardsmen, Herringdale approached. They greeted him with friendly smiles.

“Good day,” said Herringdale. “Tell me, how do I get to the Castle of the King of Sauvage?”

“Ah, you’re almost there, sir,” said one of the guards. “Just head down that path there.”

“Oh!” said Herringdale, somewhat startled by receiving such a straight answer for once. “Thank you very much indeed.”

He was quickly back on his horse and off down the path. Presently, as he rode along, things started to look increasingly familiar. Then he spotted it: Castle Buckingham! What deviltry was this? Approaching the gates, Herringdale was ushered in and met with Sir Yves.

“Lord Herringdale! So good to see you! We had feared we lost you for good in that race.”

“I survived, although my horse did not, alas,” Herringdale replied. “Tell me, I was directed here when I inquired in the last town about the location of Castle Sauvage…”

“Not here,” said Yves. “But your other horse and equipment are here, safe and sound.”

“Oh, thank you. Excellent,” said Herringdale, pleased but somewhat distracted by the strange directions he’d received. “Well, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be on my way. I should still have enough light to make it back to that town and see what’s going on.”

Sir Yves bid Herringdale farewell, and he rode back along the path to the market town. He spotted the same two guards, who apologized for their poor directions and pointed Herringdale down another path. He didn’t have far to ride down that path before he recognized he was on the trail back to Castle Brun. Cursing, he wheeled his horse around and headed back once again towards the market town.

“See here,” he said to the guards, who were still smiling insipidly at him, “do you have a lord in this God-forsaken town?”

The guards pointed him towards a manor house occupied by Squire Tovus. Herringdale prevailed on the squire’s hospitality and spent the night at the hall; in the morning, he suited up and headed out the only way he could—the third road out of town led north.

After a couple hours of riding, Herringdale saw it rising out of the forest ahead: a grand castle constructed of red granite. In the morning sun it seemed to glow with a pinkish hue. The drawbridge to the front gate was down, and Herringdale rode across. Inside the gate, Herringdale was met by several footmen. Just beyond the gate, two knights rode up; one bore a device of the Sun, the other a device of the Moon. They watched calmly as the guards questioned Herringdale.

“I am a knight of Salisbury,” said Herringdale. “I was sent here by Merlin the Magician to ask the King of Sauvage about the heir of Uther.”

The Moon Knight nodded to the guards, and Herringdale was allowed to pass. The Sun Knight then led Herringdale through the bailey, which was large enough to contain an entire town. It was a prosperous and well-appointed town, and workers moved to and fro, busily engaged in their labors. From a couple second-story windows, Herringdale caught sight of ladies watching him pass. One waved at him with her kerchief.

Yet there was something strange about it all—the residents of the town did not speak. The whole town was filled with eerie silence, the scuffing of shoes and the occasional slamming of a door or window shutter the only sounds to be heard.

Up ahead loomed a great, crimson citadel, strands of ivy snaking up the lower reaches of the great stone walls. Wondering at the sight, Herringdale dismounted and climbed up the stairs leading within the citadel. He came into a large antechamber. Servants dressed in a livery of red and green moved to and fro, engaged in their busy tasks but not acknowledging Herringdale. At the end of the antechamber was a great set of double doors, presumably leading to the hall beyond. Not wanting to be presumptuous, Herringdale had a seat on a long bench set against the wall and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Three hours later, he finally stood, stretched, and headed for the doors. He found one slightly ajar. Pushing on it, he peaked his head through. Beyond stretched a massive Great Hall, twice the size of Sarum’s. It was empty. At the far end sat an empty throne. Suddenly, Herringdale saw some movement off to the side—it was a dwarf, busily fussing with a tapestry.

“Oh!” said the dwarf, startled as Herringdale stepped into the hall and cleared his throat. “Ah, you must be the visitor.”

“Yes, I am. I have come to ask the Sauvage King a question.”

“That may well be,” said the dwarf, “but the King isn’t here right now. We’re having a feast tonight, and you’re invited to join us, though.”

Herringdale accepted.

“Very well,” said the dwarf, clapping his hands to signal a servant. “Take our guest to his quarters.”

