A Sword of Roses, City of the Legions

Barlyic called the column to a halt at the ruined villa. He scanned the snow-covered tree line for signs of life, as a group whispered to each other behind him.
“What is it, Eurians?”
The cleric approached and hovered just beyond his left shoulder. “Are you, uh… this may not be the best place to camp tonight, my liege.”
Barlyic turned his head, his left eyebrow in the air.
Eurians pursed his lips. “I mean, well, yes. There are rumors of haunting and foul work about this ruined house. There is also,” he paused again, taking a deep breath, “many poor memories of this place.”
“Have a care, Eurians!” reproached Bregor, the imposing Scotsman cleric that had traveled with the second company. “Our Lord is the Good God, his might is more than enough to settle unpopular memories and horror stories from beyond the grave! It has been far too long since Caer Legionis has had the blessing of Britons singing the psalms, after all.”
“You think to reproach me, Brother? Do you forget that I hold rank over you?”
“Of course not, Your Grace, but we are far from the chapel or Abbey. Out here we are Brothers of another calling.”
Eurians winced. “True. And well spoken. I forget my place. The burden of my double life, I suppose. Still…”
“Still, my Brother, the best cure for bad memories are new ones.”
“And besides,” added Barlyic, “do you suggest we hide in the forested hills like squirrels with only our body heat to keep us warm?” The companies laughed. He grinned, his boyish face lighting up, “while that works for Phan and Morwyn, I for one am not dicing for the pleasure of Wade’s bed!”
“Shut yer wee knob!” The column roared in laughter.
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Camp was set quick, with the years of practice refining every movement and decision. Bregor and Phantasee had conscripted Morwyn and Gaelis to help construct a rough table in the ruined dining hall, making sure that it would service not only for feeding, but the sense of community needed before a campaign.
The company had found many relics and trappings from the destroyed villa. While most of the buildings of the old City of Legions had been pulled down for stone and looters and invaders had picked the caer clean of valuables, the rumors of haunting had kept most away from the villa, and so it was, for a night at least, restored to some glory as a house of God-loving Britons.
It was in this shape when a second squad had approached.
“BARLYIC!” rang out a determined voice. A highlander lady, wrapped in a fine alb of gold and platinum silksteel bearing the cross stood in front of a score of ready warriors, their scarlet armor sooty in the winter night. A single scarlet chevron with four shields hung proudly on her shield, and the competent air of leadership was worn proudly on her face.
Barlyic stepped from the villa, his tartan hung carelessly over his shoulder over his stained and torn work shirt. The Scotswoman smiled a wicked smile and laughed suggestively. “Barly, have a care. I’m supposed to remain wedded only God.”
The Scotsman could only grin and lewdly shift his kilt. She laughed in delight. “Mind if we spend the night?”
“Not at all, Mourgana.” Some of the younger members of Fourth Wall turned their heads at the name. Barlyic rolled his eyes and turned to his company. “Listen up, my brothers and sisters! The army that stands before you is led by one of the most wicked and deceitful women of all time! Trust her at your peril!” Mourgana chuckled and slapped Barlyic’s arm playfully. “Even more than her name sake. For you that have not met this crew, well, Gaelis?”
Sir MacFeegle stood to the forefront of the villa’s courtyard and took a moment. “BEHOLD YE SONS OF ALBION! The fair damsel that doth stand before ye is the Bright Sun of our fair realm! Kneel ye, lads, and ladies all, curtsey for fair Mourgana Fatalis, whose name doth deceive in all justice and love as do others deceive in darkness and despair behind what men call fair! Behold ye sons and daughters, the brave fighting lads and ladies of various talents and schemes! Behold Britons finest force! Behold the Scarlet Circle!”
Mourgana laughed and took a deep bow. Eurians, Bregor and Phantasee came forward in their ecclesial garb and bowed deeply to their sister, then took their places behind Barlyic Orders were shouted, ranks broken, and soon, the party began.
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“A reading! A reading!” laughed more than few people. Bruig nodded and began chanting in arcane gibberish and various other Avalonians started laughing at his childish incantations. Near the kegs, Wade and Caryjay swapped scar stories as Gaelis and Corsepheus were engaged in some manner of conversation which none save them could follow, but seemed to focus on the construction of weapons. In a dark corner, a huddled mass of dark shapes rolled the bones and dice.
