This third session of our year 515 marked the culmination of the Grey Knight adventure. Thoughts on the module will follow the summary of events.
We last left Herringdale & Co. as they made their approach to the priory of the Queen of the Wastelands. After several days of wandering about those cursed lands, hungry and thirsty, wounded and depleted, the priory – small and humble though it was – shone like a beacon of hope, its white walls gleaming in the early morning sunlight. Descending into the vale where the priory sat, Herringdale kept his eye fixed on his destination as he fought his way through tangled growths of dead bracken and brush. After a couple hours of arduous travel, Herringdale and his companions arrived at the front gate of the priory.
The walls were no longer shining as they had appeared at dawn, but the grounds were an island of green welcome amid the surrounding desolation. Waiting at the door, watching Herringdale ride forth on his weary steed, was a woman in a simple, somewhat moth-eaten gray nun’s habit. Her face bore a gentle expression, and Herringdale could see her great beauty shining through in spite of her modest attire.
“I seek for the Queen of the Wastelands,” said Herringdale as he approached and dismounted.
“Some have called me that,” replied the nun. “Some have called me the Queen of Most Riches in the World. Yet, my life of riches never pleased me so much as my life of poverty does. Come in, good sir knight, and tell me of what you have seen in this poor land.”
With Baldrick and Diarmuid in tow, Herringdale entered the priory and was immediately transported to a world of simple comforts. The cold in his bones was banished by a crackling fire, his thirst was slaked by frothing ale, his empty belly filled by hearty bread, fresh cream, and honey. Once he had eaten his fill, he began to talk with the Queen, answering her questions and telling her his tale, withholding nothing.
“The monastery you visited was the home of a succubus, a beast from Hell,” said the Queen. “The monk was the last remaining of the order, which was systematically drained by the demon and her servant. He was once the High Abbot of the order, but he traded his soul to Satan in exchange for eternal youth.”
Baldrick genuflected as Herringdale shivered, silently thanking the Lord that he had made it out of there alive.
“Satan stalks the Wastelands in many guises anon,” said the Queen. “Witness the serpent you defeated – that, too, was an aspect of the Enemy. But do not despair. The lion was a messenger from the Lord, sent to show you the way and prove your cause was just.”
“What of the lion cubs?” Herringdale asked. “They seemed…strange, somehow. And what of the boy?”
“The boy represented the spawn of Satan, the lions the young knights who will face him in mortal combat one day. These are events that will come to pass after your time has come, Sir Herringdale.”
The Queen fixed Herringdale with a penetrating gaze to match his own, but Herringdale held his resolve. After several moments passed, the Queen rose.
“Come and pray with me,” she said. The Queen swept from the hall and Herringdale followed. She led him to a small chapel, where they knelt before a hand-carved altar and began to pray for guidance. They prayed for several hours straight. At last, the Queen unclasped her hands and turned to Herringdale.
“The Lord has shown favor upon your adventure, good sir knight. In his name, I bid you go to the Forest Arroy and seek out the Castle of Hautdesert. He that dwells within is your gate to the prize you seek – the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud.”
Herringdale remembered Diarmuid telling him of this treasure during their journey: it was said that any weapons sharpened with the Whetstone would slay the first foe it cut thereafter. As Herringdale rose from the altar, he felt completely refreshed and restored. Without looking, he could tell that the many hurts he had acquired during his travels through the Wastelands had been miraculously and completely healed. His heart brimming with hope again, he thanked the Queen profusely.
As it had grown late, the Queen granted the travelers permission to stay the night in the priory. They slept in the small hall near the fire. As they fell asleep, they went over their options. The Forest Arroy lay to the south of their present location, along the border of the kingdom of Gomeret. There were three possible paths they could take: the most direct route would be to ride south overland, through the Perilous Forest; they could retrace their steps to Penrith Castle, thence south to Lambor Castle and then west; or they could ride north to the port city of Carduel and embark on a ship to sail south.
In any event, their destination would be the City of Legions, which lay at the base of the Wirral Peninsula, the Arroy Forest all around it. After due consideration, Herringdale elected to take the least obvious but potentially quickest route, the third option of making north for Carduel for an ocean-borne passage.
And so the next morning the trio departed, restocked with food and drink. Following the Queen’s directions, they made their way north through the Wastelands. After two days’ travel they began to see green again. Herringdale had quite forgotten that it was nearing summer and that in the rest of the land the trees were flush with leaves, the flowers in bloom, and the fields ripe with growing crops. A fresh sea breeze blowing off the Irish Sea caressed his cheek, as if welcoming him back to the real world. The remainder of the ride to Carduel was uneventful, and Herringdale arrived in the bustling outpost of civilization anchored on the extreme western end of Hadrian’s Wall under a sky of ragged gray clouds.
