A Sword of Roses, The Dream of Arawn

… it was a dream …
“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.”
“… Bastard.” Morwyn sank to his knees. He had been down before, certainly, and his calm head had always seen him through tough battles. He wondered why this one should be different, why he should lose his cool now.
Haunt smiled. Yes, that was why. “Ah, Morwyn, one of Barlyics loyal bloody terriers. What a pleasant suprise my brother will have when he hears about this. Already his chief rival’s death has made today quite profitable.” Haunt motioned to the corpse of Tehlien being torn apart by the battle crazed Trolls.
Morwyn forced his mind to calm. He took in the features of Haunt, the short frame, not even simply short for a Highlander, the curtly cut yellow hair. He had always hated this man, this sycophant younger brother of the ambitious Bishop of Cornwall. Hatred. Damn. He was doing it again.
“So, Morwyn, you know what happens now, yes? How should I kill you,” wondered the man in front of him. “The Trolls certainly seem willing to keep going after they’re done over there… hmm… or torture… I really do want to hear you scream, you know.” Haunt chuckled.
A massive Norseman approached Haunt, dwarfing the small man. “Bretwalda,” it said in a halting accent, “a hunter haff fund a smull group uf Saxun wif yur bruther. We shult show you whar.” Haunt nodded. “Excellent, I’ll run out there after this here.”
Morwyn lowered his head, meekness armoring him. His mind, however, raced with plans, knowing that should Haunt offer them his services of speeding them towards Sauvage, that he would certainly lead them all to death. The face of his wife came, unbidden, and his tears were hard pressed to hold back.
Haunt laughed. “Oh this is too rare, Morwyn. I thought I would have never seen this!” He motioned to the Trolls, who grabbed Morwyn and dragged him to his feet roughly. “Make him scream,” said Haunt, and he turned to leave.
Calm had won many battles for Morwyn. Calm was focused, ready, competant. Calm was capable, it was victory.
Calm was gone.
Morwyn’s mind had exploded in fury, all focused at the back of this … man … this Haunt Gravenor, this self absorbed psychotic who now held the life of the only thing Morwyn had ever loved in his soiled hands.
He heaved, strength coming to his arms, shaking himself free from the Trolls that vainly held him. He screamed, fury and spittle on his lips, a true war cry of a Highlander, a shout of defiance and discord, and in the afternoon sky, it was music, it was song, and no ear failed to strain for its call. A broken partisan was lain on the ground, its shaft sundered, but the blade well and sharp. With practiced precision, it bit deep in the traitor’s back. Dark sullen blood spilled from the wound, Haunt fell to the ground, crying out in pain and in shame. Morwyn stood over his betrayer, anger and murder in his eyes.
The courtyard of Caer Erasleigh was frozen in time. Morwyn looked around at the Norse and their hideous allies all staring at him, knowing that at any time now, he was surely dead and his body disgraced.
A Norseman walked directly towards him, unafraid, unchallenging, but in authority. Morwyn dropped the spear’s head to his side, and looked, unafraid, into his killer’s eyes. The Norseman nodded, once, and Morwyn matched his gaze once more, before the Northerner drew his sword…
… and Morwyn thought of red hair and a loving embrace, and then thought no more.
Eurians stopped reading. He could not even gasp out in surprise before the twin daggers found their way home in his wicked black heart. For all of his ambition… the cleric had always disregarded Mertel as a ruined drunk.
It is told in the Underworld that the spirits can carry their burdens from life with them. So did Morwyn, proud warrior of Humberton. And in the killing of Haunt, did Arawn grant Morwyn another chance, a choice… of living again, in constant pain.
For surely would the Rose Bearer need training…
It is told in the Underworld that the spirits can carry their burdens from life with them. So did Eurians, twisted Bishop of Cornwall. And in his attack upon his homeland, did he find an ally willing to give him another chance, a choice… of revenge.
For surely, The Queen of Air and Darkness welcomed all allies…
All this was dreamt. All this was real.
Mericet awoke with a start, his hand now automatically went to the Rose Sword when he did.
His choice would be coming soon.
to be continued …