Bruig stood up. “Okay, okay, a volunteer. Tonight, I will demonstrate the mystic arts of the mind, yes, one volunteer, one who would… yes, you, come now Britton.” He pointed a slender finger in Mertel’s direction. Mertel rolled his eyes, but stood regardless. “Trying to read my mind again, Bruig?”
“Silent, lad!” he commanded in a regal voice and smirked. “Last year I was close, I was certain you thought of a dark forest and a man playing a broken lute!” He straightened and closed his eyes.
“I see…. I see a flower… yes… a dandelion on Salisbury! Yes, that is what I see!”
Mertel raised an eyebrow.
“Wait, no…” the Sorcerer trailed off. “I see,” his voice became more focused, and quiet. “I see a Sword that is not a sword, a Rose that is no flower, and…” he paused, fear flushing his face.
When he opened his eyes, Mertel was not in sight.
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“Ale?”
Mertel looked over his shoulder to see Eurians with two mugs and a heavy coat. He took a mug as the Bishop sat near him.
“I thought clergy wasn’t supposed to drink.”
Eurians looked at the ground beneath his feet. “I don’t, but on a night like this… in this place… well, I am but a Man! as Mathew would say, eh?” He laughed, more bitterly than Mertel would have thought, and drank.
“What is it you want, Eurians? I came out here to be alone…”
“.. and to stare at the ruin that was the house where she… they… both died, yes. Alone indeed.” Mertel’s face became stone. “Mertel, I have not said this to you, but Urbanus was right in what he saw in you. You have done more than just turned your back on God. You’ve turned your back on life, I think, wallowing in your pain.”
“Don’t you think there’s plenty of it to wallow in?” Mertel growled as his voice rose slightly. Eurians seemed unaffected or unaware of the man’s tone.
“Yes. And no. Pain is a fleeting thing in the face of God, Mertel. You knew this once, but…” he sighed. “It is hard, yes I know. I too have the fought the demons of our losses, and I have won.” He took another swallow, his face a grimace as he took the unfamiliar ale. “Yes, I have won already, and I promise you the pain is not to last, Mertel.”
He stood. “But you make your own choices in this worlds realm.” Mertel said nothing.
“How’s your arm, Mertel?” Eurians asked, then reentered the villa.
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“Yes, near the ruins of the Wall,” explained Matt. “Northwest of here, there’s an old mile fort that one could shelter in. They’re over there.”
Barlyic nodded. “Seems the rumors are true then, Irene is no longer a divided nation.”
Mourgana also nodded her consent. “I have reports that this, Fagan, his name was, yes?” A dusky woman of slight stature beside Caryjay nodded. “Yes, this Fagan of a place named Mag Mell has convinced both sides to lay down arms. Natalya can explain more. Nat?”
The woman coughed once then spoke in a voice of honey. “They are building a new city, however, across the vale from this outpost Mag Mell. The Celts call it Tir, but from those I have out in Ireland that can speak the Otherworld tongue, they call it Tir na Nog, and they mean for it to be a capital city for all races and paths. While my agents have reported some dissention against Fagan, especially in the outer lands near Connla, it seems that most of Ireland has warmed to peace within her borders.” The implications of her last phrase was clear.
“So.” Barlyic leaned back in his chair. “Hibernia is one again. They fly the Oak standard, then?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“And the Northern men we fought last week, they too had emblems of a hammer on light blue. It seems that we live in exciting times. A united Midgard is a frightening thought, but, at least we can count on the Norsemen’s chaotic ways. So, we ride to this mile fort. How many more companies are in the area?”
“A few, enough, I think, to hold back most any attack. Dark Crusaders have a company a night behind us, Paradox, the Crows, and I think we have a pair of companies from Aeonian Prophecy,” Mourgana added.
Wade’s eyebrows shot up. “What are they doing up here?”
Mourgana shrugged. “Who knows, but I certainly won’t turn down Tehilen’s help, especially if this force is in any way significant.”
“Let us hope,” added Eurians, “that such grand help is not required. May the Lord be with us all.”
to be continued…

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