Wending his way through the muddy streets, Herringdale made for the port proper in search of a ship. After asking around a bit, he found a captain who was preparing to set sail for the City of Legions the day after next. Resigning himself to waiting and noting the ever-shortening deadline, Herringdale passed his time in quiet contemplation as a guest of the City Council of Carduel.
In due time, the southbound cog departed the sheltered harbor with Herringdale and his companions aboard. Herringdale passed the time at sea by entertaining the small crew with tales of his past exploits, often accompanied by Diarmuid and his harp. Every night the cog would put in at a cove or small fishing village along the coast, but they were making good time by day with favorable winds at their backs.
Their luck ran out on the third and final day of travel. The ship had just put to sea as the sun rose over the eastern horizon when the lookout spotted a striped sail on the horizon. The atmosphere on board became immediately tense – it had the unmistakable look of a Saxon longship. Worse, it appeared to be set on a course to intercept the cog.
As the longship drew closer, Herringdale could make out its decks bristling with Saxon pirates. The captain ordered his crew to strike the sail and arm themselves. The longship was too fast to outrun, and the Saxons could not be relied upon to grant mercy or clemency if they took the ship. Herringdale’s eyes flashed as the familiar hatred for his Saxon foes boiled up inside him. As the ship drew within bowshot, he donned his armor (with Baldrick’s assistance, of course) and took his place at the captain’s side, sword and shield in hand.
The longship came up alongside the cog. Herringdale could clearly see the faces of the Saxon sea dogs, rangy and bearded, all beating their shields and hurling invective. They hurled something else, as well: javelins came flying from behind the shield wall, landing amidst the crew, one even bouncing off Herringdale’s shield. Barely had the javelin volley landed when the Saxons began swarming over the lower decks, axe blades and spear points flashing.
Herringdale and the captain defended the aft-castle of the cog heroically, but the swarm of Saxons was too much and they were pressed back, losing their height advantage. Herringdale, fighting three Saxons at once, backpedaled furiously and, footing unsure on the swaying deck, tripped over his own feet and fell sprawling to the deck.
That might have been the end of him had not the captain placed himself between Herringdale and the oncoming pirates. The captain’s valorous action came at a great price, for he was struck down by the screaming Saxons. Herringdale had gained precious seconds to regain his feet, however, and he exacted a bloody vengeance in the captain’s name, hewing the pirates with his bloody blade. They began to give back before his furious onslaught, then parted as their own captain – a grizzled, bearded bear of a man wielding a two-handed axe – ascended the stairs to the aft-castle.
The combat was over quickly. Boiling with Saxon-hate, Herringdale launched himself at the pirate captain and cut him down…then hoisted the captain’s headless corpse above his head and hurled it down onto the screaming pirates below. Blood-soaked and wild-eyed, he stood at the edge of the aft-castle.
“Who’s next?” he bellowed.
The pirates took the hint and went pouring off the cog like rats from a sinking ship, tripping and pushing each other in their haste to be the first off the vessel. Within mere minutes, the Saxons had abandoned the cog and set sail in search of easier prey.
The final casualty tally was surprisingly low. The captain was the only fatality among the crew, although two other men had been severely wounded and most everyone bore some kind of hurt. Only Herringdale was untouched, and he quickly rallied the sailors, exhorting them to do their best to bring the cog into port.
This they did, arriving in the port of the City of Legions as the day grew long. The captain’s body was taken from the ship first, a priest from the nearest church muttering benedictions over the corpse. Herringdale then departed with his horses and retinue, making for the center of town. Like Carduel, the City was a former Roman outpost and so was ruled by a Council rather than a lord. Although the hour was growing late, the Council readily assembled to meet with Herringdale once its members learned that such an august and renowned knight had arrived in their city.
“Good sirs,” said Herringdale, “I have come here on a quest at the behest of the High King. He has charged his knights with finding the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, and I have reason to believe the one I seek is somewhere in the neighboring Forest of Arroy. My destination is the Castle of Hautdesert.”
“The castle you seek lies further up the Wirral Peninsula. You are welcome to stay here as our guest until you are fit to depart.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I shall depart at once,” said Herringdale, “for I am in haste.”
The Council saw to sending Herringdale on his way, and he was soon riding upon a dim forest track leading northwest up the center of the Wirral. Although it was nearly evening, Herringdale rode on, rushing along the trail. As the last light of day faded from the sky overhead, he caught sight of his destination: the forest castle of Hautdesert.
The castle was relatively large and well-appointed for such a remote bastion. Herringdale found the door to be closed and barred. As there were no guards in sight on the walls, he resorted to knocking and calling out in hopes that someone would appear. Presently, a slot in a door built into the gates slid open, a pair of eyes looking out.
