Friday, January 28, 2011

Lady Dwimmerwaith Arrives

The new Laird of Dwimmerwaith has finally arrived at her castle retreat after a long hard journey (Dumfry perches high upon the rocky cliffs of a small promontory island just off mainland Scoatia).

Bella and Colour
Lady Blubella Heather Bridie Floss, Laird of Dwimmerwraith likes her troops looking shiny and new; and her Blue Guard are, indeed, the apple of her eye. But the rich blue dye is devilishly expensive, and only her personal Damfry Castle servants, staff, and her elite soldiery, normally receive such extravagant attention.The Laird is, however, considering grey as an overall cheaper alternative for her bondsmen, and paid irregulars, though there is some pressure on the ruling lady to keep them in their current mode of rough brown leather and tunics. After all, these items of clothing are long lasting, and still have a few years use left in them.

Bella`s Questing Knight (Bianca Monroe*) finances her own companies of horse, and insists these remain fitted in an overall scheme of outrider green.... with as much underneath protection as good coin can buy. The Laird is not particularly happy with this arrangement, but so far, her questing commander has defied the Beautiful Lady in Blue and gotten her own way, despite the fact this choice of colour play`s dreadfully on the delicate aesthetic sensibilities of her mistress.
*Bianca Monroe is an alias. She is really none other than Blubella`s cousin and personal lady in waiting, Lady Ann. This well kept secret is known only to a few. It would not do for too many people to know the truth – that Lady Ann is also a highly trained assassin and self assigned bodyguard to the Blue Lady. Black gives Blubella a headache, and she would never countenance her personal soldiers wearing such an affront to her delicate tastes. Unfortunately, when she discovers her black hearted neighbour (and Border Reaver – Mad Dog Mac`uloch) maintains his men in a livery of black smocks, tan britches and rough kilts, she will probably have an aneurism.
Rumours are hurtling around the small Island off the coast of Highland Scoatia, and a couple of the locals in a small hamlet just outside Dumfry castle speak of flocks of strange birds (larger than a man) flying above the highest towers of the House of Floss. One grizzled old fisherman calls them Ravengulls.

The march of Dwarven feet can be heard late at night, and a white wizard has been recruiting men at arms to work at the castle.... all very strange, very mysterious.

And I cried—“It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed—I journeyed down here—
That I brought a dread burden down here—
On this night of all nights in the year,
Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber—
This misty mid region of Weir—
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber—
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”
Said we, then—the two, then—“Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls—
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls—
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds—
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds—
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls—
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?”

—Edgar Allen Poe
To ———. Ulalume: A Ballad

Two Ladies

A thick layer of dust coated the hall, pressed into the bare stones by a heavy silence. The hall was vast and dark, the lightless torches resting cold and dead in their sconces. Only the faintest trickle of light was able to creep in from the hall’s many doorways, offering only hints of the room’s details. The hall was shaped like two joined rings; and winding staircases led up and away to the hall’s second level and beyond, disappearing into the shadows of the ceiling... offering a promise of enduring nightmares to any who dared endure that morbid ascent.

Suddenly, the silence was broken! Echoing from some distant chamber, the sounds of men’s screams burst to life, growing first clearer, then fading in a gurgling rattle of misery and anguish - death was near to him. Once again the cries rang clear, and then faded away to utter silence. The walls swallowed pain like a sponge. Again, a scream was heard, nearer now, but ending on a high note. The last scream came from directly behind the massive double doors which led into the vast hall. That scream died suddenly, matched by a jarring impact which shook the dust from the doors’ ancient timbers. Two suits of plate armour were mounted to either side of these great doors, posed as if standing watch. The thick coat of dust covered these suits of armour as thickly as the floor, betraying the guards as simple displays, and if they took notice of the macabre struggle outside their doors, they showed no sign.

