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> Chronicles > Book 3 – Part 1

Book 3 – Burnt Offerings
Part 1 – From Darford to Ullester

  • Contents (1)
    • Prologue: Yriadel and the Maegenhof Hallowing
    • Chapter 1: From Darford to Ullester
    • Chapter 2: May Day Festival

See also: Adventure Log > Session 09, 2015-10-03


Prologue – Yriadel and the Maegenhof Hallowing

While the group was away at the Sunken Citadel, a messenger from Ullester arrived in Darford with an invitation to attend the Hallowing of their new Maegenhof, which will coincide with their May Day Festival. Ranulf suggested that Yriadel and her friends would be the best choice to represent Darford. Surprisingly, both Reeve Ulfrid and Forwost Wislow agreed.

Privately, Lee astutely suggested to his friends that perhaps Ranulf was jealous of Yriadel’s influence in the community, and desired to have all the attention for himself at Darford’s own May Day Festival. Yriadel seemed unruffled by the notion and duly accepted the task. Lee also noted that though both Ulfrid and Wislow desired that the men in their group should stay to augment the Fyrd, they reluctantly acknowledged that Yriadel would not leave without them, and they could not argue with Ranulf’s points about their worthiness for the honor in Ullester.

For the newcomers to Willowdale, Yriadel explained some of traditions surrounding the May Day Festival.

“The May Day Festival is a very important occasion for the people of Angaria. It marks the first day of summer and involves multiple traditions and fertility rites. It is closely associated with Freyja [Frëa], our goddess of fertility. The festival is a time for popular and often raucous celebrations. As the weather heats up and the plant world burgeons, an exuberant mood prevails. Frost no longer forms at night, and the first dew falls. The cattle are turned out of their winter quarters and released to feed upon the new grass, which in turn increases the quantity and quality of milk available to people.”

“The revelry begins the night before May Day. Known as Walpúrgasniht, the evening traditions are actually adopted from the ancient Kimrian festival of Beltane.” Aiden nodded in recognition. He was familiar with that festival in his Krictish homeland. “Special bonfires are kindled, and the flames, smoke and ashes of these bonfires are deemed to have protective powers. The people dance or walk around a bonfire, or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over flames or embers. All household fires are doused this night and then re-lit from the Walpurgas bonfire.”

“On May Day, hopeful maidens will rise before dawn to wash their faces in the dew, or even roll in it. Some even collect dew in a jar, to be left in the sunlight and then filtered for later use. The dew of May Day is thought to increase sexual attractiveness, maintain youthfulness, and help with skin ailments.”

“Throughout the morning, sacred rituals are performed and devotions are recited to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. After that, the festivities begin. There are numerous outdoor activities and people spend the entire day feasting and making merry on the lawns, with music, singing, and dancing.”

The group looked forward to attending a May Day Festival in Ullester – a town much larger than the frontier village of Darford – and traveling closer to the more civilized territories of Angaria.

Chapter 1: From Darford to Ullester

There were many things the individuals of the group had to attend to before they could leave Darford. First, they needed to divide up their treasures equitably.

The group gathered together and divided the spoils of their recent quest. After picking out individual items, then selling the remainder, they totaled 1,801 value in coins. They split that into 150 shillings for each of the 7. Then they gave 75 shillings each to Breena and Sidric, and kept the remaining 601 shillings as a group fund.

Among the significant items: Dodge kept the Masterwork Hide Armor (formerly worn by Crispus) and took possession of Tultâmbë “Dragon Summoner”, the copper whistle to be used to summon a Copper Dragon. Glenlivet retained the scimitar Dragonbane. Kyran held onto the dagger Brightflame and the book “Historey ov Vhampyres en Brythonia”. Lee took a masterwork shortbow, masterwork dagger, “Ye Bok of Triks”, and a few fine pieces of jewelry. Magna got a magic Ring of Protection and a Wand of Entangle. He also held onto the Glitterhame scroll case which contained an old and cryptic message from Jemilah Sterien. Yriadel kept the magic Morningstar and several scrolls of Divine Spells.

In preparation for the journey, as a group they purchased 2 mules and 2 saddle packs to carry all their gear, plus an adequate supply of feed and rations. Trygil was kind enough to stable the mules for them, at no charge, until the group was ready to leave.

Berach the Farmhand

Not knowing how long he might be gone from Darford, Kyran desired to use his new-found wealth and hire a farmhand to take over his portion of work on the small farm of his elderly parents Grimr and Brynja. Once he mentioned it to Alrica, she spread the word quickly and during the next few days four different locals applied for the job.

Kyran interviewed each. The first was Berach, a thrall owned by Arrion Manor. He was about 17 years old and of Erennach heritage. He was an experienced farmhand, having worked most of his whole life on the Arrion Manor farm, and was about to receive his freedom after 10 years of service. Arrion was in agreement that he would sell his remaining service for 10 shillings.

Helmaer Markasson, age 16, was the grandson of Hjalmarr. He was an apprentice woodcutter, but had more interest in farming that lumber. Kyran had known Helmaer’s uncle Dewydd, who was killed in Dartron’s Crypt by Wotan’s skeletons the previous year. Ragnvaldr Geeson, age 18, was an experienced farmhand for hire. Gaufrid, son of Lanzo and Carlene, age 16, was a respected farmhand. His large family lived on a small farm, so he was available for hire.

Though all were honest and trustworthy neighbors, Kyran decided to hire Berach. The idea of giving the boy his freedom appealed highly to Kyran, and he hoped that kindness would improve the boy’s loyalty to Kyran’s family. In addition to the 10 shillings Kyran gave to Arrion, he gave 100 shillings to his parents to enable them to pay wages to Berach for at least a year.

Breena’s Rage

The day before they were to depart, an angry and tearful Breena confronted Dodge. “Did you think I wouldn’t find out that you were leaving? You didn’t even try to keep it a secret. And yet you never discussed it with me.” She was very upset that Dodge was leaving her without explanation and she unleashed her anger upon him. “I thought you loved me! I thought we would get married someday and spend our lives together in Darford!” With no small amount of difficulty, Dodge calmed her down somewhat and convinced her that he would return soon. She was only partially appeased and stomped away in angrily.

At sunrise, the seven companions began their journey. After they forded the River Tamesis they stopped to look back at their beloved village, then they continued south towards the Linwic Road. The day’s travel ended without incident and they camped in the barn of a friendly farmer near the crossroads.

Bumbyl the Beo Ceorl

During the second day of travel, east along the Linwic Road, the group encountered an occasional harmless traveler and glimpsed a few lonely farmhouses off in the distance. Shortly after midday, on the road ahead they saw a cart, stopped, leaning awkwardly on just one wheel. Even from a distance they could tell the cart was heavily laden with several wooden and earthenware containers. Sitting on the ground, leaning against the disabled cart, was a middle-aged man. He appeared to be resting from some great exertion, as if he had been laboriously attempting to repair his cart, however unsuccessful. A small pack-horse was tethered nearby.

Within seconds, the sharp, Ranger-trained eyes of Magna detected a handful of goblins that seemed to be creeping up on the man, and the man apparently did not notice. Concerned for the safety of a fellow traveler, Magna signaled to his companions silently. They immediately and unselfishly jumped into action. First, Lee shot at the goblins with his bow, while the others ran toward them, drawing weapons and shouting challenges and warnings in an effort to alert the intended victim and hopefully scare away the goblins. Yriadel held back with the mules.

Remarkably, the goblins did not run from the charge, instead turning their attention from the defenseless man by the cart to their new, active opponents. Now they changed their tactics – from stealth to open combat – and prepared to confront their new enemy. They appeared to be organized, following commands from their leader and moving into a defensive formation.