“Who goes there?” asked the voice of the porter from within.
“It is I, Sir Herringdale of Salisbury, Knight of the Round Table. I ride on a mission for the High King Arthur Pendragon and ask admittance to the Castle of Hautdesert if this be it.”
The slot slid closed and some seconds passed. Then there came a great bumping and creaking from within and the gate doors slowly opened up, pushed by a team of young squires. The porter smiled and bowed to Herringdale and beckoned him within.
Within the courtyard, the horses were tended to as the porter welcomed Herringdale and his companions to Hautdesert. Presently, a mountain of a man with a great bushy beard came bounding out of the hall, his white teeth flashing a broad smile.
“Sir Herringdale of Salisbury in the flesh!” the man boomed. He was clearly a knight; his tabard bore his coat of arms, a green battle axe on a field of white. “I am Sir Bercilak, lord of this demesne. Welcome to my hall!”
He shook Herringdale’s hand and led him into the hall, where a trestle table had just been laid out. Bercilak insisted Herringdale take the high seat and promised food and drink.
“Your horses are being seen to. If there is anything else you need, we are at your service,” said Bercilak. “My wife is an able seamstress and can effect any necessary repairs to your garments.”
At his words, a lovely lady entered the hall wearing a dress of red trimmed in white.
“My wife, the Lady Elavane,” said Bercilak, looking on with undisguised fondness. “If your weapons need sharpening or your armor patching, my smith can see to that as well.”
“Thank you very much indeed!” said Herringdale, impressed by the courtesy and hospitality on display at Bercilak’s hall. Before he could bring up the Whetstone and its whereabouts, though, a procession of pages entered the hall bearing cut meats, wine, bread, and a steaming tureen of stew.
Herringdale, Baldrick, and Diarmuid ate their fill, finding all the food and drink delicious. As they sat picking their teeth and quietly belching, Bercilak seated himself at the table.
“What brings you to my humble castle, Sir Herringdale?” he asked.
Herringdale told the whole story of the Easter tournament, the appearance of the Grey Knight and the doom that had befallen Gawaine, and of his ensuing quest. At last he got to the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud, and Bercilak’s smile faded. He exchanged a nervous glance with his wife. Bercilak stood and began pacing the hall, clearly disturbed. At last he spoke.
“I do know where the Whetstone is located. Unfortunately, I have given my word to reveal its location to no one. On the other hand, I never bargained on being asked by such an esteemed knight as your person,” he said, nodding to Herringdale. “Nor for such a worthy cause. I would help the High King and his nephew as I can. This bears some thinking about. Please stay as my guests for the night while I mull this over. I will have an answer for you on the morrow.”
“Very well,” said Herringdale, “but I remind you that time draws short and Gawaine’s doom draws ever nearer.”
“I will not keep you waiting if I can help it,” Bercilak promised.
Herringdale passed a night in Bercilak’s hall on comfortable mattresses that had been laid out near the fire, but he tossed and turned as he impatiently awaited the morning. At last the light of dawn began filtering in through the high windows and soon after Sir Bercilak appeared.
“I am sorry to say that I have not yet reached a conclusion. Perhaps a hunt will help me clear my head. Would you care to join me?” he asked Herringdale.
Herringdale assented, and soon both lords were mounted atop their swiftest steeds, their squires along with a baying pack of dogs and two huntmasters accompanying them as they set out into the forest. Diarmuid had remained behind to play chess with Lady Elavane. After entering the woods, it wasn’t long before the dogs flushed a fox from the undergrowth and the chase was on!
Herringdale pursued the dogs, getting out far ahead of Bercilak. He found the fox at bay, the dogs harrying it. Clutching his spear, Herringdale drove his horse forward. The fox snapped its jaws and growled and, somehow, slipped through the legs of Herringdale’s horse and took off again. The hunt resumed, but after taking his horse over wild, forested terrain hot on the fox’s heels, Herringdale at last cornered his prey. One spear thrust later and it was all over.
On the way back to the castle, Herringdale met up with Bercilak, who congratulated him on bagging the quarry, but he said nothing further regarding the Whetstone. Instead, he invited Herringdale to dine with him at dinner that afternoon. Herringdale had no choice but to accept, but he began to seriously wonder if Bercilak was ever going to reveal the location of the treasure he sought.
Dinner was roasted fox from the hunt served with wild mushrooms and pepper. Herringdale provided the entertainment again in the form of tales of his past adventures to the accompaniment of Diarmuid’s harp. Bercilak and Elavane hung on Herringdale’s every word and gasped and applauded at all the right times.
As the final course was cleared from the table, Bercilak drained his goblet. Wiping his beard with his sleeve, he smiled.
