A Sword of Roses, Reunion

“… so the minstrel and I made off like bandits, heh heh. She was a wicked lass, that’s for sure, heh heh. She couldn’t handle much of the drink, that’s for sure, which was good for me. I think my vows were in danger that night, if you know what I’m talkin’ about, heh heh. At any rate, she left in the morn off to Hurbury and…”
Binge had talked almost the entire time they had known each other, but strangely Mericet found himself liking the man more and more each day. For one, Binge’s fondness of his own voice made it easier for Mericet to simply be quiet and not be forced to share any of his past, which was a welcome relief. There wasn’t a day that he had not thought about the murder of Eurians, and even after the facts surrounding his death became clear, Mericet couldn’t put that act behind him.
Nor could he wonder how he was going to face the world outside the Isle of Apples. He knew, however, that his claim to the Rose Sword was a prelude to some greater calling and that destiny, whatever it was, involved the Albion he once knew.
Of course, much of his thought revolved around the people he knew to still be fighting the war. Eurians death helped the realm quite handsomely. Almost immediately after his treason was discovered, Albion’s warriors went on the counter-offensive, seizing back the realm proper and even recovering the Scabbard of Excalibur. Mericet knew that his old friends still roamed the world, and at times, had seen a few of them in town of Gothwaite, but always from a distance.
“… aaaaand I’m spent.”
“Huh?” Mericet shook the cobwebs from his mind.
“My jug’s empty, and that means it’s time to go shopping, heh heh.” Binge started back towards town. “Hey, ya know I heard they have a new apple cider in Wearyall. Heh heh, I’ve always wondered, if the good folk of Albion ever could make a beer as well as mine, heh heh. I think we should bloody well find out, don’t you?”
“Sure, I could use a horse ride.” Mericet stopped. Before him stood five faces he could never forget, all chatting with each other. One, a female face that seared in his mind with her holiness and gentle love, turned towards Binge and himself, and recognition spread across her features. With her turned the faces that all burned in his memory, Wade, Gaelis, Bregor and Barlyic, and Mericet lowered his eyes, waiting for the storm to begin.
“Binge!” cried out Phantasee. The Scotti cleric ran out and gave the friar a tight hug.
“Ahhh m’lady, you’ve been nippin’ at mah virtues again with that fragrance, huh, heh heh. But I haven’t enough fine ale in mah yet to risk that one’s wrath!” Binge pointed his prominent chin in Gaelis’ direction.
“For shame, my friend, lay your hands off my dearest love, for doubtless your virtue would not stain her, I fear greatly for my wife’s fine clothes and having them smell as if she were a serving maid that spilled on herself.” The highlander grinned and extended a hand. “God’s been good to you, Binge.”
“Aye, and to you for stickin’ all of that in one breath, He’s given you mighty lungs, heh heh!” Binge laughed a little too hard his own joke. “Ah, but where are my manners? Found a lostling in search of friends and some ale, bloody good bloke too, ah Barly, got any ale on ya?” The mercenary laughed. “Anyway, this here is Mericet. No secrets between us,” said Binge grandly before taking a sip from Barlyic’s beer jug.
Mericet nodded, his eyes darting from face to face searching for recognition. All eyes focused on him as he lamely nodded. “Gentlemen. Maam.”
Binge laughed. “Hah, he’s not one for words, but he’s wicked fast with that cord there, heh heh. Bloody tight in a fight too.” He stopped to drain more ale.
“Yes,” a new voice said, “Mericet’s been one of our rising stars.” Another Briton reaver, a man Mericet knew, joined the group. “All of us that serve Arawn know of Mericet Rose.”
Barlyic smiled. “Barlyic Darkhawk, nice to meet you, Mericet. You know Myrik it seems. This is Gaelis, and this gentleman, and I use the term loosely, is Wade Cunningham, these two are my Generals. My pastor, Bishop Bregor, and Gaelis’ wife, Phantasee.” Mericet swam in the information. Gaelis and Phantasee married, Bregor the new Bishop, and suddenly, what was left of Mertel felt homesick.