Before closing into melee, Kyran cast a spell, emitting a missile of black energy that unerringly struck the foremost goblin and drew first blood. The men continued to charge forward, closing quickly on the four goblins. Lee paused and shot a second arrow. This one reached its target and plunged deeply into a different goblin.

Kyran drew his bow and shot an arrow and past his teammates, but his goblin target deflected the arrow with his shield. Lee fired his third arrow and had better luck than Kyran, striking his target. Coincidentally, it was the same goblin whose armor still smoked from the charred spot where it was struck by Kyran’s earlier spell. Now the other four confronted the oppressors hand-to-hand. Dodge and Magna took mighty swings but missed in their haste.

The first goblin – seared and nicked – sliced a wound into Magna’s leg. Lee, now in closer range, shot his fourth arrow. It struck soundly into yet a third goblin target. The second goblin, the one with Lee’s first arrow sticking out of his side, got a lucky blow on Glenlivet, causing a deep gash from its crude, curved weapon. Glenlivet returned the insult with a deadly slash from his scimitar, and the goblin fell, blood spurting from its neck. Dodge, Aiden and Magna hacked and worked at the remaining three goblins.

Now the tide was turned. Only three goblins remained standing, two of them wounded, and within seconds they were all killed by the five valiant rescuers. Dodge killed one when his axe split the little fellow’s head in two. Aiden knocked out another with his flashing fists. Glenlivet killed the fourth, again with his mighty scimitar.

While the five recovered their breaths from the charge and the battle, and began to survey their wounds, Kyran and Yriadel casually arrived. There was no hurry, Kyran joked, he was confident they had the situation well in hand. Indeed, it was so. A moment later, Yriadel had cured everyone’s wounds with her miraculous powers, and they began to survey the surrounding area and look towards the cart.

While investigating the dead goblins, they noted that these were a distinctly different tribe than those they had encountered in the Sunken Citadel. Not only were these goblins tougher and better armored, but they also wielded curved swords with holes drilled into them – apparently to make them lighter. (Dogslicers, they would soon learn they were called.) Glenlivet was intrigued and kept one for himself.

While Magna moved out to search the vicinity for signs of more goblins (and found no signs of such) the others checked on their rescued traveler.

“Hail to you, my rescuers! My name is Bumbyl, the Beo Ceorl [Bee Churl],” he announced. “I am most grateful to you for saving me. In my exhaustion, I had no idea those filthy goblins were sneaking up on me. Wanting my supply of honey, I suppose.” He motioned to his cart full of containers. A few odd bees flew about randomly. “I am on my way to Ullester to sell my honey and beeswax in the market. I was hoping to arrive before May Day, but my cart broke and I have as yet been unable to fix it. You see, I sell my beeswax to chandlers to make candles and to clerks to make writing tablets. I also sell honey to bakers to make confectionary and to brewers to make mead. Here, have some, my young friends,” he said with a wide smile.

“Could I buy a pot of honey from you?” asked Glenlivet.

“Oh, no, I am sorry,” he replied. “But here, I can give you one. It’s the least I can do by way of thanking you for what you all just did for me.” He handed a good-sized earthenware container to the albino half-elf. “But I couldn’t possibly give up much more. The businesses in town are expecting my delivery. Especially the Hwychwood Brewery. They always get my best selection for their making of mead.”

“Ah, we are familiar with Hwychwood,” Glen replied.

The men quickly worked together, lifting the heavy cart and replacing the disconnected wheel, then repairing the hub as best as possible. Soon, Bumbyl’s horse was re-hitched to the cart and they all continued together along the road toward Ullester.

“Did you hear about the thane from Kantor?” Bumbyl inquired. “Seems he was courting three beautiful maidens but didn’t know which one to marry. So as a test, he decided to give each woman 50 Gold Shillings to see how they would spend it. The first maiden went out and got her hair coiffed and bought an elegant new gown. She told him, ‘I spent the money so I could look pretty for you because I love you so much.’ The second bought the man a new cloak, a new saddle for his favorite horse and a matching scabbard for his sword. She said, ‘I bought these gifts for you because I love you so much.’ The third woman took the 50 Shillings and invested it in a local business, doubled her investment, returned 50 Shillings to the man and reinvested the rest. She said, ‘I am investing the rest of the money for our future because I love you so much.’”

“I’ll bet he chose the girl with the biggest tits,” Magna snidely whispered to Dodge.

Bumbyl overheard Magna, “aw, you’ve heard this one before,” he said disappointedly. Frustrated by the rude interruption, he finished the punchline anyway for those who had not heard the joke. “So the man thought long and hard about how each of his maidens had spent the money, and then he decided to marry the one with the biggest tits.” Everyone laughed happily at the humor, despite Magna’s attempt to ruin it.

“You know what they say,” Bumbyl went on, sensing a friendly audience. “Girls are like roads: The more curves they have, the more dangerous they are.”

Ullester Highlights

As the group marched along the Linwic Road, they started to grow tired of Bumbyl continuously running his mouth. They heard too many jokes and too many details about his wife Dora and about the grand uses for honey and beeswax. Finally, they got him to start talking about Ullester, and gained some information that they could actually use.

Bumbyl explained that this year the May Day Festival has even more significance than normal to the people of Ullester. For the past five years, the faithful have attended devotions in smaller wooden structures rebuilt after fire destroyed Ullerhof, the previous shrine. And while the new priest Hjugo Sihm {HYU-go SAIM} is helpful, kind, and wise, devotions have just not been the same. But now, Maegenhof, the new temple, is finally done. And all that remains is for the May Day Festival and its ceremonies to renew the site’s blessings from the gods. Then everyone feels life can go on as if the Ullester Fire had never occurred.

Bumbyl talked about several other locations in Ullester:

  • Upptun and Duntun: the two districts of Ullester
  • Old Keep: ruins of an ancient tower
  • Drunken Dragon: Ullester’s oldest inn
    • owned and operated by the very lovely and popular Anika-Shae
  • Hart o’ Ten: large tavern & inn; grand and new
    • owned and run by Karru Guwynn
  • Manninee’s Pub: a favorite of locals
    • owned by senile Saegyth Manninees and run by her children
  • Chiptooth’s Alehus: favorite alehouse among patrons of Scop Hall
    • owned by Jaeks “Chiptooth” Bergeis
  • Lamprey Loft: very popular tavern, especially among fishermen and gamblers; great seafood
    • owned by a gregarious one-legged man named Hrotsey
  • Porky’s Potluck: notorious tavern; fights are common
    • owned and operated by an enormous man named Dimo Siofra
  • Pixy Kitlings: only established brothel in Ullester
    • operated by Maistress Tiarnach
  • Aellshoppe: Ullester’s oldest and best-stocked general store
    • owned and operated by Andor VanDetta and his family

For more details, see Ullester and Ullester Places on the BBL Middengard Portal.

Raegnar and the Éohriddas

Later in the day, and getting ever closer to their destination, at length the group heard the distant beat of galloping hoofs. Then the cries of clear strong voices came ringing over the fields. The clamor seemed to be heading in their direction from the east.

Bumbyl heard it too, and recognized the probable source. “Let’s get off the road,” he urged fearfully. “It’s the Éohriddas! We don’t want to trouble them any. And we shouldn’t block the road.”

Suddenly horsemen appeared around the bend in the road, and they swept up with a noise like thunder. The foremost horseman swerved, passing by the group’s location, and led the riders back along the edge of the road. After him they rode: a line of mail-clad men, swift, shining, fell and fair to look upon.