“It has been wonderful having you as a guest, Sir Herringdale,” he said. “We so rarely get such esteemed visitors in these parts. Who was our last guest of note, my dear?” he asked Elavane.
“I have to say it must be Morgan, but that seems ages ago!” she said, half-laughing.
“Arthur’s sister?” Herringdale asked.
“The same!” said Becilak. “And now the famous Sir Herringdale.” He paused, clearly at a decision point. Herringdale remained silent, watching cagily. “Very well,” said Bercilak at last. “I shall tell you the location of the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud. It is kept safe in the Kingdom of Inapercu. The kingdom lies very near and yet far away, if you follow me.”
Herringdale shook his head but Diarmuid nodded. “Go on,” said the bard.
“I can guide you there tomorrow,” said Bercilak. “On one condition: that you swear not to reveal to the inhabitants of that kingdom where you learned of the location of the Whetstone.”
Herringdale so swore, and dinner was adjourned. He passed another restless evening and night, anxious again for the dawning. He was up and armored before the sun crested the eastern horizon, and was pleased to find Sir Bercilak ready to go early as well.
“I will ride with you to the boundaries of the kingdom,” said Bercilak as they entered the Forest Arroy. “I dare not go further lest I fall prey to the vengeance of the lord of that kingdom.”
They rode on mostly in silence many miles into the Arroy woods. The forest around them became increasingly thick and untamed as the trail they followed became ever more poorly defined. At last Bercilak signaled a halt, though Herringdale could see no evidence of a border post or other landmark – to him it looked as if they were in just another nondescript stretch of the forest much like the miles they had ridden so far. But he could feel his horse growing tense beneath him as it nervously shook its head to and fro. He patted the beast on the neck to calm it as Becilak turned to speak.
“The Kingdom lnapercu lies just ahead. Keep to the path and pass to the left of the great oak. Once you have done so, move as silently as possible, speaking no word and listening with all your heart for music such as you have never heard before. When you hear it, you will have reached the Kingdom Inapercu. Good luck and may the Lord preserve you, good sir.”
With that Bercilak reined his horse about and rode back down the trail, hurrying to leave without a further word. His mouth dry, Herringdale led his retinue further down the path. Shortly they came to a great oak that grew right in the middle of the path. Following Bercilak’s instructions, Herringdale rode to the left of the tree and continued along the path. He remained silent, but the same could not be said of his horse or the other mounts; all were becoming increasingly agitated, whinnying and stamping and making a general racket in their agitation.
After about five minutes of riding, the path…ended. A great tree trunk lay across the road, and beyond was a thick wall of wood and bracken. Herringdale sat atop his agitated steed, trying to keep it under control, as he contemplated the meaning of this. Certainly this was not what Bercilak had indicated would happen.
“Let us return to the oak and try a different tack,” said Herringdale at last. They retraced their steps along the path and, reaching the oak, Herringdale had Baldrick set up camp on the path.
“Remain here with the horses,” he told his squire and the bard. “I shall try again on foot and see where that takes me. With any luck, I shall return shortly with the stone.”
Herringdale proceeded back down the path, on foot and alone, passing to the left of the oak. Although he did not notice it, there was an immediate change from the first trip – as he walked, the leaves on the trees around him gradually, subtly turned from the green of spring to the gold of autumn. What he did notice is that the tree trunk was not where he expected it to be, and that the road continued on through the woods where once it had ended.
He followed the trail for about a half-hour as the forest around him became increasingly thick and wild. Soon, in addition to the sound of his own boots on the trail, he could make out tinkling, bell-like music floating through the trees. The music grew steadily louder until suddenly, like a switch had been flipped, Herringdale was standing at the edge of the woods looking out over a wide field. Dotted in clusters across the plain were magnificent silk pavilion tents. In between these tents stood stands of flowers as tall as trees. Milling about in the center of the field was a great assembly of some of the strangers creatures Herringdale had ever seen. He was reminded of his visit to the court of the King of the Forest Sauvage, but taken up several notches.
A gaggle of foul little creatures leered out from near the edge of camp; despite their diminutive size, they exuded deadly menace, and Herringdale felt his blood freeze as he looked at them. Steeling his resolve, he stepped forward into the field, which was crowded with folk of a much more pleasant aspect. There were many knights and ladies about. Some knights were mounted on fabulous horses who not only appeared to be some of the finest steeds Herringdale had ever seen, but also displayed a riotous variety of colors: some were red, others green or blue, while others had strange striped patterns. Their riders wore armor of a make Herringdale had never seen, much of their extremities being covered by carapaces of metal that made them look like giant steel insects. Their helmets bore fabulous plumes and crests and their surcoats were in a rainbow of silken colors.