A Sword of Roses, The Second Apostate

“And, lo, behold, she that is the Second Apostate.
For as he the First had raised the Rose
So shall she send the Rose to dust.
And the Queen of Air and Darkness will rule once more.”
“This, my young lady, was written long ago, well before your good Roman army came to this Isle. The wild Celt, the deposed, had known for a long time that my mother would come to liberate the Isle of the Mighty.” The speaker, a tall, comely man with golden hair, flashed a wicked smile at his prisoner. “You see, the good folk of Irene are simply freedom fighters.”
The young highlander struggled, vainly, with her bonds; her hands were tied behind the chair in a way that her exposed breast was thrust out before her, her ankles tied to the wide legs exposing her genitals. The action only produced a weak chuckle from her captor. At least it was it only him this time, she thought. He was always the ironic definition of a gentlemen, even with her exposed like a toy as she was, he treated her always with respect. Unless she raised her voice. Always demure, she told herself. Raising her voice would only make him call in the others.
She could no longer bear the thought.
She had cried when alone, which wasn’t often, but her pride had not been broken. A MacFeegle must never show weakness, she thought. Never.
“Ah. She returns. Excuse me, my young lady. Mother is home yet again, and I must attend to her.” He stopped at the door. “She’ll want to meet you.”
The door slammed shut as her heart began to pound. Her. The Queen of Air and Darkness. Her captor was one thing; sure, he was evil incarnate, the unholy result of an incestuous union, but he was still just a man. She saw flaws in his fragile ego, saw his sore subjects (his birth only being perhaps the most tender), and she saw how she could beat him. But her. The young lady doubted that her captor’s mother was even human anymore. Hadn’t the Merlin defeated her once already? Was she, like so many of the poor souls roaming cursed Albion, one of the undead?
The door opened; and all thought was lost.
Everyday Mericet grew more homesick.
Everyday Mericet grew more at ease with the Fourth Wall.
He couldn’t explain how he was able to relive his own life; fighting once again alongside with people he had known for years now, but who had only known him for a few scant weeks. The loudmouth soldier of fortune was never more dead in those weeks Mericet spent with the Fourth Wall.
And they had indeed fought. Along with several other new recruits, he had helped relive the defenders of a remote outpost called “Caledonia” against an attack by a band of Norse bandits and thieves. The old war, even in such a remote and meaningless setting, felt good to fight once more.
Everyday Mericet grew back into Mertel’s life.
However, the question remained unsolved: why had Arawn granted him the Rose Sword? To what purpose was he destined to wield it? All the Innconu had given him wide birth and respect whenever he came back to Gothwaite or Wearyall; but when he had stopped one to ask them about what his claim really meant, it was akin to speaking to the dead.
Yet his powers grew. His skill with the Sword of Roses gained considerably, and with Binge at his side, the two literally tore through any obstacle or enemy. He wielded Arawn’s power with gentle authority, became more aware of the subtle power of his new God’s workings, and spent many an evening discussing theology with Binge.
However, no answers were not to be found.
Midgard proper.
The war had been taken to the frozen northlands, as the effective Albion counter offensive now focused on reclaiming Merlin’s Staff. The Generals of the Albion army were particularly interested in taking Grallerhorn Faste since hearing the Infiltrator reports of what other treasure lay guarded in the keep. The infamous Horn of Valhalla and Hibernia’s captured Cauldron had powered the mystic power of the Norse, Camelot’s leading professors at the Academy conjectured that should those same relics lay within Caer Myrddin, that they would have a similar effect on Albion’s magical might.
Albion had taken Bledmeer Faste, the first line in Midgard’s defenses, but now had the crucial task of taking the first of four keeps in the Jamtland Mountains, called Nottmoor Faste. The keep would be invaluable as it cut off Albion’s toe hold on Midgard soil from the rest of the realm. It had not proved an easy task, however. Camelot’s army had camped a few leagues off the fort, but the defense stood stalwart, and time was running short, as reports of a Midgard relief column put the second army as close as Blendrake. Barlyic had volunteered his forces to assault Nottmoor in a do-or-die attack on the fort.
Needless to say, it was a somber Fourth Wall that held camp that night.
“Now, the guard routes are… here. Here. And here. We’ll need a force to keep them occupied while Barly’s team takes the gate,” Matt reported. His longbow, always strapped to his back across his shoulders, was torn and even burned in a few places, a testament to what he had done to obtain that information.
Barlyic looked at the map. “Okay. I want two teams; Jonaleth, take Divino and Rhiva. Binge, hmm. Take Mericet and Ellymay, intercept the second patrol. I want you to engage them, then draw them back to the keep. Join us when you’re done, we need every body we can get to keep the defenders off the walls.”
Mericet nodded. He had always loved siege warfare; though not particularly suited for it, his ability to adapt to ever changing situations had always seem him through. He was eager to see how Arawn’s might would lend itself to this type of fighting.
With Binge in the point, they ran out north from the keep’s perimeter, keeping an eye out for Matt’s landmarks and for any sign of enemy action. Mericet was confident that they could take on any stealth or small attacks, with Binge’s strange but unwavering devotion to the Christ, and Ellymay’s inexplicable power to conjure up the very earth to shield them, they would need only fear an attack in force.