“You must excuse Mericet,” Myrik explained. “He’s been in training for so long, he’s been so shut off from the home realm. However, Barlyic, I think he would do well to get out with us sometime.” Myrik looked back at Mericet, who stood trying to understand what Myrik was doing. Surely Myrik if nobody else knew who he was…
“I’d be honored, Lord Darkhawk.” Mericet nodded. Heflinched at his words, trying to sound so much different than the man they knew as Mertel. Mericet could see Wade scowling at him and panic fluttered within.
“Please, call me Barly. Very well then, Mericet, welcome to the Fourth Wall.” He smiled widely. Binge gave out a whoop.
“Now let’s get to the drinkin’!”
Wade threw him against the wall later that night. For an irrational second, Mericet reached for the Rose Sword, but found himself unable to draw arms against his old friend.
“Let it all out, Cunningham… don’t… hold back.”
“Shut up. I know of you. I investigated all the rumors of Eurians’ death, and your name kept coming up.” Fear leapt into Mericet’s stomach and knotted. “Funny, the Inconnu all said that the Briton fled to here and met the Rose Sword, isn’t that what they call you?”
Mericet laughed weakly. “Yes, Mericet of the Rose. What does this have to do with an Albion Bishop, Wade?”
“You know damn well what it has to do with. Mertel, the man who murdered the Bishop. What did you do with him?”
Mericet laughed, the irony of it all bitter in his mouth. “He got much more than he deserved.”
“WHAT?! Tell me you tortured him. Tell me just a little bit, that’s all I need to gut you like a pig, you scum.” Wade picked up Mericet by the neck and held him tight against the wall as he pulled a thin dirk from his belt.
Mericet coughed weakly. “He was given a second chance. Would Camelot have done the same?”
Wade frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Let Mertel fade from history, Wade. He fled Camelot long ago, and I’m sure he’d come back if he wanted. If he could.”
“What did you do to him?”
“I did nothing to him. He did it to himself.”
Wade features twisted in hatred. “I swear if I find one more scrap of evidence that you… you…” Disbelief flooded his face. “You. You’re…”
“Mericet,” he growled. “I am Mericet and that as they say, is that, Wade. I am not the same man you knew, and I have no desire to be so.”
Wade shook his head. “People will know. Hell, I knew, even if it took me a while.”
“Will they? Not even Barlyic knew, and he above all people should know my features, my manner, my face. But he didn’t, and neither will anyone else.”
“Fine. Mericet.” He turned away, dropping Mericet in a heap on the ground, who sat clutching at his neck in pain. “You dropped this, you know…” and Wade tossed the long dirk on the ground near Mericet’s leg.
Immediately he recognized the dagger… and remembered whose chest he had left it in.
… to be continued.

A Sword of Roses, The Sword of Roses

“Agh! Bugger me, that’s a bloody hard thing to do!” Mericet’s patience, something he had always marvelled at in his old life, had gone with that life, it seemed. “I swear if I miss that bloody stump one more time, I’m going to tear it apart with this!” He swatted at the sword strapped to his back.
Khalikk looked as amused as his dour face allowed. “I hardly see why you carry that steel stick anymore. Your hand would no longer recognize its use, nor,” his blue tinged face grew sly once more, “do you need it.”
Mericet whipped his head around. His hair had grown out longer now, it was wild and untamed, and he had grown a beard around his chin and nose, giving him the look of a predator. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Learn how to use the Rose Sword, and you’ll know.” Khalikk shrugged and turned away. “Good day, Mericet.”
Mericet replied with a rather unrepeatable remark.