The ladies of the court – for there could be little doubt this was an assemblage of nobility – were even more finely attired, all of them possessing a certain unearthly beauty. Overhead flitted small creatures that resembled children no larger than Herringdale’s palm, butterfly wings growing from their backs. Here and there were more of the malevolent creatures, but their ugliness was more than counterbalanced by the shimmering golden light that seemed to emanate from the courtiers.
Herringdale realized that he was standing dumbstruck, staring – and that everyone on the field was staring back in kind. They murmured to each other in a strange, melodious tongue as they gave Herringdale appraising looks. As he stepped further into the field, they parted ways to let him pass. Soon a passage had formed leading to a covered dais, upon which were seated a man and woman of surpassing beauty and elegance. The man rose, his rich robes of velvet and fur trimming draping across his lithe frame.
“Come forward, Sir Herringdale,” said the man.
Herringdale approached and bowed.
“It is not often that mortals tread these paths. Tell us how you came to know of our realm and what you seek here.”
“I have come to your realm by my own devices,” said Herringdale, “in a quest for the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud.”
“And why may that be?” asked the faerie king.
Herringdale told him the story of his quest (conveniently leaving out the part about Sir Bercilak, making it sound instead like he had figured out how to get to Inapercu himself [and earning a Deceitful check in the process]).
“The stone is indeed in our possession,” said the king when Herringdale at last finished his tale. “You may take it if you do us a favor first.”
“Very well,” said Herringdale, wondering what he could possibly provide these people.
[At this point the adventure leads to a confrontation with a giant that has stolen a special horse. As I was about to move things in that direction I realized that I’d already lifted that segment for an adventure I ran in my 2006-2008 campaign, of which Des was a participant. Not wanting to repeat myself and thinking fast, I fell back on one of the short, period-appropriate adventures included in every portion of the GPC.]
“My Lady Arawn’s flock of golden sheep has been much vexed by an evil creature that dwells in marshes nearby. It is a foul bird known by some as the boobrie. I task you with killing the beast and returning with one of its feathers as proof. Do this and you shall have the whetstone.”
Herringdale agreed to take on the mission and, after getting directions to the marsh, departed at once. He found Baldrick and Diarmuid waiting back at the oak. Strangely, they swore upon their lives that only mere minutes had passed since Herringdale had left them. All the better to make the most of the day, Herringdale thought as he mounted his charger.
They plunged into the woods, making their way around tangled patches of bracken and thick growths of ancient trees. Following the faerie king’s directions, Herringdale found the ground beneath growing increasingly marshy and muddy. After a couple hours, the party arrived at the edge of a great marshy lake.
Herringdale took his horse around the edge of the lake, his keen eyes scanning the marshy ground for tracks. Soon he picked up a trail, tracks that looked like they were made by a bird the size of an ox. The boobrie gave itself away as Herringdale neared its lair among the reeds, unleashing a long, piercing shriek of warning. So chilling was its cry that both Baldrick and Diarmuid fled, but Herringdale rode his horse out into the water, sword drawn. The boobrie made its appearance, emerging from its lair and fixing Herringdale with a cold predatory gaze.
With Smuggie’s flanks splashing through the water, Herringdale charged. The boobrie’s great razor-sharp beak flashed, biting off a corner of Herringdale’s shield. He swung his sword in return, biting deep into the bird’s flesh, sending feathers flying. The creature gave another hideous cry that sent shivers up and down Herringdale’s spine and caused Smuggie to whinny with fright and buck, but he calmed his steed and fought on.
The fight was long but Herringdale was well-protected by his armor. Smuggie, on the other hand, bore several deep cuts from the bird’s merciless claws by the time Herringdale felled his foe. Taking a long feather from the boobrie’s crest, Herringdale dismounted and led his charger from the water.
Herringdale mounted his fresh rouncey and, telling Baldrick and Diarmuid to make camp and tend to Smuggie, he set off again for the Kingdom of Inapercu. It was mid-afternoon by the time he tied his horse to the oak tree and set off down the left-hand path. Thirty minutes later, he stood before the king, a feather held in his outstretched hand.
“Your lady’s sheep shall be troubled no more, highness,” said Herringdale. The king smiled as Lady Arawan burst into tears of joy and the assembled court gave a great cheer.
“Most excellent!” cried the king. “You must stay for a feast and tell us all about your adventure!”
In spite of himself, Herringdale agreed. The land of Inapercu was just so congenial, so strange and yet so comforting. To turn down an invitation to spend an evening feasting and talking with all these lovely people would be madness. He would come to regret his dalliance later, it would transpire, for he had less time remaining than he realized.
But in the meantime, Herringdale whiled away the evening, dining on food of a quality he had never experienced even in the courts of Uther and Arthur, drinking heady brews of ale and wine. The stand-out dish was a roasted white peacock in orange and peach sauce, which Herringdale devoured while being entertained by elfin musicians accompanied by nightingales and other songbirds.