“Something’s not right.” Mericet stopped suddenly. He moved, cautiously, his attention quite visibly focused on a lone tree. Binge and Ellymay followed close behind, glancing at Mericet’s attention and each other. Mericet smiled. It had worked. A small disturbance of the air, a little warning to his left, and his foux inspection of the tree had drawn his prey out. A cleaver bore down on Elly out of nowhere, but not before the air around him blistered and burned with the wrath of Arawn. A Norseman yelped in pain as his body materialized from the shadows, and his cleaver only deflected off the sheath of earth that Ellymay had conjured. Binge was right here, however, and drove a solid thrust of his staff into the Shdowblade’s side. The north man began to swing again as Mericet’s shield came barreling into his body, stunning the would be assassin.
Mericet’s mind was a sea of sullen red as he drew the Rose Sword and swung in a style he had never used before on another human.
He was ecstasy. He was life itself. Tugging on the red cord now wrapped around the neck of the Norseman, he could feel the power of Arawn within him as he drained the very soul from his enemy. He sang out in joy… this was the promise of the Rose Sword, this immortality, this theft of life. He released his grip even as the man fell dead at his feet, his skin black.
Ellymay turned around and threw up. Binge just stood, his eyes not judging, but searching every feature of Mericet’s face. He met the friar’s gaze for a while, but his eyes soon dropped to the ground, unable to meet his friend’s face.
“It’s ya style, Mericet, to do those things we may not particularly enjoy.” He sighed, and took out his earthenware jug and raised it to his lips.
It shattered as an arrow whizzed by Binge’s face.
Mericet searched the trees and saw a toothy Kobold drawing back a bow for a second shot. He focused his power and imagined, just as he had learned on the first day, the things soul fleeing down to Arawn, bit by bit. His hand shot out with a gesture as his power wracked the thing over and over, preventing it from drawing another shot.
“You know who that is. MOVE!” They turned to run, as a white wolf sprang from a nearby bush, its teeth bared for the kill, but Ellymay’s barrier held true. The wolf backed up to spring again at her unprotected body. Again, Mericet’s shield found home and stunned the wolf. “No choice, Binge, get her out of here!”
“LIKE BLOODY ELL I WILL!!” Mericet had never seen his friend so angry as he charged the little bowman, but he stopped when the Kobold disappeared into the shadows. Binge began to bite off curses.
“Binge, let’s get out of here, he’ll be back!” Mericet yelled as he finished off the wolf. He noted in the back of his mind that he didn’t have the same level of satisfaction from stealing the wolf’s life. “There!” he pointed to a run down hunter’s lodge. Ellymay lifted her hands to the sky as the wind began to blow at their backs. Aided by the wind, they sprinted to the cottage, eyes never standing still.
It was not much of cottage, just a main room what looked to be some sort of storage room in the back that they had not checked out. Winded and wounded, the three needed to rest first. Mericet had boarded up some of the windows, but knew that upon leaving the building, they’d have to confront the hunter that was surely stalking them. Binge sat in the corner, tears in his eyes as he held the handle to his jug, now just a ceramic loop and a few broken shards.
“No beer… must get… beer…. must…” Binge muttered.
“Quiet, Binge. He’ll be back.”
“What was that?!” Ellymay jumped up. She seemed quite frightened, more than Mericet (or Mertel, for that matter) had ever seen.
“Elly, quie…”
“No, no I heard something… in there.” She pointed to the closed door at the back of the room. Mericet got up and slowly approached the door. He put his ear to the door.
“Someone’s … crying?” Mericet took his face from the door. “Hello?”
A frightened gasp came from behind the door. “Uh… hello?” came the gamine reply.
“She’s one of ours.” Mericet turned to Binge. “Binge, the door is locked, can you knock it down for me?” The friar didn’t answer, just stood staring at the jug handle in his hand. “Bloody hell…. Elly, stand back.” He slammed into the thick log door, not budging it one bit. Mericet rubbed his shoulder. “Oh bloody hell indeed.” He took up the Rose Sword.
“Uh… Mericet?” Elly raised her hand, sheepishly.
“Yeah Elly.”
“Uh… I don’t think a whip is going to do much.” Mericet smiled, but didn’t turn his head when Elly gasped as the Rose Sword solidified into metal. The cord wrapped itself around the blade, the grip became a handle, the rose-shaped pommel hardened, the guards grew from the hilt as if alive, and the Sword of Roses became real.
“Like I said, Elly. Stand back a bit.” Elly dutifully, fearfully, backed up as the Rose Sword grew to its full length. The sound of metal on metal was deafening as Mericet sliced the lock.
The Rose Sword fell to its normal state, glowing a very satisfied red as Mericet slowly opened the door. He gasped as he saw a young highlander woman, stripped naked, tied to a chair in a lewd position.
“Bloody… Elly, get in here, Binge, now!” They both gasped as Mericet had. Binge said a quick and quiet prayer as his healing power washed over the young lady.
Mericet grabbed a blanket that was laying on the floor near the girl, with the Rose Sword, he cut her bonds, and covered her with the blanket. Ellymay sighed sadly when she saw the blanket. “Oh no,” she cried.
“What is it, Elly?”
“That’s a tartan. Look at the colors, Binge.” His eyes widened. “That’s Gaelis’ clan…”
to be continued…