“BLOODY ‘ELL! Ow… ow… sonova…” Mericet held out his arms and concentrated on the skeleton that was mastering him in combat. A surge of power filled him as he felt the life force draining from fragile animation into his tired limbs. His mind exploded in fury. “DIE!” he screamed, and the air blistered around him, shattering the form of the reanimation. Mericet slumped to the ground, spent and tired from his exertion.
A soft chuckle came from behind him. Turning around, he saw another Britton man, flaxen haired and dressed in the unmistakable habit of a friar closing on him. Scowling, Mericet made to get up, but his limbs simply didn’t have the strength.
“Oh, don’t get up on my accord, heh heh.” The friar said a quick prayer, and Mericet felt the life surge in him, the old hatred rising as well.
“Don’t…. don’t do that again, friar.”
“Oh, heh heh, you be one o’ dem reavers wes been ‘earin’ bout. Heh heh.” The friar slumped down next to Mericet. “Beer?”
“Beer.” The friar offered a earthenware jug. “‘s good, made it mysel… excuse me.” He belched. “Ah, better, had that one stuck as a lump for a while, heheheheh. Binge’s the name, don’t ask, chum, I ain’t tellin’ why. Anyway, beer. Have some.”
Mericet’s eyes narrowed. “Uh, no thank you.”
Binge shrugged. “Your loss, eh. Anyway, saws you was havin’ trouble, figgered ya could use some help from a friendly face, and I’ve been told I’ve a more friendly face than most. Heh heh, mostly from people that don’t know me well.” He burped again.
“Do all friars talk as much as you do, Binge?”
“HAHAHAH! ‘Do they all talk as much?’ he says!” Binge looked up at the sky. “Did you hear that one, boss? What a funny man, oh man…”
“Who are you talking to?”
“God, of course. I guess I could ‘ave been talkin’ to that robin up there, but they don’t listen none good and they always shits on my robes, bloody bastards…”
Mericet just blinked.
“Oh, anyway, help, yeah. Saws you slashin and bobbin’ and weavin’ wit’ dem undead buggers and well that ain’t gunna do you none good.” Binge reached into his robe, producing an oaken staff. “Here, lemme shows ya.” He lurched to his feet, swaying slightly. “Whoa, heh heh… steady there boyo, hold the world up a bit for me now.” Binge steadied himself, looked out in the trees and nodded briefly once.
“HEY OVER HERE YA BOTTOM BUGGER BLOODY BASTARD YA IM TALKIN TO YOU YA NINNY BOY PANSY SHITE FOR BRAINS!!” Mericet jumped at the sudden change of the friar’s tone. From the trees, a skeleton, anger fueling its movements, rushed at Binge, and Mericet could feel the rage seething from the undead’s attack. Binge simply dodged out of the way and chuckled.
“Now, heh heh… watch this, eh?” Binge sidestepped, planted his right foot and spun his staff around him so fast that Mericet could barely follow it. With a flick of the wrist, Binge broke the arm at the shoulder clear off the skeleton, and then reversed his swing to break the shin bone next. The skeleton staggered forward, swiping at Binge with its one good arm before Binge deftly shattered the skull with another spinning sweep of his staff. He spun the staff dramatically around him and planted it in the ground with his left hand.
Mericet was impressed… until Binge’s hand slid down the pole and he crashed to the ground with a thump. He rushed to the friar’s side without thinking.
“Ah, that’s a good lad. Now… get me another beer?”
“Its the texture of the thing, Mericet. See, you’re tryin’ to slash at something as hard as rock. Whatcha need is somethin’ that can WHACK! crush somethin’ like that, see?”
Mericet frowned. “It seems unnatural to me. Besides, I’m still trying to figure out how to use this thing,” he shook the Rose Sword coiled on his hip.
Binge nodded. “Try one of these buggers, then.” He took a heavy flail off the weapon rack. The shopkeeper, a burly highlander man, gave Binge a dirty look, which the friar ignored. Mericet took the weapon in his hand, weighing it out in his palm. “Heavy,” he said.
“Heh heh, yeah. Cool, huh?”