Gradually everything started to sort of blur together, and without realizing it Herringdale drifted off to sleep. He awoke the next morning by his horse, lying against the roots of the oak. In his hand he could feel a heavy weight: looking down, he saw that he held a fine whetstone inscribed with intricate patterns of interweaving knots. Placing the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud in his belt pouch, Herringdale mounted his steed and rode away from Inapercu, glad to be back in his own world but sad to leave the revels of the faerie court behind all the same.
When Herringdale reappeared at camp, a very concerned Baldrick and Diarmuid peppered him with questions and he told them what had transpired. Diarmuid in particular was quite upset that he missed out on dining with a king of the Good Folk and pressed Herringdale for every detail he could remember.
After a bit of orienteering, the trio were soon back on the road, riding southeast for Logres. By mid-afternoon, however, they found their progress impeded by a nasty storm that had brewed up overhead, seemingly out of nowhere – one minute the sky was blue and sunny, the next a great leaden cloud had descended and unleashed a torrent of wind and rain.
The storm lashed at Herringdale, its periodic lightning flashes spooking his horses, the trail they were following swiftly turning to a muddy stream. Soaked to the bone within minutes, Herringdale pressed on miserably. The storm was still raging that evening when they sought shelter at the monastery of Bangor Iscoed.
“The storm arrived just before you lot!” said the monk who welcomed them into the courtyard, yelling over the howling wind and slashing rain.
That the weather had been set upon them by a malign force there could be little doubt, but Herringdale resolved to press on. The next day he made the best progress he could, vexed every step of the way by the storm. The third day was much the same, as was the fourth. In four days of travel, he had managed to cover barely 40 miles, but mercifully the weather cleared on the morning of the fifth day.
With dry roads and pleasant conditions ahead of them, the travelers made much better time. Nevertheless, by Herringdale’s reckoning Pentecost was only a week away and he was still in Gales. Riding hard, he led his entourage out of that wild land back into the civilized country of Logres. At every castle and manor in which he stopped to rest he was welcomed gladly, but he did not tarry longer than necessary.
The journey remained largely uneventful until Herringdale was three days out from London. As he led his entourage along a road bordering a wheat field, he heard the scream of a woman from up ahead. Squinting in the noonday sun, he could just make out a gaggle of men off the side of the road near the edge of the field.
Spurring his horse forward, he quickly closed the distance and as he rode up the men all looked round, surprised by his sudden appearance. They were clearly a ragtag bunch, ruffians and bandits by the look of them. In the center of their little knot Herringdale could now see a young damsel no older than 15 or 16 years. Her black hair and dress disheveled, her cheeks wet with tears, she gave him a pleading look as he approached. The bandits, for their part, reached for their weapons.
Herringdale needed no further excuse or explanation. Lowering his lance, he charged the bandits, scattering them like leaves. Although his lance failed to find its target, he had done enough. The men fled screaming into the field, which quickly swallowed them up. Herringdale elected not to pursue, instead dismounting to tend to the frightened maiden.
“Thank you, kind sir!” she said, her voice quaking. She knelt to kiss Herringdale’s mailed hand, but he would have none of that.
“I was only doing my duty as Marshall of Salisbury,” he replied gruffly. “What did those men want? What were you doing abroad without an escort?”
“Oh I know it was foolish of me!” wailed the girl. “But my father is ill and I thought to try to make for Arthur’s court in London. I actually seek for the Archdruid Merlin – my father is an old friend of his from the days of Vortigern. I had no one to escort me, but I thought it worth the risk. Those ruffians fell upon me just now, and if you hadn’t come along I daren’t think what might have…”
She trailed off. Herringdale’s stern expression softened to hear her desperate plight.
“Very well, then. I shall give you the escort you require. I happen to be on the way to London myself. You may ride along on my spare rouncey,” he said.
The maiden, who introduced herself as Gilegra, thanked Herringdale profusely and soon they were all back on the road. Their path took them through the town of St. Albans and into the Quinqueroi Forest. The forest road was sparsely populated, and the group was compelled to camp for the night under the boughs of a stand of elm trees.
It was a dark, moonless night, and Herringdale set the watch as the others drifted off to sleep inside his tent. He was surprised, an hour later, to see Gilegra emerge from the tent, fully dressed and pressing her finger to her lips. Quietly she approached.
“I have a confession,” she whispered to him once she’d drawn near. “My mission is bound to Merlin, but it is on his behalf that I travel. I bear a secret message from him that I am to deliver to you and you alone. I was looking for you on the road when I was set upon by those bandits.”
“What is this message?” Herringdale whispered back.