Their horses were of great stature, strong and clean-limbed; their grey coats glistened, their long tails flowed in the wind, their manes were braided on their proud necks. The men that rode them matched them well: tall and long-limbed; their hair, flaxen-pale, flowed under their light helms, and streamed in long braids behind them; their faces were stern and keen. In their hands were tall spears of ash, painted shields were slung at their backs, long swords and battle axes were at their belts, their burnished skirts of mail hung down upon their knees.

In pairs they galloped by, then with astonishing speed and skill they checked their steeds, wheeled, and came charging round. Soon the young heroes found themselves in a ring of horsemen moving in a running circle, round and round them, and drawing ever inwards.

Without a word or cry, suddenly, the Riders halted. A thicket of spears were pointed towards them; and some of the horsemen had bows in hand, and their arrows were already fitted to the string.

Then one rode forward, a tall man, taller than all the rest; from his helm as a crest a white horsetail flowed. He advanced until the point of his spear was within a foot of Magna’s breast, who stood at the front of the train.

“Who are you, and what are you doing in this land?” asked the lead rider, using the common speech of Westrian, in manner and tone like to the speech of Angaria.

“I am Magna Morko,” he answered proudly and bravely. “We are on a journey from Darford to join in the May Day Festival at Ullester and participate in the Maegenhof Harrowing, as we were invited by the town council itself.” Magna stood his ground. His group was surrounded and outnumbered. Nine riders there were in total, yet it was more like they faced 18 adversaries, for the steeds were formidable and obviously trained for battle. None from Darford displayed fear, but poor Bumbyl was about to eat his hat with worry.

With Magna’s announcement, the rider seemed to relax, yet only slightly. He looked over the rest of the group from his high perch. “You there! You are Bumbyl the Beo Ceorl, are you not?”

“Yes, sir!” Bumbyl nervously replied. “Magna speaks the truth. These young warriors saved me from certain death against a band of goblins, then they repaired my broken cart without once asking for compensation. We have traveled together these past few hours and I am convinced they are sincere in their purpose and destination.”

The rider leaped from his horse. He gave his spear to another who rode up and dismounted at his side, then he drew his sword and stood face to face with Magna, surveying him keenly, and not without wonder. He glanced too at Bumbyl. At length he spoke again.

“At first I thought that you yourselves were highwaymen,” he said while sheathing his sword, “but now I believe that it is not so. I am named Raegnar, son of Aragnar. We are on the hunt for goblins, and saw several signs of them in the area.”

“We slew four just an hour ago, back down this road, as Bumbyl mentioned,” said Magna.

“Time is pressing,” said the other rider, not heeding Magna’s words. “We must hasten onward. Let us leave these wild folk to their fancies. Or let us bind them and take them to the Eorl.”

“Peace, Tredman!” said Raegnar. “Leave me a while. Tell the Éohridd to assemble on the path, and make ready to ride to the Bleaklow.”

Muttering, Tredman retired, and spoke to the others. Soon they drew off and left Raegnar alone with the group.

“My apologies for our coarse greeting,” Raegnar stated to Magna. “With all our attention of late being dedicated to hunting goblins, several bands of highwaymen have taken advantage of the lapse in patrols and have been harrowing weary travelers on their way to Ullester,” he explained. “Your group does not pass for the typical pilgrims to Maegenhof, nor peddlers with wares to sell at the festival. I had to be sure the words of Bumbyl were sooth, and not compelled by malice.”

“I can understand your caution. We are indeed a varied group,” replied Magna, as he and Raegnar walked down the line of the train.

Each companion introduced themselves to Raegnar, and he greeted them individually. He was impressed at the great size and power of Dodge, for few men in the land were as tall as they two. He was openly surprised and curious at seeing Aiden the Krict within their midst, and he failed entirely to hide his brief shock upon being introduced to Glenlivet, an albino half-elf, though he quickly recovered and respectfully tried to suppress his discomfort. He was cordial and polite when Lee and Kyran introduced themselves, but his attitude became instantly more enthusiastic when he spotted Yriadel. She had been standing behind Lee and Kyran, surrounded by their two mules, and had up to this point escaped his direct attention.

“By the Valkyries!” Raegnar swore, looking fervently at Yriadel. “Who is this blossoming flower hidden amongst such a motley group of weeds?”

“Greetings, horse-master,” Yriadel answered with a careful smile. “I am Yriadel Yngvarsdottir of Darford. I am expected in Ullester at the request of Hjugo Sihm. He requested that I offer an invocation to my goddess Freyja during the hallowing of Maegenhof.” She stepped forward gracefully and her sweet smile disarmed all within view.

Raegnar bowed low before her, treating her like a princess. Though he acted quite civil and formal, it was clear to all that he was instantly captivated by her tender beauty. “My lady, I apologize that I and my Eohriddas have detained you unnecessarily. We mean only to ensure protection of our townspeople, as well as friendly travelers who would visit our fair town. You and your group have my leave to continue as you may.”

“Thank you, Raegnar,” she replied. “We do appreciate your service.”

“With subjects such as you in our midst, you make our duty a pleasure, my lady.” Though obviously trained in the parlance of thanes, he seemed now to be at a sudden loss for words. Lest he stammer and make a fool of himself, he bowed toward Yriadel again then leaped upon his horse. “By your leave?”, he asked.

She nodded courteous approval.

‘Farewell!’, he shouted as he spurred his stallion away from the train and towards his waiting group. With that they parted. Very swift were the horses of the Éohriddas. When after a little while Yriadel looked back, the company of Raegnar were already small and far away. (2)

Ullester Approach

As the companions approached the town of Ullester, its footprint of civilization upon the frontier grew more clear. Farmlands in the outlying moors and river valleys grew more numerous, and the dark waters of the Tamesis River bore more and more fishing vessels upon its surface. Passage over creeks and rivers was more often accomplished by wooden bridge than ford, and the Linwic Road itself grew wider and better-kept. Sight of Ullester from the southwest approach was kept hidden by the large up-thrust limestone pavements known as Fanden’s Crag or the arc of rocky outcroppings known as the Bygh Tors, but as the final bend in the road was rounded, Ullester’s smoking chimneys and bustling streets greeted the travelers with open arms and the promise of warm beds, a welcome sight indeed for those who had spent the last few days alone on the road.

From the south, entrance to Ullester was governed by a wooden bridge. Here, the Linwic Road passed through a wooden gatehouse.

As they approached the gatehouse they noticed an old beggar man seated on the ground by the road. He looked to rise, seemed to feel pain in his tired body, then despondently changed his mind and remained on the ground. He held up a battered wooden mug. “Alms for a poor old beggar?” he asked in a shaky voice.

Aiden walked over to the beggar. He pulled a single gold shilling from his pouch and placed it in the beggar’s cup.

“Oh sir! Thank you so much,” the beggar said happily, his wide smile displaying rotted teeth. He was ecstatic about the gift. It was surely a coin more valuable than any other poor traveler might grant.

“You are welcome,” answered Aiden. “Can you tell me – how goes things in this town these days?”

“Why, fine. Very fine,” the beggar answered. “The town is nearly full up with people arriving from the hinterlands, as well as visitors from villages near and far. They are all here for the May Day Festival, of course.”

By now a few others of the group had gathered around. Glenlivet and Lee also tossed a gold shilling at the old man. The poor beggar could hardly contain himself as he scrambled to pick them up. Three shillings would be enough to provide him with simple meals for the next several weeks!

“Have there been any interesting people cross through these gates recently?” asked Lee.