Herringdale was led up a winding spiral staircase and to a small but nicely-appointed bedchamber. Servants brought bowls of clear water and towels for washing up, as well as clean garments to wear to the feast. Herringdale disarmed and donned the new clothes. He took in the view of the town below from his tower window, then laid down on the bed and dozed until a knock at his door woke him.

It was after dark, and the page indicated the feast was set to begin. Herringdale went back down the stairs and found the hall filled with tables and diners, the air filled with the buzz of conversation. As a guest of honor, Herringdale was brought to the High Table and seated next to the empty throne. To his left was a beautiful woman with auburn hair and fair skin. To her left was the dwarf. On the other side of the throne was a nobleman who was the equal in fair appearance to the lady Herringdale sat beside. His delicate hands wore a jeweled ring on each finger, his clothes were of the finest brocades and silks. He gave Herringdale a friendly nod as he sat.

The feast was excellent, if a bit exotic—many of the dishes served Herringdale had never seen before. But even the raw fish wrapped in rice and the strange noodle dishes with red sauce, despite Herringdale’s initial skepticism, were delicious and filling.

As the feast wound down, Herringdale turned to the lady seated beside him.

“Excuse me. I don’t mean to be a bother, but when is the King expected back?”

“The King is here, but he refuses to meet any guests until they prove their worth by passing the Three Challenges,” replied the Lady.

“What might those be?” Herringdale asked.

“There is a single challenge administered by myself, the Dwarf, and the Gallant,” she replied, indicating the other two people seated at the table. “You are free to stay here as long as you like, but you may only attempt to pass each Challenge once per year. Fail a single Challenge and you must wait until next year to try again.”

“Very well,” said Herringdale. “When can I attempt the first Challenge?”

“Tomorrow, if that suits you,” said the Lady.

“It does,” said Herringdale. “On the morrow then.” With that, he dismissed himself and retired for the evening, unsure of what he’d find the next day.

As it turned out, what he found was the Dwarf setting up a chessboard at the High Table.

“Ah, Sir Herringdale. Have a seat and let’s play some chess,” said the Dwarf.

At this point, Des started rolling really hot. Des managed to outroll the Dwarf, despite his Gaming skill of 20. She even beat him in an opposed roll of Heraldry lore (although the scenario’s unclear as to whether that roll is required to win the Challenge as well).

The Dwarf congratulated Herringdale on a game well-played and the stimulating conversation and informed him that his second challenge with the Gallant would take place the next day at the castle’s mews.

Perhaps it was memories of Herringdale’s time with Jordans in the mews all those years ago, but he arrived at the falconry the next day feeling a bit in the mood for love. The Gallant’s handsome face didn’t hurt matters, and Herringdale had a difficult time concentrating on the rules laid out by the Gallant.

Each hawk in the mews, the Gallant explained, represented a virtue: Chastity, Energy, Generosity, Modesty, and Temperance.

“Choose one,” said the Gallant.

Herringdale chose the Modest hawk. The Gallant took the Energetic one and they set out into the woods. On the way, Des volunteered a Flirting roll to see if she could get some response out of the Gallant. Again, Herringdale showed his true colors as the Flirting roll came up a success!

Herringdale’s Falconry skill was still quite low, so it was well that he averaged that with his Modest trait to generate an effective skill. Unfortunately for Herringdale, despite a successful roll from Des, I rolled a Crit for the prey’s Avoidance. The rabbits were keeping underground that day it seemed. As compensation, Herringdale managed a successful Lustful roll, and he and the Gallant spent the remainder of the afternoon in pleasant pursuits.

Returning to the castle, Herringdale knew he’d have to wait out the winter and try again next year. He couldn’t help but worry about his home and family. His ransom as a banneret was a whopping £150—that was sure to put a crimp in the manor’s income for some time to come, to put it mildly. And what of Countess Ellen and the Saxon alliance? What fate was befalling Salisbury while Herringdale was lost in the forest?

He took his mind off such matters by practicing his Falconry every day and dallying with the Gallant every evening. By the time of the first snowmelt, he’d boosted his Falconry skill a whopping 6 points. Would it be enough to win the second Challenge and hopefully pave the way to meeting the King of the Forest Sauvage? Only time would tell…


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