Gilegra cast a nervous glance back at the tent.
“I dare not give it to you here,” she whispered. “The bard you travel with is not to be trusted. Step away with me a ways into the woods that we may talk in secret, away from prying ears.”
Herringdale looked into her dark, innocent eyes and felt he could trust her. They walked off into the woods, Gilegra leading the way. She kept walking until the light of the camp fire was barely visible through the screen of intervening trees. She stopped and turned to face Herringdale, speaking now in a normal voice.
“Merlin is concerned about the treasure you carry,” she said. “He thinks it may be the one that is needed, but that time is running short and you may not make it. He bade me examine the treasure; if it is the right one, he will take steps to bring you to London quickly.”
Herringdale hesitatingly pulled the whetstone from his belt pouch and held it out. Gilegra examined it carefully.
“May I hold it?” she asked.
Herringdale paused – then handed it to her. [These interactions played out through a combination of role-playing and Trusting/Suspicious rolls. Despite Herringdale’s Directed Trait of Suspicious (Merlin), Trusting won out both times Des rolled it.]
Gilegra took the stone, smiled, and stepped back from Herringdale. She then thrust her arms out wide and let out a triumphant yell that sounded almost like a raven’s caw. Simultaneously, Herringdale could see black feathers erupting up Gilegra’s neck and face, her nose beginning to elongate into a beak…
He didn’t hesitate. In one swift motion, Herringdale drew his sword and lashed out at the Raven Witch. His blade cut through her in the midst of her transformation. She cried out again, this time in pain, as the blade bit deep and black feathers flew. The Whetstone dropped to the soft ground with a heavy thud and Gilegra took to the sky, fully transformed into a raven the size of a large dog. She quickly disappeared into the inky black night, still cawing indignantly, and Herringdale picked up the stone and placed it back in his belt pouch.
Returning to camp, he found Baldrick and Diarmuid waiting, having been awoken by Gilegra’s cries.
“We ride out at first light,” said Herringdale as he strode past them, offering no further explanation.
They rode hard all the next day and long into the evening. By their best reckoning, they were due to reach London the next day, and it was just as well, for that day happened to be Pentecost.
“With luck we’ll arrive before Gawaine must fight the Grey Knight,” said Herringdale as the trio rode through the swiftly darkening woods. As he spoke, he saw a modest cottage up ahead near the road, smoke drifting from its roof.
“We can stay here for the night,” he told his companions as they approached the hovel. It turned out to belong to a simple woodsman who was only too happy to put them up for the evening. But as they were finishing up their supper, a low growl sounded from the woods outside. Suspicious, Herringdale rushed to the window and saw a great pair of round glowing eyes approaching from out of the gloom, bounding along in a loping run. He had just enough time to draw his sword before a great dog lept in through the window, bowling him over.
The beast skidded to a halt in the middle of the cottage as everyone else screamed in terror. Regaining his feet, Herringdale could see why: this was no mere dog, but some sort of magical beast. Although it had the shape of giant canine, it bore glowing eyes the size of dinner plates, and every time it moved the sound of jangling chains could be heard.
With the others cowering in fear from the baleful gaze of the beast, it turned to face Herringdale, jaws slavering. Herringdale was only too aware that he was no longer in armor, but the yard of cold steel in his hand gave him some comfort.
The beast came at Herringdale and they met in mortal combat in the center of the cottage, scattering the dying embers of the fire pit, leaving the silver glow of the creature’s eyes as the only source of illumination. Herringdale’s sword cut deeply into the black flanks of the beast, and in return its massive jaws clamped down on his naked shield-arm, biting deep. Herringdale ignored the pain and hacked furiously, sending droplets of inky blood flying about the room. At last the dog-beast released its grip and fell to the floor with a great thump, its saucer-like eyes dimming to darkness. By the time the terrified cotter had re-lit the fire, the beast’s corpse had disappeared, confirming Herringdale’s suspicions that it had been called up from the Nether Reaches.
No one slept that night. Herringdale sat watch until a hour before dawn, when he and Baldrick began saddling up their horses. They rode out with Diarmuid, going hell for leather for London, terrified of what further infernal obstacles might be thrown in their way.
Fortunately, their unseen adversary seemed to have tapped out their bag of tricks, and nothing vexed them further; by mid-morning the great walls of London were coming into view up ahead. Herringdale urged his steed into a gallop, making for the tournament grounds outside the city. As he sped closer, he could see a great assemblage of people gathered on the grounds, a massive pavilion flying the royal arms of the High King, which hung limply in the still morning air.
The crowd on the grounds was massive – it seemed like every person in London and within three days’ ride had turned out. Herringdale jumped off his horse at the edge of the crowd and began pushing his way through. He could hear the sound of steel ringing on steel – the fight had begun already!