“Well, no. Mostly villagers and peddlers. Your group is certainly the most remarkable that I have seen of late.”

“Yes, that’s the kind of comment I like to hear,” Glen said to Lee. They rejoined their friends on the road and proceeded toward the bridge. The beggar seemed to hardly notice their departure, his feeble hands were busy counting and recounting his new treasure.

The wood gatehouse was watched by only two guards—the bridge itself was unattended.

“Aside from the occasional goblin, the people of Ullester have traditionally had little worries about invasion or banditry—the region simply isn’t populated enough to make theft a lucrative business,” explained Bumbyl.

The guards casually surveyed the group and their belongings, without abandoning their posts, politely nodding and waving as the group passed through the gate.

As they continued they noticed a sign and a mirror hanging from a bent nail. Painted on the sign was a message: “Welcome to Ullester! Please stop to see yourself as we see you!”

Lodging Search

The weary travelers crossed the bridge into Ullester, and as they walked by the first establishment, they noticed the enticing aroma of brewing mash. They checked the signage and were delighted to see that it was none other than the famed Hwychwood Brewery.

Up the road they spotted an iron dragon on the roof of a large building, and guessed it was the Drunken Dragon tavern & inn. They stopped in front of the building and parted ways with Bumbyl, who continued on to find a location in the market square for his cart and tent. Inside the tavern it was full and bustling. They located a worker and inquired about lodging. No rooms were available, so they continued their search up the road.

Soon they crossed through Middel Market, which was packed with tents and booths. All manner of people were preparing for Walpurgasaniht and the May Day Festival – decorating their booths and preparing bonfires. Children were happily playing games in the wide open space. Just past the market space they grew curious about a very large and strange building. The building bore a sign which identified it as Sif Scoleheall – a school hall and orphanage. Across the street from the school hall was the Aellshoppe which Bumbyl had informed them about.

They walked past yet another large and impressive building – this one labeled Kleinberg Glaswerks. Continuing uphill they passed between Ullester Stronghold and Ullester Burghall. Bumbyl had told them how the Burghall was also the Eorl’s Meadhall. They were in Upptun by now, and from there it was easy to spot Maegenhof, so they turned towards it. They crossed through Hoftorg, the large meeting area adjacent to Maegenhof, which, like Middel Market, was packed with colorfully decorated tents and booths.

A few doors past Maegenhof, within a stone’s throw from the northern gate, they saw a large building with a pair of wooden life-size deer, carved from white birch, standing astride its entrance. They correctly surmised this was the Hart o’ Ten tavern & inn, so they entered to seek lodging. They met with Karru Guwynn, the owner. His attitude was a little gruff as he explained that although all the rooms were reserved, for a few extra shillings he could probably shuffle some people around and arrange a room that the group could share. The agreement was struck, and while the bulk of the group waited in the busy tavern, Yriadel, Glenlivet and Aiden went back for a visit to Maegenhof.

Maegenhof Tour

Yriadel, accompanied by Glenlivet and Aiden, entered the drawing room of the Ullester Maegenhof. Soon they were greeted by Ladwig, a Gothi [priest]. Though hesitant about allowing a Krict and a strange albino into the temple, after Yriadel insured him of their loyalty, he agreed to admit them.

Ladwig explained that he was the main student of Hjugo Sihm, the Heáh-Gothi [high-priest], who was not yet available for audience. He was a serious young man, and politely provided a detailed tour of the temple.

“Ullester Maegenhof is our town’s newest structure, built over the foundations of Ullerhof, the previous shrine. Maegenhof is not dedicated to the worship of a single deity. Rather, it gathers under its eaves the six most commonly worshiped deities in the region, providing shrines for all of these deities in a communal forum. In a way, Ullester Maegenhof is six different shrines under one impressive roof.

“Yet even Ullerhof, the previous shrine, wasn’t the first holy site in this location. The core of both the original shrine and the new temple is an open-air courtyard surrounding a set of seven standing stones themselves surrounding a circular stone altar. These stones served the Kimrians for centuries as a place of worship.

“Ullerhof was actually a collection of six different shrines, each its own building and connected to the others by open-air walkways. Worship of Dagda {DAH-dah} was incorporated into these shrines as part of the peace accord with the local Kimrians, but the original builders also incorporated five other deities as well. Four of these – Odin, Thor, Tyr, and Frigga – were patrons of the original founders of the Ullester Merchants League, while the fifth, Uller, was the most popular among the initial settlers.

“When Ullerhof burned to the ground five years ago, Eorl Aragnar set into motion a bold initiative. Not only would the shrine be rebuilt, but it would be done on a grand scale. A temple would be built in place of the shrine, and it would be made of stone and glass. Funding for this project came partially from the founding families, partially from Ullester businesses eager to earn favor in the eyes of the gods, and partially from the respective priesthoods. It took years to finish the temple, but the end result is truly impressive. To the south, facing Ullester’s heart, are the shrines of knowledge and law: Odin and Tyr. To the west, offering a view of the Old Keep and the river beyond, are the shrines of Thor and Freyja. And to the east, offering a view of the Ullester Baengeard [Boneyard] and the rising sun, are the shrines of Frigga and Uller.

During the tour, Ladwig also introduced them to seeresses Vola Âldreda Sólsdottir and Vola Leofdæg {LEEF-daeg}. Finally, he showed them accommodations, and offered them free room and board, since Yriadel was a priestess of Freyja. It was a single room with pallets on the floor, but it provided much more room that the Hart o’ Ten. While Yriadel and Aiden got settled, Glenlivet returned to the temple to offer devotions to Heimdall.

Manninee’s Pub & Fryht Yeer

As evening grew into night, Yriadel, Glenlivet and Aiden joined the others at the Hart o’ Ten. The crew was now tired of that locale, so the seven struck out to find someplace different. A friendly person gave them directions to Manninee’s Pub.

They located Manninee’s Pub along a side street under the cliff below Maegenhof. The place was a favorite of the locals, if only because its out-of-the-way location ensured strangers rarely came by, so the bulk of the customers were visibly apprehensive when the strange party of seven entered. But after spending considerable coinage, everyone relaxed a bit and became more congenial.

Saegyth Manninees was the owner. She had gone mostly senile in her old age and it was obvious the business was being run by her three children, Benesing, Amabel, and Womaer, but she was still a fixture at the tavern, usually recounting tales of ancient legends and myths.

Previously, whenever anyone from the group had asked for more details about Fryht Yeer [Fright Year], they were met with reluctance and a statement about preferring to look ahead to brighter times. But Saegyth was surprisingly forthcoming and sat right at their table upon hearing their request. Her ethnicity was a bit mysterious and of vaguely Brythonian origin. While the group dined on spiced potatoes and cider, she quietly shared the lengthy tale of Fryht Yeer.

“Over its eight decade history, Ullester has been thankfully free of major disasters. Every winter brings its share of strong storms and flooding, yet the natural harbor, sandbars, and cliffs do a remarkable job of blunting the force of wind and flood, leaving the town relatively untouched. Elders in town spin yarns of a few really big floods, but apart from the town’s somewhat rocky beginning with the Brythonians, only two events have really qualified as disasters: the Ullester Fire and Chopper. These two events, occurring in such close and recent proximity as they have, are generally lumped together as the ‘*Fryht Yeer*’.