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

A Sword of Roses, The Liturgy

Gloria! Gloria in excelsis deo! (1)

Mertel endured the the Christ Mass with patience befitting an opportunist. Though his head was lowered in perceived reverence, his eyes, sharp as any merlin, darted from corner to alter, always assessing. No golden chalice or brocade finery entered his gaze, however. No matter what men would say of this man, he was no burglar. Instead his eyes moved with the trained vigilance of a warrior, even in the Pendragon’s city.

Let men scoff at my furtiveness, thought he. Not many of those gathered here have seen what I have, they have not seen how real the danger of today is.
Amen! Amen! Aahhhhmen!

The congregation rose as the Bishop presiding over the Mass held his hands above his head. The priest then grabbed the golden chalice on the alter, raised it, and said, “Simili modo, postquam cenatum est, accipiens et hunc,” (2)

“Accipite et bibite ex eo omnes. Hic est enim calix Sanguinis mei novi et aeterni testamenti” (3)

The priest drank deep of the wine, as Mertel suppressed a snicker that always came at this part of the ceremony.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum!

Et cum spiritu tuo! (4)

“Peace be to you,” the man near Mertel said. He looked at the outstretched hand of the man, a merchant, by all accord, and grunted. The merchant seemed taken aback by this, so Mertel took his hand and with all forced goodwill, shook and replied, “Peace, yes.”

“Peace would be welcome indeed.”

“Ah, Mertel, stay awhile,” said the Bishop, Urbanus. The warrior groaned.

“What is it now, Grace? You saw me in the congregation, you saw me pray, what more will you lecture me about?”

Urbanus seemed not to notice or mind Mertel’s attitude. He approached with care, however, but stood unafraid still. “You trouble me son,” he said finally. Mertel scoffed.

“I fear for your peace of mind these days, fear that you’ve turned your back even more fully on the Lord.”

“I turned my back on Him long ago, Grace.”