Mericet laughed. “Okay, then, let’s give this a try.”
They walked back out to the hill where they met. Innconu and Britton men and women were scattered over the hill, which Khalikk had told Mericet was a training area, the skeletons and zombies reanimated by Priests of Arawn for weapons and magic practice.
Binge pointed out a lesser skeleton. “Now… try that one there. Remember, you wanna shatter, not slash the poor thing.” He made a quick, almost unnoticable sign of the cross. “Now, do it.”
Mericet focused his power as he’d been taught, imagining the soul fleeing, peice by peice, down to the Underworld, and the skeleton, wincing as if it were struck, began to move towards Mericet. He readied his shield, his left hand vaguely remembering what it was like to hold another weapon, and held the flail ready. The skeleton closed and struck a weak punch that Mericet easily blocked. Knowledge clicked, and once again, time slowed for him, just as it did for Mertel once upon a time…
Mericet struck, the flail whistling in the air, shattering the ribs of the skeleton and then crossing back, breaking the skull open. Binge let out a wild whoop, and Mericet felt once again that surge of life. Suddenly, he felt better than he had in what seemed like years. A grin crossed his face, as he felt a small surge of what felt like satisfaction from where the Rose Sword was hung. Mericet looked down at the weapon.
Binge cocked his head to the side. “Did… did that thing just pulse?”
Mericet made no answer, but unstrapped the sword from his back and let it fall to the ground, folded up the flail and tied it down with the sword straps. He took the Rose Sword off his hip, gently, cautiously, even, and looked at the whip, its cord still glowing with the same sullen red. He could almost feel the weapon urging him on, begging to be wielded…
He spun on his heel, eyes seeking out a decaying zombie from the distance and once again, he lured it towards him with that same tug at the thing’s hastily repaired soul. The zombie closed distance but Mericet lashed out with the Rose Sword, tearing a large chunk out of the zombie’s arm, and feeling that surge of life. The Rose Sword sung out in victory as Mericet dealt blow after blow with it, tearing off peices of the corpse. Everything seemed correct at that moment, and Mericet hacked and tore as if it were natural to him, dancing through the corpses that all surged forth from the training hill, laughing and crying all at once, knowing that he had finally discovered who he was.
“Rose I am! Bright red rose of tomorrow’s coming! Rose I have always been! I was a lost boy in a dream! I was a nightmare of reality! The nightmare of Camelot!”
Mericet stopped. Something felt different in his arm, and he stared down at the weapon in his hand. Nothing had ever felt more right in his life, but some corner of mind screamed in alert.
In his hand was no longer a whip, but what he could only guess was why the Rose Sword was named as it was. A length of steel, its blade wrapped in a cord of thorns, that same sullen red glowing along the blade…
The Rose Sword smirked in his mind, with the voice of Arawn destroying all thought…
… to be continued.

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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
“… 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.
And the silence of the Holy night exploded.
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.
Groggy and uncomprehending, Mertel staggered to his feet.
“Who… who’s there?”
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.
“… my name… is….”
And Mertel sank to his knees as the force of that awful presence washed over him.
Mericet lifted his face and arms, he could feel the change within him, knowing that this here, this God Arawn, was indeed his master.
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.
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.
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.”

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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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…

A Sword of Roses, The Vesting

Da, Domine, vitutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam: ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire. (1)
From the north, an unholy wind blew. It was the wind that carried the scents of fire and destruction through the mountains and glens of the North. Charred flesh, both animal and human, fouled the air from beyond the Wall, the ancient Roman symbol of division of civilization and barbarian. The barbarian wind carried all the dread promise of war with it, towards the heart of the realm.
To the south, always to the south. Briton was won and lost in the North, no matter how many faux magistrates and governors presided in the South. Rome knew it, separated the two realms with the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Arthur knew it, and tore down the wall with extended hand, winning the support and oaths of the barbarian and Irene battle chiefs. Now, with the physical wall destroyed, Albion had pulled her defenses to the Forest Sauvage.