“When Jarvis Seekay made clear his intentions to build a home on the island just north of the Old Keep, locals paid him no mind. Seekay had already garnered something of a reputation for eccentricity when he began his one-man crusade to carve depictions of birds on every building in town. Seekay never made a carving without securing permission, but his incredible skill at woodcarving made it a given that, if Seekay picked your building as the site of his latest project, you seized the opportunity. ‘Sporting a Seekay’ soon grew to be something of a bragging point, and Seekay eventually extended his gift to include ship figureheads and carriages. Those who asked or tried to pay him for his skill were rebuffed – Seekay told them, ‘There ain’t no birds in that wood for me t’set free,’ and went on his way, often wandering the streets for days before noticing a hidden bird in a fencepost, lintel, steeple, or doorframe, which he would then secure permission to ‘release’ with his trusty hatchets and carving knives.

“Seekay’s excuse for wanting to move onto the isle seemed innocent enough—the place was a haven for local birdlife, and his claim of ‘Wantin’ ta be with th’ birds’ seemed to make sense. So much so, in fact, that the guild of carpenters (with whom Seekay had maintained a friendly competition for several years) volunteered to build a staircase, free of charge, along the southern cliff face so that Seekay could come and go from his new home with ease. For 15 years, Seekay lived on the island. His trips into town grew less and less frequent, making it something of an event when he chose a building to host a new ‘Seekay’.

“Ullester was no stranger to crime, or even to murder. Once or twice a year, passions flared, robberies went bad, jealousy grew too much to bear, or one too many drinks were drunk, and someone would end up dead. But when the bodies began to mount five years ago, the town initially had no idea how to react. Ullester’s Forwost at the time was a no-nonsense man named Bodenheim, a retired city watch officer from Baeldurham. Yet even he was ill-prepared for the murderer who came to be known as Chopper. Over the course of one long winter month, it seemed that every day brought a new victim to light. Each was found in the same terrible state: bodies bearing deep cuts to the neck and torso, hands and feet severed and stacked nearby, and the eyes and tongue plucked crudely from the head and missing entirely.

“Over the course of that terrible month, Chopper claimed 25 victims. His uncanny knack at eluding traps and pursuit quickly wore on the Burgwardas, taking particular toll on Forwost Bodenheim, who increasingly took to drinking. In any event, Forwost Bodenheim himself became Chopper’s last victim, slain upon catching the murderer in a narrow lane—known now as Chopper’s Alley—as he was mutilating his latest victim. Yet in the battle that followed, Bodenheim managed a telling blow against the killer. When the Burgwardas found the bodies of both victims several minutes later, they were able to follow the killer’s bloody trail.

“A trail that led straight to the stairs of Seekay’s Rock.

“At first, the Burgwardas refused to believe the implications, and feared that Chopper had come to claim poor Jarvis Seekay as his 26th victim. Yet what the guards found in the modest home atop the isle, and in the larger complex of rooms that had been carved into the bedrock below, left no room for doubt. Jarvis Seekay and Chopper were the same, and the eyes and tongues of all 25 victims were found upon a horrific altar to a birdlike demon whose name none dared speak aloud. Seekay himself was found dead at the base of the altar, having plucked his own eyes and tongue loose in a final offering. The guards collapsed the entrance to the chambers, burned Seekay’s house, tore down the stairs, and did their best to forget. Seekay himself was burned on the beach in a pyre, his ashes blessed and then scattered in an attempt to stave off an unholy return of his evil spirit.

“Days passed. As fate would have it, the people of Ullester would soon have a new tragedy to bear, one that almost eclipsed Chopper’s rampage. A month after the murderer was slain, a terrible fire struck Ullester. The fire started in Ullerhof and spread quickly. As the town rallied to save the shrine, the fire spread, consuming the North Road Stables, the Hart o’ Ten Inn, and three homes. In the end, the shrine burned to the ground, leaving our beloved priest Torbeinn dead, as well as his daughter Nauma.

“All that remains today of the once-loved Seekay carvings are ragged scars on buildings and figureheads where owners used hatchets to remove what had become a haunting reminder of a wolf in their fold. The homes and businesses ravaged by the fire have been reconstructed, and the Ullester shrine has finally been rebuilt as well. With the hallowing of this new temple, Ullester can finally put the dark times of the Fryht Yeer in the past.”

Walpurgasniht

After leaving Manninee’s Pub the group walked casually back towards their lodging. Their bellies were full of good food and drink, and their heads were full of the stories of Fryht Yeer. As they entered the Hoftorg, they witnessed all manner of activities of Walpúrgasniht. Many bonfires were lighted and people were dancing around the fires. Some were even leaping over the flames or embers. The group stopped briefly to admire the sights, but soon retired for the night. All, that is, except Lee. While Yriadel, Glenlivet and Aiden went to their room at Maegenhof, and Dodge, Kyran and Magna went to Hart o’ Ten, Lee slipped away to try and collect additional information about Ullester and its people.

Though born and raised in a distant land, and only living in Willowdale for less than a year, Lee was quite adept at fitting right in and acting the part of a local. With his charming guise he was able to procure a few good stories and information. He wandered as far as Scop Hall, but no one was about – there were no shows on Walpúrgasniht. Lee then settled into Chiptooth’s Alehus, the nearby pub which was a favorite among patrons of Scop Hall. The ale-house was full and very busy, filled with many who had been out reveling around the bonfires and were still too excited to retire for the evening.

Lee met the owner, Jaeks “Chiptooth” Bergeis, and quickly confirmed what Bumbyl had said of him before. Though Chiptooth liked to pass himself off as a thug, he was actually quite well-read and possessed a scathing wit. Chiptooth seemed to recite a different joke with every tray of drinks he served and had many humorous observations on the political situations in Baeldurham.

At one point Pace Dubhans arrived. Owner of Scop Hall and Thyle to the Eorl, he was very popular among the customers. His whirlwind visit was brief – he gallivanted about flamboyantly, flirted with as many young women as he could, then left cheerfully. Though Lee did not meet Pace Dubhans personally, he found it easy to admire the charming fellow. Then Lee overheard light-hearted gossip about how the romantic relationship between Pace Dubhans and Jasper Halfpenny was one of the town’s worst-kept secrets. Jasper Halfpenny (who runs the Ullester Merchants League), was a paladin of Tyr in his younger years, and although he had long since given up the more dangerous lifestyle of a sacred lawkeeper, he still remained loyal and devout. Yet despite his best efforts, his romance with Pace Dubhans had turned public. What was most humorous about the situation was how the Scarnatis, easily Ullester’s most conservative family, found the rumors of this relationship scandalous and offensive. Many quipped how it was unclear if the Scarnatis were more offended by the relationship itself or the fact that the majority of Ullester was so accepting of it.

Yriadel and Her Dewbath

Aiden was not accustomed to sleeping in the relative safety of a constructed building, and especially within a walled town. He awoke early in the pre-dawn morning and lay comfortably relaxed on his pallet. He shared a room with Glenlivet and Yriadel, and by the sound of their breathing they were still asleep. It was too early to rise and wander about the Maegenhof unattended – he didn’t think the Gothis or Volas would be very accepting of that.

Suddenly he heard Yriadel awaken with a sharp inhale of breath. Within seconds, she hastily arose and quietly rushed out of the room, barefoot and wearing only her thin, white shift. Perhaps she was going to the outhouse, thought Aiden, but something about her attitude did not seem right. He jumped up and looked out the doorway after her. Down the hallway she turned toward the street, not toward the facilities. His suspicions were heightened and he stealthily pursued the young girl. He left Glenlivet alone, sleeping in the room.

When her bare feet hit the dirt of the Hoftorg, Yriadel stopped and looked around. The sun had not yet risen, but the sky was growing lighter in the east. Apparently not seeing what she wanted to see, she took off running along Hof Street towards the north gate. Aiden witnessed this from the doorway of Maegenhof and sped after her, staying at a discreet distance.