For what seemed like hours, Herringdale pushed his way through the tightly packed throng.
“Make way!” he shouted. “Make way, I tell you! I am on a mission for the King! Make way!!”
At last he reached the inner edge of the crowd and saw before him a terrible sight. Gawaine was facing off against the Grey Knight, who towered over him. The Grey Knight, despite his size advantage, had clearly been faring the worse for it – he bore many grievous wounds on his limbs and body, yet there was no sign of blood, nor did the Grey Knight seem the least affected. Gawaine, on the other hand, was visibly weary and blood-stained. Nonetheless, just as Herringdale arrived to see it, Gawaine hauled back and delivered a terrific blow to the Grey Knight’s helmeted head. So forceful was the strike that it sent the helm flying.
A great cheer went up from the crowd, one that quickly turned into shouts of horror and alarm. The Grey Knight’s face was that of a dead man’s: his skin was clammy white, eaten through by worms; his eyes were sunken into their sockets.
Time seemed to stand still as the screams faded. With a thrill of recognition, Herringdale realized who the Grey Knight was, for he had seen him before. Arthur recognized him too and cried out from his dais, “King Ryons!” Herringdale looked to the dais and saw Lady De Vance and her dwarf servant standing next to the High King. She wore a look of triumphant vengeance upon her twisted face.
Desperately, Herringdale looked about for some way to get the Whetstone to Gawaine. It was then that he spotted Gawaine’s squire Eliazar and inspiration struck. He rushed over to the squire and pressed the Whetstone into his hand, giving him a meaningful look. Eliazar understood immediately and rushed out onto the field as the two combatants prepared to renew their fighting.
“My lord’s sword is chipped!” cried Eliazar. “I demand the right to sharpen it before he resumes combat.”
Lady De Vance nodded and Eliazar quickly sharpened Gawaine’s sword as the crowd looked on, holding its collective breath. Gawaine thanked his squire, who whispered something in his ear before hurriedly departing the field.
Gawaine and Ryons began circling each other, each looking for an opening. The crowd gasped in worry as Ryons landed one, then two blows on Gawaine, drawing blood each time. But Gawaine pressed in and, raising his sword high, brought it down with a tremendous crash on the Grey Knight’s chest. The blade ripped through the dead king, who fell back with a look of shock on his rotting features. He hit the ground hard and, immediately, a foul stench poured out of the hole rent in his chest along with a fountain of maggots and worms. The flesh decayed almost instantly, leaving only an empty gray suit of armor.
Gawaine, soaked in his own blood, lifted his sword high.
“The truth has been proven. Hail Arthur Pendragon, rightful King of this shining realm!” he shouted. “Hail Sir Gawaine, the King’s Champion!” shouted the crowd in response – right as Gawaine collapsed to the ground.
A scream went up from the crowd as Eliazar and several others rushed to Gawaine’s aid. Lady De Vance, meanwhile, also rushed onto the field, but she ran to the empty armor of her dead paramour. She sat cradling it, weeping bitter tears, as Gawaine was conveyed off the field and the crowd erupted into a chaotic, confused, celebratory mass.
That afternoon, Herringdale appeared before King Arthur at the hall of the White Tower in London. Gawaine was confined to quarters, recovering but expected to survive.
“There are no words or gifts to express the deep sincerity of our gratitude,” Arthur told Herringdale before the assembled court. “You have only to name your reward and it shall be yours.”
“With all due respect, your majesty,” said Herringdale, “I’d like to go home and see my family.”
“Go with God and be well, Sir Herringdale. You are a credit to the Round Table and to my kingdom.”
As the court raised three cheers for Herringdale, he strode from the hall, his destination set on Du Plain castle.
Phew! What an adventure! The Grey Knight is justifiably one of the all-time classic Pendragon adventures. It was written by that master of picaresque blockbusters, Larry DiTillio, author of Masks of Nyarlathotep. As Mr. DiTillio writes in his Designer’s Notes at the end of the adventure, “I believe ‘The Grey Knight’ is the best scenario I have ever written.” I’d be inclined to agree.
As Mr. DiTillio points out, the scenario actually works best for a group of beginning knights. This is a perfect adventure for introducing Pendragon newbies, as it touches on pretty much all the classic bases: tournaments, affairs of honor, courtly intrigue, giants, faeries, magical McGuffins, the Wastelands, etc. Plus it introduces most of the major NPCs and is set early enough in the chronology that you can look forward to a nice long campaign if your group wishes. It would also work as a great one-shot adventure.
Although its impact was somewhat lessened by Herringdale’s world-weary, veteran status, we both had a great time playing through this scenario and I’m glad I finally got a chance to run it in full. On to the next adventure!