A Sword of Roses, Litany of the Fallen

I shall tell you, then, of the Second Great Conspiracy against Britton, and the battle that resulted. It is true that my people have not cared for the war or its results. The battles were all far from our home and we cared not for the fate of the Britton and Avalonian. Those of Avalon were of mild interest to us once when they built their city upon the hill they called the Tor, for we sensed danger in that project, but we cast our own auguries and saw that we would not be troubled by the men and women from Avalon. So then you wonder why I, a Priestess of Arawn speak to you of the battles of the Overland.
Simply this: that the events put in motion by the Apostate on those days before the slaughter at Hadrian’s Wall would lead to the birth of he who would wield the Rose Sword, our Lord’s most treasured relic. For years now, the name Mericet of the Rose has echoed in our caverns, the whispers of the dead have become a litany, “He is coming, the Rose shall be seen once more…”
It has been my duty to listen to those voices to discern when and what form he would take.
Now it came to be recently that one of the Tall Folk, a woman named Morgan LeFey did beseech our Lord’s assistance in her private war against the people of Britton. Promises were made, but never kept, and Morgana soon broke faith, raising the dead from our home without His permission. This of course angered our Lord, and those men of Britton, whom we had previously treated with indifference soon became allies, for it is always such; The enemy of my enemy is surely my friend.
So now you know why I record this battle in my people’s history. For Albion now is our ally, and it should be told how this man was to come into being.
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They broke through the gate in a scene of madness, Celts with their woad faces and mighty Firbolg hurling war spears and shouting curses in the guttural language of Irene. In the chaos, the retreat was heard, but only moments before Kinelen was swarmed over and torn limb from limb. Cochese ran bravely to his friend’s side, and for a moment, it appeared the the holy Knight would turn the tide of the battle himself, until he disappeared under a swarm of Celt and Lurikeen.
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The battle, I am told, was mercifully short for the slaughtered. Hibernia’s army seethed through the mile gate-fort, and it was all the defenders could do to hold the masses back before the retreat was called. The causalities that day ran high indeed, on both sides, and many souls were sent to Arawn on that day. I heard their souls cast down in defeat, and I sent priests to help comfort the lost as best they could.
We followed, underground and unseen as the defenders fled the battle, collecting souls as elements of the Albion army were picked off by archers in the tree lines. The iron discipline of the Albion army shattered, and soon it became a race to the mighty Castle Sauvage.
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Barlyic called for a halt at twilight. The crooked glens and valleys of Pennine were not far off, about a half a day’s ride. The madness of the last few days of flight had taken their toll on the warriors of Albion, and it was in his mind to let his company rest, despite the pleas of clergy to keep moving to safer ground so they could tend to the wounded and say prayers over the dead. Barly had no time either for mourning, but forced his mind to the problem of keeping the living so. It was finally Eurians, the Bishop of Cornwall, who silenced the other clerics and friars.
“Tehlien, ho!” called out Wade. “Stop for a while, lad, rest with us, we have water and spare rations.” There was a hint of unspoken sadness at the source of the extra supplies.
Barlyic stepped forth. “Aye, rest your warriors. You’re more than welcome.”
The grave cleric shook his head. “Thank you, but no, we march on still, we will try to reorganize a defense at Caer Erasleigh. We could, however, use one more of your more rested and seasoned knights, however, if you’re in a mind to help.” There was some unrest at the audacity of the request.
“I’ll go,” stood Morwyn, another knight of the ilk of Wade and Gaelis. Phantasee tugged at his hands, biding him to stay. Eurians also stood. “Please, Morwyn, you are needed here as well.”
Morwyn looked at the Bishop and then his wife, the cleric Phantasee. “No,” he said, “I’ll be fine, and Gaelis and Wade need more strength yet still. If you’ll have me, Lord Tehlien?”
The cleric nodded. “Certainly.”
In the early morning, camp was broken, just as the sun peaked over the distant Snowdonia mountains. After a few hours, a distant thudding was heard in the distance. Wade, now at point, called a halt.
Mertel looked around at the distant peaks. “What the…” he whispered. Barlyic stood, frozen. Nergal lifted his hands to his head, lightly touching his temples with his index fingers, then brought them down with a shudder.
Every face whipped around towards the Avalonian. “I have seen…” he sighed and repressed another shudder. “Erasleigh is under siege.” Barlyic made motion to march out towards the caer. Nergal held out a hand. “We must not go, Barlyic. There is… there is … an army there… I see too many of them, faceless masses.. trolls and the norse… the Caer has been sacked already… the… dead…”
Near the rear of the column, Phantasse broke down sobbing. Gaelis took her in his arms and held her head close to him, letting her sob into his shoulder. Nergal continued. “I see it now, Barlyic. It is… revolting… the carnage… they… they’re marching toward us now!”
Barlyic whipped his head back towards Nergal in horror, then to the south in horror. “Run. Everyone… run south and don’t look back. NOW!”
And in the chaos of the retreat from the second army of Midgard, nobody noticed Bishop Eurians running in another direction…
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It was true, then. A second army, this one of Norse gathering, had landed elsewhere and waited for the fleeing Albion companies to fall into their deadly embrace. If the battle of the Milegate sent Lord Arawn a meal, the slaughter of the Great Retreat had sent him a banquet of souls. The din in the Underworld was frightful as the cries of the dead spoke of conspiracy. Truly, someone had conspired to bring Hibernia and Midgard together on a concentrated attack against Albion.
And their aim was clear. The castles Myrddin and Excalibur were sacked and burned, and the Sacred Scabbard and Staff were stolen and taken back to the barbarian lands as plunder, and all of Albion mourned. And as we do best, we comforted the souls of the dead, speaking to them that their deaths were not in vain, that from this event, would the Rose Sword bearer rise…
… and we meant to see it done.