At the gatehouse, the main door was carelessly open. Yriadel gracefully darted through, seemingly without a care. The guard was either absent from his post or asleep somewhere, for no one was about to witness her exit at this early morning hour. Aiden swiftly followed.

Outside the walls Yriadel continued to run, searching about, almost frantic, as if some sort of deadline was fast approaching. She spotted a green field alongside a thicket of trees, across the road from the bluffs which overlooked the River Tamesis. She pulled her shift off over her head and mindlessly dropped it as she ran toward the field. Once she reached the tall, wet grass, she began to dance erotically among the stalks and the wildflowers. Then she laid herself down upon the grass and squirmed with sensual pleasure as the cold dew completely soaked her naked body.

Aiden was mesmerized by the seductiveness of this beautiful girl and her erotic display. He drew closer to the scene but remained carefully out of sight. He reminded himself that he was watching her for her own safety and not here just to peep. Even so, he felt no shame for thoroughly enjoying the exhibition. Such beauty was meant to be observed and admired, he reasoned. And she made no attempts to prevent her exposure.

After a few minutes, Yriadel completed her ceremony of bathing in the divine dew of May Day. Or perhaps she could just no longer tolerate being so wet and cold. She stood and began walking back towards the gate, shivering, while looking for her shift. By now the sun had risen and its rays crested the bluff.

She found her shift and stopped. Did she see tracks that were not hers? Did she sense that she was being watched? She turned and looked all around but saw no one, nor heard any other sound besides a mourning dove. She pulled her thin shift on over her head and jogged away, back toward Maegenhof. Soon her thoughts were on nothing more than returning to the warmth of her dry pallet.

Aiden followed a few minutes later, still covertly watching out for her safety. If Yriadel were to ask him where he had been, he was not sure how he would answer. Perhaps he might lie and say he had been to the outhouse.

But Yriadel never asked.

Yriadel and the Dream

Later in the morning, Yriadel, Glenlivet and Aiden refreshed themselves and prepared to join their companions for breakfast. As they exited their room they were greeted by Ladwig Gothi. He offered them to share a morning meal in the common area, but Yriadel declined, explaining they had already made arrangements to meet with their friends at Hart o’ Ten. Ladwig also announced that Yriadel and her “retinue” were welcome to stay in Maegenhof as long as the inns were full.

The three crossed the Hoftorg and joined their friends in the Hart o’ Ten tavern. Once all seven had all gathered and finished their meal, Yriadel requested their attention.

“I have something of grave import to tell you all,” she began. “Last night, I had a dream unlike any other. The sensations were so vivid and my memory of the dream so clear, that I am convinced it was a divine vision. For this vision did not intrude itself into the swirl of chaos that usually is my dreams. Instead, I remember feeling contented, and a strange feeling of rising above the earth. I then felt an approaching warmth.

“I opened my eyes to see a lady, unmatched in beauty glorious. She wore a cloak of falcon feathers and her blonde hair cascaded down over her shoulders like threads of spun gold. Her cloak was parted and her nakedness was revealed beneath – her womanly attributes were of indescribable beauty. She wore only a single, beautiful necklace around her neck.

“She waited until I became fully aware of her, then she spoke to me: ‘Again, someone so young,’ she said to me. ‘But it has always been so, since the beginning.’

“I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and beheld her again. She motioned to herself with her hand: ‘I am your goddess, Freyja. I come to you with great tidings. My divinations warn me that a terrible age of evil will soon threaten this land. I beseech you, for I believe you to be the hero I seek.’

“I was shocked and struck with awe by her words. Then I saw that beside her stood two men. To her right was a seasoned hunter, clad in leather armor with white fur lining the edges. He held a mighty yew bow. To her left stood a man with pale skin, dressed all in white. His eyes were keen and he held in one hand a magnificent sounding-horn. The man on her right spoke to Freyja. Though I could not hear the words, it was obviously a question. She answered ‘yes’ to him, then turned to the other man, who nodded in concurrence. Were they discussing me, I wondered?

“She returned her attention to me, and addressed me once again. Though startled, I found her seductive gaze comforting. ‘This is a time of uncertainty, and a time of heroes,’ she said. ‘The omens no longer divine the future. Even I, the greatest among Seiðr, can neither see clearly nor far into your destiny. All I know, is that you have been born with extraordinary skill and power, and may rise to be one who is capable of stopping the evil and the chaos. Indeed, it is your birthright. Wisely, you have auspiciously surrounded yourself with others of great potential, though this gathering has also been influenced by the works of other gods as well. Nevertheless, you shall be the heart of our Seofon Hæleþas {SEE-vun hall-ETH-as} for the oncoming war.’

“She paused, as if to allow me time to grasp her compelling words. Then she seemed to sense my uncertainty and spoke further. ‘You may not feel you are a hero, but I sense greatness in you. At times, you and your companions will be wracked by frustration and impatience. Others will fail to see you as I do. But know this: when your moment to come forth as true heroes arrives, you will know it. Farewell, my young one. And may my words of encouragement stir you to great things.’

“With those words she faded away. I arose from my slumber, trembling with excitement, and looked out the window toward the approaching dawn. I knew immediately I had to venerate myself to my goddess, to demonstrate my acceptance. So I ran into the morning fog to bath naked in the hallowed dew of May Day.”

“What does Seofon Hæleþas mean?” Aiden asked. He was not familiar with the local Angarian language. Or perhaps he was trying to draw attention away from the topic of her naked dew bath.

“It means Seven Heroes,” Yriadel replied, “and I am confident she meant the seven of us.”

“Who were the other two in the dream? Was one of them Uller?” asked Kyran.

“Yes. I am sure the one clad in leather armor and white fur, and holding a bow made of yew, was none other than Uller, the god of hunters. I am also positive that the other was Heimdall, for he not only had pale skin and was dressed in white, but he also held a sounding-horn. It felt as if they were advising Freyja, or perhaps confirming her choice of us as heroes.”

Chapter 2: May Day Festival

After breakfast, the group wandered about in the upper part of town. Throughout the morning, they observed sacred rituals being performed and devotions being recited to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. The Hoftorg quickly became crowded as locals and travelers gathered. The square was filled with several merchant tents featuring food, clothes, local crafts, and souvenirs.

By late morning, the turnout for the opening speeches was quite respectable, and the four keynote speakers each delivered short but well-received welcomes to the festival. Eorl Aragnar had a friendly attitude and his excitement proved contagious as he welcomed visitors to town and joked about how even Leodmar Briht, the local tanner (and notorious workaholic) managed to tear himself away from the tannery to attend, much to everyone’s amusement, but Leodmar’s.

Forwost Baelor brought the crowd down a bit with his dour mood. He reminded everyone to be safe around the bonfires and during each of the contests. Then he requested a moment of silence to remember those who lost their lives in the fire that claimed the town’s previous shrine five years ago, especially their beloved Torbeinn Heáh-Gothi.

Fortunately, Pace Dubhans was more than up to the challenge of bringing the crowd’s mood back up with his rousing anecdotes as he delivered a not-completely-irreverent recap of the long process the town went through to finance and construct the new temple. He threw in a bit of self-promotion at the end, as was his wont, inviting everyone to stop by the Scop Hall the following evening to check out his new production of “The Harpy’s Horror,” revealing that the lead role of Aëllopa the harpy queen would be played by none other than the famous Kantorian diva Aelishanda!

Finally, Hjugo Sihm stepped up to give a prayer to the gods, then a short speech thanking everyone for coming, before officially declaring the May Day Festival underway.