The older man sighed. “Yes.” Urbanus looked long at the flagstone causeway they stood upon. “The Lord favors you, even still this day, and He would have upheld you in your, uh, failures.” Mertel stiffened and the Bishop took his hands as a father would his son. “Mertel, to err, they say, is human, and the Good God is forgiving of all his children. You may have turned your back on his service, but He loves you still. You must know this, and in knowing that, you will be granted peace from your past.”

Mertel’s face could have been stone at that moment. “You may forgive, He may forgive me, and the whole realm and her people could forgive me, priest,” the last word was forced out like a curse, “but I will never forgive myself. That peace you speak of is not something I will ever know as I live.” He turned away to walk into the night.
Urbanus sighed. “You would have made such a fine Paladin, my son…”

Mertel looked long at the starry Camelot sky, then at the gravestone at his feet, and sighed, bitterly.

He entered the tavern and took in every face, every action all at once. Time seemed to slow down the more people that entered his sphere of awareness, as his fighting instincts begun to catalog all that was a potential threat. The drunk swaggering younglings at the bar. The shady Saracen in the long cloak in the corner with his pipe, searching for his next mark. The whores in a gaggle near the center of taproom eyeing him as if weighing his worth in good gold. Mertel nodded slightly to the Saracen as he walked to the bar. The bishops’ words rang like judgment in his mind, they pounded away at his soul and so he thought only to the bottle and its own brand of salvation. Salvation that he had never found as a man of God.

Mertel drank well that night and made his own company. No whore or companion came to his side, so deep was his scowl, nor were they welcomed. It was well past mid-night, however, when the braggart young ones approached his table. Highlanders all, complete in their clan tartan, swaggered with uncertainty and belligerence to the table where Mertel was all but passed out. The tallest of them leaned forward over the table, his red hair a riot of twisted braids and swept back locks.

“Ey, look at this wanker, boys. Brit can’t handle his bloody drink, eh?” The other two laughed rancorously. Mertel made no move. “I’m talkin’ to you, boy…” growled the redhead.

“Peace, lad. And let a drunk man be.”

“Peace?” The redhead leaned closer, his breath reeked of cheap scotch whiskey. “If you want peace tonight, it’ll be at the end of my blade, son of a whore!”

Mertel’s head whipped up. “Fine, whelp. Then try to deliver your peace and perhaps you’ll learn something by the night’s end!” An irrational, hot anger shot through him, the ale and scotch began to pump through his veins. The young Scotsman lunged for him, through table and chair alike, but where he lunged, only air greeted him. The unmistakable screech of steel on steel tore through the atmosphere of celebration, and all was silent at once. Mertel had shaken off his cloak and now stood no longer as one well drunk would, but with the deadly grace of a fighter. Arms coiled like springs, legs bent as if to dodge or thrust, his pose spoke of death. But nothing spoke higher of doom than what he had produced in his fists; two long and slender dirks of arcanium, dark and sullen in their power. An air of competence and of furious strength permeated from them, as if they too were alive and hungry, and as if only blood would satisfy their hunger. He held them low away from his target, in the manner of a practiced knife fighter. The Scotsman’s anger and belligerence had faded. Now only fear and desperation marked his face.

The highlander had produced a light sword that had been strapped to his belt, and he held it firm but poorly out of place. This pose produced a laugh from Mertel, which only served to stoke the belligerence within the young Scot. He swung, a clumsy and well-telegraphed swing, which Mertel easily evaded. The next swing was a bit more true to its target, but was just as easily parried by the twin knives. Again and again the young Scotsman swung at his target, and every swing was met with blade or air.
Mertel smiled. Education had not been his plan, but it seemed that the teaching would come regardless. There must be some gain from this fight, he thought, and if this young whelp is going to be taught, then… then I can be entertained. He smiled even as he parried yet another blow. The fight had moved out into the dusty street and a crowd had gathered to watch the contest. Mertel was vaguely aware of the people watching and their rising interest and delight in his defensive display. He studied his opponent’s face, which, true to his highland roots, refused defeat even though his entire body screamed surrender. Mertel had no desire to kill or even hurt the young one, but he knew that the highlander would not stop until one of them lay dead.