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“… I have won…” Mertel woke with a start, the pain and chaos and madness of those dark days now taking the hand of his deeper, more personal nightmares. The face that had shared his sorrow now mocked his dreams, for he knew now who was responsible for the coordination, who had fled the battle that day, who had retired from adventuring and now who presided in the church of Camelot. Who tried to broker peace with the barbarian, throwing obstacles in the way of those who would launch a counter-offensive.
Who was poisoning the King’s ear with talk of unholy peace…
Mertel dressed lightly. It must be done this day, this day of the Christ Mass. For three years, he had let this hatred fester, but now the wounding that had started ten years ago in Caer Legionis must be healed. He took with him only his daggers, still black and cold after all these years, and a monk’s habit he had come across. In his palm, he placed the small capsule of chalk that he carried when no dirt was available.
Camelot seemed dark that night, as it had for years now. Gone was the light of free people illuminated by Arthur’s vision. What was left of the Pendragon’s glory was now gone three years. Mertel thought not of the King he served as a Knight, Arthur would not approve, but Arthur no longer ruled in Camelot.
Perhaps when they kill me, I can explain to my Lord why.
He entered the Church, his steps sure, more sure than they had been in the last three years of his drunken stupor. Mass was in progress, and he quietly joined the offering procession.
“Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes. Hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti” (1)
Mertel bowed his head as he walked down the aisle. His daggers seemed especially cold against his forearms, where they were stored, up the sleeves of the long monk robe. He began to whisper under his breath.
“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread…”
Would he, could he do this? He must, it was too late, for before him stood the Archbishop of Camelot, in all his hypocritical glory, his parishers scorning at the man that had placed Urbanus aside so smoothly….
“…Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us…”
Mertel looked up at the Archbishop Eurians, who had not noticed him until this very moment. Shock and recognition passed across the priest’s face as Mertel, his mind in a daze, dropped his arms, allowing the daggers to fall to his hands.
“…And lead us not into temptation…”
Here was the moment, and like all battles had for him, time began to slow for Mertel. Around him, he was aware of all things, the unknowing blank faces of those at the Mass, the alter boys whose eyes had widened at the sense something was not as it should be. His shoulders bunched, he turned slightly to the right, even as his fists tightened around the hilts.
“…But deliver us from evil…”
It was like a dream, or rather, the awakening from one, when light and darkness merged for a moment, when the eyes, open, but uncomprehending, registered everything, but understood nothing. He was aware of the first frightened screams, and the shift in mood towards panic. He looked fully into the dying face of the Archbishop as his daggers both found a new home in the wicked man’s heart, and slowly, as the dream ended, Mertel perceived this…. This is to be the end after all.
“…Amen.”
And the silence of the Holy night exploded.
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When years would pass, and he were asked (however unlikely) about the night, Mertel could not have recalled to anyone how he escaped from Camelot that night. Or how he hand found a horse, or even how or why his mind screamed to him of Lyonesse. But still he rode, his mind still waking from the dream of the Bishop’s murder, through the marsh of Avalon, daylight now breaking over the trees.
And it was then, when he was thrown from his horse.
MERICET.
Groggy and uncomprehending, Mertel staggered to his feet.
ARISE MERICET AND COME INTO YOUR BIRTHRIGHT.
“Who… who’s there?”
LOOK, MERICET OF THE ROSE. LOOK AT ME AND KNOW YOUR DESTINY.
And he raised his eyes, and beheld a strange weapon, a cord of thorns in the hand of a … presence … that he could not perceive, but knew to be a God.
THIS MERICET IS YOUR NEW LIFE. THIS MY CHILD IS A SWORD OF ROSES, A WEAPON BY WHICH YOU WILL DO MY BIDDING, MERICET.
“… my name… is….”
YOUR NAME IS MERICET!
And Mertel sank to his knees as the force of that awful presence washed over him.
YOU HAVE FORSAKEN THE GOD THAT IS CHRIST AND TO THAT END YOU WILL BE MY CREATURE. I WILL NAME YOU MERICET AND SET YOU TO BE MY PRIEST AND CHAMPION, AND TO THAT END YOU SHALL BEAR THE ROSE SWORD, WHICH CARRIES MY FURY AT THE PAIN YOUR KINSWOMAN HAS BROUGHT UPON MY REALM.
Mericet lifted his face and arms, he could feel the change within him, knowing that this here, this God Arawn, was indeed his master.
YOU HAVE FOUGHT FOR THE CHRIST AND NOW YOU WILL LEARN AGAIN TO FIGHT FOR ME, MERICET ROSE. STAND AND RECEIVE THAT WHICH IS YOUR DESTINY.
Mericet held out his hands and took the whip, its cord a sullen, glowing red, as dark as brick in the night. He beheld the weapon, a sword that was not a sword, a rose that was no flower, and he knew this weapon to be his new life.
MY SERVANTS ARE NOT YET READY FOR THIS LAND, THIS ALBION OF YOURS. STEP FORTH THEN MERICET, AND YOU WILL BEGIN YOUR TRAINING ON HOW TO USE AND WIELD THE ROSE SWORD. STEP FORTH MERICET OF THE ROSE, AND CLAIM YOUR NEW LIFE UNDER ME.
A portal opened then, and Mericet, unafraid and calm, knowing that this was indeed what he had woken up into, knowing he had woken from a nightmare where he had failed the ones he loved, he stepped through, into his new life under Arawn.
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And so it was… Mericet of the Rose Sword had come at last… and a new Age of Arawn would begin. And I, Kharis, High Priestess of the Underworld, would make sure this man received all the support he would need.
However, that is a different tale.
…end of Act 1.
(1) “Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”

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