After the speeches, the festivities commenced. There were numerous outdoor activities planned and people would end up spending the entire day feasting and making merry on the lawns, with music, singing, and dancing.

The first major activity was the Maypole. Several men gathered to erect a tall wooden pole in the center of the Hoftorg. The pole was decorated with garlands and blossoms and had many long ribbons attached near the top. As soon as the pole was secured vertically, there began much music and singing, and the maidens began dancing around the Maypole. It was a very merry and frivolous affair, and long a favorite activity of May Day.

The dancing featured young girls performing circular dances around the pole. The youngest girls danced in the inner circle whilst the older girls danced in the outer circle. They each held a ribbon which was attached to the top of the Maypole. The dance involved circular steps during which the ribbons were intertwined and plaited, then the dancers unraveled the ribbon by retracing their steps.

Occasionally there was a dance with men and women. When performed correctly by a couple, as the ribbons of the two dancers weaved together, they became closer and closer together, until their bodies joined face to face and they kissed, then unraveled by retracing their steps.

The seven from Darford watched with great amusement. Their May Day festivities were never so elaborate and musical in their own tiny village. The learned from Yriadel that the Maypole and its dances were important facets of the town’s symbols of fertility. The planting of the pole into the ground represented the planting of a phallus into mother earth’s womb, thereby illustrating the bringing forth of new life. And when a male and female danced together, the weaving of their ribbons made a new element, thus representing the sexual union and the offspring.

Lunch was provided free, at the expense of Ullester’s taverns. Each brought its best dishes—this event was as much a marketing push by the taverns to win new customers as it was to feed a hungry crowd. It soon became apparent that the darling of the lunch was, once again, Anika-Shae, whose remarkable curry-spiced salmon and early winterdrop mead easily overshadowed the other offerings, such as Lamprey Loft’s lobster chowder or the Hart o’ Ten’s peppercorn venison.

May Queen

One particular booth seemed to hold a lot of interest for most of the young bachelors in town. Each maiden who was eligible for May Queen had an empty cookpot in the booth with her name written upon it. Each farthing collected in the pot would be worth one vote. Before sunset, members of the Ullester Thynge would count the votes and announce the winner. All the farthings collected would later be donated to the shrines. The May Queen would be required to lead the final procession within town. She would also get to wear the coveted Kirell Corona, a crown made of a wreath of Hagathorn blossoms.

Although the maidens were not required to be present, they typically were throughout the day (and wearing their prettiest white dresses) in order to try to influence the young men to vote for them. Experienced locals knew which maidens were most likely to slip behind the booth for a kiss to gain additional farthings.

The ‘Darford Seven’ visited the May Queen booth to admire the maidens in their pretty dresses. There were five candidates. Raena Araganing was the only thane in the group, yet arguably the prettiest, and most certainly the most refined. Dodge placed a farthing in her cookpot and Magna donated two. The other maidens were Sabine Bennsdottir (daughter of Benn “Weosule” the weaponsmith), twin sisters Katla Bæcestre and Kitta Bæcestre (daughters of Embla Bæcestre, owner of the bakery Embla’s Delites), and Trina vanDetta (daughter of Andor vanDetta, owner of Aellshoppe).

Aráganstone

Several contests of physical and martial skills were organized throughout the day. Each winner would receive a fine drinking horn from which he could expect to receive many free drinks and many toasts to his honor. The first and most difficult was the Aráganstone. The Aráganus Rock was a large stone that weighed 400 pounds. Contestants had to lift the stone and travel as far as possible without dropping it. The course was 150 feet long, but when the end was reached, the competitor returned toward the start. When the stone was grounded, a measurement was taken, and the farthest distance would be declared the winner.

Only twelve men were brave enough to attempt this feat of strength. They drew lots to determine the order that they would each compete. The first was Fionn {FYOON}, a bold man, fair-haired, of Erennach ancestry. He carried the stone several paces before he dropped it hard – his face bright red from the exertion. It would not be the worst measure of the day.

The second challenger could barely lift the stone and could not take even one step before he dropped it. Next was Kyran who fared little better than the second man.

Fourth came a large Nordheimr name Ozurr. All during the previous efforts, while others had observed quietly or even cheered in support, Ozurr had been busy bragging about how much better he could perform, to the point of annoying all others. His brash words were finally suspended while he lifted with the great stone, grunting loudly. With no little effort he carried it forth, going one stride further than Fionn, before he dropped it. “Balder’s Balls!” he exclaimed in disappointment, even though he now had the farthest carry.

Now stepped forward a gruesome looking half-orc named Tunga the dungsweeper. His effort was commendable, but would not be a winner.

Next followed a thickly muscled man named Digby O’Dochartaigh {oh-DOH-khar-tee}. He was the son of Deglan the smith and worked as his father’s apprentice. Digby was expected to do quite well, so no one was surprised when the efforts of his labor produced the farthest carry yet. The distance more than doubled that of Ozurr, who finally seized bragging and quietly wandered away. “Hah!” he yelled victoriously. “Dagda be praised!”

The seventh competitor was a huge man who announced himself proudly as “*Braco*, son of Loghan, begat by Hobus, Huskarl of House Araganing.” Though he acted with great dignity in his own mind, to others he seemed pretentious, giving off the impression that he felt everyone else should just let him win because he was an honored huskarl or because he had an overly long name. With a great show of concentration and technique, Braco lifted the stone with the least amount of effort shown by any so far. He began his carry and strode forward with great energy. He bypassed the mark of all others save one. Then surprisingly, before he could reach the same distance as Digby, his grip faltered and he dropped the stone. He humbly dusted himself off then politely congratulated Digby on his superior effort.

The next three competitors, Aiden among them, were unable to carry the stone beyond one pace.

The eleventh contender was a huge barbarian from Nordheim named Grúmi Halftroll {GROO-mee}. He was raggedly dressed and plainly suffering from a lack of brains. He wielded a large battle axe that he refused to part with, even during this contest. A few people in the crowd jokingly referred to him as Grúmi Halfwit, but none dared call him that to his face. He had an abundance of the strength required to lift the stone, but after just a few paces he was out of breath and forced to drop it.

Finally, the last challenger stepped forward – Dodge Viper of Darford. A young man of impressive stature, he was as thickly muscled as Digby, yet also as large as Braco. The other competitors whispered amongst themselves, they expected this one to do well. Very much the opposite style of Braco, who demonstrated serious concentration and technique, Dodge walked right up to the stone and lifted it with no hesitation or planning. Suddenly his face became filled with rage, his muscles bulged, veins popped out on his neck and arms. Swift and steady, he marched down the pathway, quickly bypassing the marks set by Fionn and Ozurr, then Braco, then finally Digby. As he continued onward, the crowd was stunned into silence, then they promptly recovered and began screaming with excitement, cheering for Dodge. As he neared the end of the course, he stopped abruptly and dropped the stone, collapsing atop it with great exhaustion. He had almost doubled the previous distance!

Many from the crowd rushed up to Dodge. They tried to lift him to his feet, simultaneously delivering many pats on his back by way of congratulations, but Dodge could not rise. He just sat on the stone in extreme exhaustion, rather ingloriously in fact. It was not until petite Yriadel arrived and lay her hands on his tired shoulders that he felt revived. With a tiny golden spark that few could have witnessed in the bright sunlight, her divine power reenergized Dodge and he immediately rose to receive additional congratulations.