Well, he thought, there’s more than one way to end a fight…

The Scot, now beaten through and through, had stopped swinging, and now stood, sword tightly gripped in both hands. He seemed to gather what was left of his strength, and with a loud cry, lifted the sword with both hands and delivered a overhead strike. Mertel raised his blades to meet the swing, and begun to buckle his knees even before the sound of steel rang out yet again. To the crowd, it looked as if the massive blow had worked, as if the force had driven the strength out of the Briton’s body, as he lay there in the dirt…

… and with speed so great it appeared to be instantaneous, Mertel spun himself around and picked himself up at, his right arm swinging around, a tight fist of anger…
A powder of dirt and chalk sprang forth from Mertel’s now spread fingers into the taller man’s eyes, and as the Scot made a sound like a dog’s dying cry, Mertel had spun around once more and picked up his knife from where it lay. Steel flashed in the starlit night and it was done. Two blades lay at the skin of the highlander, one at his unprotected throat and one at his left armpit, poised to enter his heart. Mertel could feel the fear and trembling of his opponent and he could feel his body’s instincts straining to finish the job.


Mertel took his knives away from the youngling, now soiled with his own fear and clawing at his eyes where the chalk had hit. He turned to face the newcomer and smiled.

“Damn boy, don’t you ever listen?” The one called Barlyic lashed out the young mercenary. “Come, lets go. I know a better place where we can drown ourselves in ale…”


“Gimme Ale!! NOW!!” The merc shouted at the barmaid. He was miffed at the slow response, he demaned good service.

“Dammit whore, gimme my ale now!!” He yelled again pounding his fists on the table knocking the plate of food onto the floor.

“Hey there! None of that or my men will teach you some manners!” A stocky old man firmly said to Barlyic, while branishing his sword. Beside him were three men, grundy, war torn looking. The looks and smell coming off them was as foul as the intentions they had for the mercenary.

“I mean no trouble, just some service, so sit you and your dogs down, before I teach you something… Sir” Barlyic scolfed at the men, throwing in a grin and turning his back on the men.. He knew what was coming..

The three men rushed Barlyic as soon as he turned his back, but being quicker and prepared, Barly had already jumped across the table and kicked a chair triping one of the men.

“That all you got? Slower then an old man you all are” He laughed again. He knew he had this won. He was prepared. The fight was a short one. The first man charged swinging wildly, easily parried, leaving himself exposed to be knocked out my the back of Barlyic’s blades. The second one showed some grace, but Barlyic was too quick, and was able to evade, moving behind the man and knocking him out.. The third man, well he ran. Barlyic smiled.

“Now you, Leave me alone or I won’t be as generous.” He pointed his blackened blade towards the Old man.

Suddenly two hands clasped Barlyic’s shoulders and shoved him down in a chair. Trying to squirm free he tried to kick himself free, to find himself surrounded.

“Nice work there, mind if we join you?” The red headed Highlander said while sitting down.

“Name is Wade, and these here are my friends. Care if we buy you a drink? No? Good, cause well, we have a proposition for you.”

“I know a better place where we can drown…”

Mertel staggered, the competence fading into belligerence and his deadly posture dropping into the stagger of a man too far gone with drink and exhaustion. “… I’m drowned already, Barly. Drowned in the blood of a thousand wheat stalks and grain. You know of blood, don’t you?”

The highlander mercenary coolly drew his swords.

If the crowd was treated before, then they were to be feasted on a orgy of attack and counter attack as Mertel reproduced his knives with a drunken grin and hiccup. Barlyic shook his head and approached the younger man. “Its time for another lesson to be learned, then, Mertel.”

Two new Scotti knights pushed their way through the crowd to stand in the ring that had been made, but made no move to break up the fight. Barly nodded to both them, to either, Mertel made no move or notice.


And it was off. Mertel attacked with blades and forearms, blocking the highlander’s heavier swords with precision and dexterity. Barlyic in turn used the larger jambiyas he wielded to easily parry Mertel’s drunken rage. The highlander swept with a clean right handed uppercut which Mertel barely dodged, and followed with a vicious cross slash of the left that sent the Briton reeling back. Mertel reeled only for a moment, however, feinting a clumsy charge then spinning on his front heel, searing a knife thrust where Barly’s head was a moment earlier, his trailing left hand sweeping Barly off his balance. Seeing his right hand far over extended, inviting attack, Barlyic took opportunity and flicked out with his two swords in a strike obviously meant to decapitate. However, he saw only almost too late Mertel’s right hand spinning far behind him and then lashing out as a cobra would towards a victim. The highlander was nearly impaled on the thrust but used his momentum to deftly leap away as Mertel finished his spinning attack.