It was here, where the northern wind parted the mists on the man-made mountain that was Castle Excalibur that they gathered.
A healthy band gathered in the chill morning courtyard, a riot of clothing and colors. Some wore fine silksteel with arcane designs, others wrapped in the mightiest of metal. Slung across the shoulders of most, and on the shields of others hung the emblem of Fourth Wall… four swords on four rooks of gold and green.
“Kneel before the Lord our God, and receive your blessings,” a voice rang out. All knelt but one. “You too, Mertel.” The gathering laughed as Mertel grumbled and knelt.
The cleric before them, a British man, was attended to by two other Britons, friars both in their heavy cloth habits and robes, and two other clerics, highlanders both, Phantasee and Bregor.
The Britton cleric raised his hands and declared in a loud voice: “Behold! My lord is him who they call Jesu! To him and him alone I swear fealty, he is the Shepard and the Lamb of God, Son of God, hear our prayer.” And then he spoke in the Roman tongue as the two friars placed a long white linen robe over his chain mail, the golden cup adorning its chest.
Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugandos diabolicos incursus. (2)
A belt of gold and steel was wrapped around his waist.
Praecinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis, et exstingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis: ut maneat in me virtus continentiae et castitatis. (3)
A shield bearing the swords and rooks was strapped to his left arm as his right was held high with benediction.
Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris: ut cum exultatione recipiam mercedem laboris. (4)
Bishop Eurians, pastor of the Fourth Wall, lowered his arms and drew his mace. “Lord, endow me with the garment of salvation, the vestment of joy, and may the dalmatic of justice ever encompass me!” he yelled, and was met with cheers as the Fourth Wall rose to their feet, and all of heaven rose with them, angels and saints alike lifting their arms and souls and strengthening their voices in psalm until the psalm became a chant, and the chant a single word…
HUZZAH!! (5)
They ran in small groups. This was to be a scouting party and a relief column for the defenders at Caer Berkestead, an outpost in Pennine Mountains. Carrying fresh weapons and supplies from Camelot, under the speed of song, they sped through the hills and valleys. A battle lay before them.
“Mids,” spoke a few of them. Surely, the unmistakable shape of Troll stood on the horizon, their wicked and crude war machines arrayed around the massive gates of the fort.
Barlyic called for a halt as the groups came to a quiet halt. A few hand gestures were shared and they took up again, their moves now with dread purpose. “Recognize them?” whispered Cochese.
Fleur smiled. “Does it matter?”
Nergal chuckled softly. “We’ll check the corpses later.”
Kinelen nodded, his flute spinning in his hand. “But for now…”
A sound. Unlike none other, it was a sound of God and angels alike, but no war song or psalm or prayer ever made such a note. It was like a call of heaven itself, and no barbarian ear failed to strain for its call.
“FOURTH WALL FOURTH WALL” They surged forth, their moves precise, their enemies blank faces could have been stone or blank for all they cared. The enemy began to awake from their forced diversion, but the crucial ground had been gained and the battle was joined.
A Norseman swung his shield as Mertel rushed the center of the fray, seeking the diminutive feature of a Dwarf, but the mercenary deftly sidestepped the clumsy attack. Much like he had with Barlyic the night before, he spun on his heel, his knife a blur in the crisp morn, not missing any mark and smoothly parting the Northerner’s mail shirt. Blood squirted from the back of warrior as he squealed in pain and fright. Right behind Mertel charged Wade Cunningham, his hands gripping an ancient partisan. Holding the weapon as if a club, he stopped to face the warrior.
“Excuse me,” and he lopped off the Northerners head.
“EXCUSE ME?!?” laughed Cochese.
Mertel smiled but ran on, his entire world at that moment was the small man with his hands above him, crying out in their gruesome language to his gods.
“Eir, giv oss mod at st