Archery

The Archery competition had many more challengers than the Aráganus Rock, but did not involve quite the physical drama. The contest used round targets that consisted of 3 concentric circles. The outer ring was worth only 1 point, the middle ring was worth 3 points, the inner ring was worth 6 points, and the bullseye was worth 10 points. In the first round, the target distance was set at 100 feet. Each contestant got 6 arrows and those with the highest scores advanced to the second round. Eight archers scored high enough to advance, and the three highest scores were from Lee Alfsaw, Kyran Grimsson and Magna Morko. Ironically, Kyran had only recently learned to use a bow, having received training from Magna in just the last few weeks. Even more ironic, Lee used a bow loaned to him by Kyran.

In the second round, the target distance was set at 200 feet, and the archer with the most points would be declared overall winner.

Adálfuns, a huskarl of House Kleinburg, walked away disappointed. He had shot erratically, hitting two bullseyes, but missing the target completely with two other arrows, for a score of only 26.

Cwink Broder, a huskarl of House Araganing, had a fine round. He sunk five of six bullseyes, but one arrow went astray and only hit the outer ring. His total score was an impressive 51.

Hartmut Woldemar of House Woldemar, son of thane Adalbert, fared little better than Adálfuns with a 29.

Klif Nordson hit 4 bullseyes and an inner ring, but one arrow missed the target. His score was 46, which only moved him into second place. Ozurr, whose loud mouth had recovered its voice shortly after his failure to win the Aráganstone contest, had been boasting about how his Nordheimr companion Klif would win, but he had to eat his words once again.

Now came the turn of Kyran Grimsson. He started off well, hitting bullseyes with his first two arrows, but his two next missed the bullseye and hit the inner ring. Another miss and he would have to yield victory to Cwink Broder. Determined, he redoubled his efforts and sunk two more bullseyes! His total score was 52 and he now had the lead. Cwink Broder was the first to congratulate Kyran on such good shooting, and shook his hand firmly.

But the contest was not over yet, there were three more challengers. Lee Alfsaw stood up to the line next. He was favored to win, having scored the highest in the first round. But the distance was far greater now, and the breeze could be a significant factor. Lee started off with three bullseyes! The crowd was hushed in anticipation of the outcome. Could this newcomer score a perfect 60 and win the coveted drinking horn? But his next shot hit the middle ring, adding only 3 points. He would need two more bullseyes to outscore Kyran. Tension was building. Lee released his fifth arrow, which narrowly missed a bullseye, striking the inner ring. He would not be the winner, but in a display of true sportsmanship, he refused to give in and hit a bullseye with his final arrow. Lee finished with a very respectable total of 49.

Known for his archery skills, and being the only challenger of elven blood in the match, many expected Magna Morko of Blackwood to excel. But the gods of the winds had other ideas, and Magna could only manage three bulleyes. His final score was 36.

Finally, Ross Half-Fin stood forward while his friend Fionn held his gear for him. Ross scored four bullseyes and hit rings with two other arrows. He tallied a 49 score, tying Lee for third. Kyran was declared champion and many came forth to shake his hand in congratulations.

Foot Race

There were a few other events and contests: baking, wrestling, tug-of-war, etc. The traditional horse race had been cancelled this year, due to the fact that all the Éohriddas were out in the Hinterlands dutifully hunting goblins and bandits. So the biggest crowd pleaser of the afternoon became the Foot-Race.

Fifteen young men gathered at the starting line in the Hoftorg, stripped down to their breeches in the cool breeze. The field included three from Darford: Aiden, Dodge Viper and Glenlivet Lesgoth. There were some sideways glances toward Aiden – a savage Krict from the highlands in the north – and several apprehensive stares upon Glen – his pale skin, white hair and elven features stood out starkly amongst the other runners – but when they all witnessed that Dodge was their companion, the men relaxed their gazes and turned their attention to the starting line.

“To your mark!” ordered Forwost Baelor, holding his axe above his head. All eyes were upon his weapon. Then he dropped his axe to signal the start of the race and all the runners sprinted off down Junker’s Way towards the Old Keep. Elbows were flying and toes were getting stomped. Rauthbjorn, a Nordheimr with his long blond hair tied back behind his head, leaped out to an early lead. Aiden was close in the front pack, alongside two Ullester locals, Gaerwód and Fredrik. Gaerwód Hwychwoods was a friendly fellow who worked at the town’s famous brewery – and oldest son of Gaerwulf, one of the brewery’s founders. Quite the opposite in character, Fredrik was a brutish bloke, known to frequent the tavern called Porky’s Potluck with his mates Fionn and Ross “Half-Fin”. Fredrik was among those few throwing elbows, but so far Aiden had eluded the graceless strikes.

Gaerwód and Fredrik began to edge forward and came neck-and-neck with Rauthbjorn as the cluster of runners approached the first obstacle. Glen, Dodge and Thjóstarr were close behind and gaining. Thjóstarr, a Nordheimr and a close friend of Rauthbjorn, was a wise and wiry runner. His chest was distinctly adorned with a large tattoo of an archer.

Aiden had slipped back into the pack, even passed by Womaer Manninees, a young man he had met the previous night at Manninee’s Pub.

Ahead was a makeshift wall, three feet high. Most of the runners leaped over without incident, but a few, including Fredrik, stumbled upon landing and fell behind while trying to recover their feet. Past that hurdle, they raced toward the Old Keep. Now Gaerwód took command of the lead, but Glen, Dodge and Rauthbjorn were sharp on his heels.

At the grounds of the Old Keep, the runners had to carefully tread over the rough stones and debris, run a half circle around a post upholding an Ullester Banner, then return towards the Hoftorg. Here, Gaerwód excelled, extending his lead over Glen and Dodge. Rauthbjorn stumbled and lost ground. Aiden, like the fabled highlanders of his homeland, surprised everyone with his dexterous footwork and passed six of the front-runners, overtaking all but Gaerwód.

Now began the second half of the race, back up Junker’s Way, and some of the athletes were showing visible signs of fatigue. As they approached the hurdle again, Aiden and Dodge gained steadily on Gaerwód. Glen and Rauthbjorn were right behind, still in the lead pack. Womaer and Thjóstarr had dropped back into the second pack.

All the lead runners surmounted the hurdle without falling, but exhaustion was wearing them down. Beyond the hurdle, Gaerwód began to tire and finally lost the lead, as he was passed by Dodge and Glen. Aiden also wore down and fell back slightly, almost caught up now by Rauthbjorn and Thjóstarr.

The crowd roared with excitement as the runners scrambled into the Hoftorg. Dodge now had a clear lead, much to the intense delight of many observers. Glen was close behind, followed by Gaerwód and Aiden, who both continued to slow with fatigue. The remainder were still in pursuit but had no hope of winning.

In the final sprint to the finish line, the stamina of Dodge had no equal. Glen, Gaerwód and Aiden all slowed with weariness, and Dodge was the winner by a safe margin. Glen crossed second, with Gaerwód in third. Thjóstarr and Rauthbjorn both shot forward with a surge at the end. Thjóstarr passed Aiden for fourth, but Aiden just barely held off Rauthbjorn and they finished fifth and sixth.

The crowd was immensely pleased at the display of athleticism, and there was no shortage of wonderment that Dodge, the visitor from Darford, had won not one, but two, contests this day. When the runners recovered their breath, many shook his hand in good sportsmanship. Gaerwód, especially, was complimentary to both Dodge and Glen. They both earned no small amount of respect with their feat of speed and endurance.

To be continued…



Footnotes:
1. Adapted from: James Jacobs, Rise of the Runelords: Burnt Offerings, (Bellevue: Paizo Publishing LLC, 2007).
2. Adapted from: J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954, 1965, 1982), Chapter 2, The Riders of Rohan.


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