Mertel had scored a nicking blow, but it was clear that the edge, however slight, belonged to the older, more experienced, and more sober Barlyic. Sensing this, Mertel resituated himself in a more defensive posture, hoping to invite another opportunity. Barly remained fast, however, Mertel was forced to once again take the offensive, lasing blows to either side, but scoring none. The onslaught became faster, until his hands became an absolute flurry of flashing dark steel in the moonlight as his knives spun and chopped at Barlyic’s upraised blades, the din of steel on steel was dreadful in the dusty streets and everyone present save the fighters and the two knights, now forgotten, covered their ears.

Mertel could not sustain the attack, however, and his arms and entire body came crashing down to his knees, knives dropping to the ground.

His voice was a whisper. “Finish it, Barlyic. If you were ever a friend, then just end my pain now.”

And darkness claimed him.

It was the two highlander knights, their dark green plate mail making them look every part a pair of summoned golems or perhaps helpers from another world, that dragged Mertel out of the spectacle that he had created and into the Defenders of Albion.

Barlyic walked before them, his face a study in showing no outward emotion as he gestured to a tub of warm water. “Toss him in there, guys.” He looked once more to his fallen friend and sighed. The two knights gently dropped him in the water, leaning his head back over the tub.

Another entered the room, a Scotswoman, and harried to Mertel’s unconscious form. Her red hair was a matted mess on her purple gown. “Ya could have woke me ‘arlier, Barly,” was all she said before she absorbed her full attention to the Britton in the bath.

Barly grunted as the two knights removed their helmets. Both wore the braids of their clan, one had hair of the darkest night, the other’s was bright red. The raven haired highlander spoke. “My apologies, m’lady. Our mission to retrieve young Mertel after his annual revelry was detained by a few mishaps, however, let me hasten to assure before fear doth creep into thine heart for our safety that Sir Cunningham and I wert more than a match for the faceless mob that beset us, even as our revered leader Barlyic handled the subdual of our, more boisterous companion-in-arms. Doubtless, rumor, which spreads like the yelping of mongrel dogs at night in alarm, has spread the deeds of the night through fair Camelot, and our friend’s celebration and battle with our leader will be well known before midday on the morrow, or, as it were, today, since day hath passed into morrow already.”

The red-headed knight, Wade, rolled his eyes. “We’d have sent word darlin’, but Barly had to crack a little more sense into ‘Tel this year. And Gaelis, please, I’ve asked you don’t call me ‘Sir’.”

Gaelis managed to look shamefaced. “Forgive me, brother, for my lapse of tongue, I swear to thee it shalt not happen again until that time I forget once again your aversion to title.”

Phantasee looked at the pair of mismatched knights and laughed. “Then leave me, the three of ya, and I will do what I can do… to at least ease his physical suffering,” she added with a grin. Her grin faded. “Please, I need spend tonight in prayer for ‘Tel here, his wounding grows deeper each year, it seems.”

Barlyic yawned. “You’re right. Besides, we all need our sleep. Need I remind you all that the Christ Mass is celebrated world wide, and even now our dear friends to the north and to the west prepare their annual revelry. Already we’ve seen ships north of the Wall.” He shrugged. “However,” he added with another yawn, “that’s for tomorrow.”

True to her word, the cleric Phantasee spent the night at Mertel’s side, praying for him.

In the vaults of his mind, he heard her litany like a hammer, felt the work of God in him, but he shut his mind to the divine presence he once felt. Soft female hands rose from memory to embrace him and drag him deeper into his misery. Her face screamed to him in the night, as it had every year.

I will always love you, my Knight.”

to be continued…
(1) “Glory to God in the Highest”
(2) “After supper was ended, he took the cup and said,”
(3) “Take this all of you and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
(4) “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” “And also with you”