One of the massive doors shuddered again. This time, it continued to move, slowly opening... its rusty hinges protesting every inch. When the door had opened barely more than a foot, three intruders slipped through the gap, panicked and splattered with fresh blood. The three newcomers entered the hall with extreme haste, their lanterns doing little to dispel its shadows. No sooner had they all pressed through the portal, than they threw their shoulders against the twin doors again and slowly pushed them shut, straining against the weight. As the gap narrowed to just a few inches, an arm reached through, blindly grasping for anyone it could snatch. The arm was shrivelled and rotten, pale bones exposed by tears in the withered skin. The arm was un-dead, and an instant later a many more reached through the gap to join the first. Although at least a dozen shambling ghouls were now scrabbling outside the door, they made far less noise than the three living intruders within.

“This is madness!” cried the man closest to the hinges. He was dark and spindly, and his eyes squinting even in his terror.
“Kazandra told us nothing of walking dead! Look at us! We’ve barely gotten inside, and we’ve lost half our number!”

The intruder pressing against the middle of the door was a fey elven woman with flowing red hair; elegantly garbed in flowing gowns of blue silk. She continued her neighbour’s lament.

“Kazandra told us the guardians followed strict patterns! She told us we could avoid them completely! We have been betrayed!”

Both the dark man and the fire-haired elf had directed their complaints at the third intruder, a broad shouldered man with a strong jaw, straw-coloured hair, and small eyes with more than a touch of ice. He was closest to the gap, and although decayed hands were clutching at his sleeves and collar, he remained calm and determined.

“Dinchara,... Blubella,” he began, addressing his companions with a chill in his voice,

“I will not hear talk of betrayal. Remember who you serve! Remember the cause! Focus on getting this accursed portal shut, and then we can talk about what went wrong and who to blame!”

Blubella, the elven touched woman, grumbled and pressed all the harder against the door. Dinchara did likewise, although a moment later he heard something which made his skin crawl. A rasping hiss, the sound of metal sliding on metal. It wasn’t the squealing hinge, he was sure of that; it was too quiet, and coming from the wrong direction. Glancing at his companions, Dinchara saw that neither of them was reacting; only he could hear it over the hinge.

Craning his neck, he twisted to peer at its source. It was the suit of armour. Slowly... mechanically... the helmet was turning. Turning to look at him. The light from Dinchara’s low-slung lantern shone up into the helmet, showing thick cobwebs and a cavernous blackness where it`s face should have been. The entire suit of armour turned to face him, mutely bringing its heavy, spiked mace to bear. Numb with terror, Dinchara stepped back from the door, meekly bringing his upraised, spidery hands up before his face. The pale-eyed man felt the sudden extra weight on the door, and without turning to face the others he started to bark a warning—but he was cut off by Dinchara’s sudden shriek, quickly ended by a wet smack not unlike a dropped ripe melon. Blubella and the pale-eyed man leapt back from the door, spinning to look at Dinchara, just as the latter’s ruined corpse slumped to the floor, his blood quickly sopped up by the thick layer of dust. The soulless thing which had killed Dinchara turned its helmet to stare at them, and raised its mace again, the weapon still dripping with crimson gore. Blubella and the pale-eyed man backed away in utter shock.

When the second suit of armour also stepped forward, the clang of its metal feet against the dead stone echoed through the hall like an omen of death. The two intruders scrambled away, backing further into the hall. Blubella grabbed the arm of her companion... her husband.

“What are we going to do?” she screamed.

His cheeks ashen, the pale-eyed man raised his lantern high to search for escape; what he saw brought vigour back to his face.

“Look,” he commanded, “Look at the walls!”

The curved walls of the vast hall were covered with paintings. Although the darkness and the dust dimmed their colours, all were clearly portraits of men and women: no two were alike.

The pale-eyed man looked to his wife... grinning widely.

“This is as Kazandra told us! Do not doubt our mistress! All we have to do is search for the man with the monocle!”

Blubella nodded, seeming to regain a bit of her own confidence.

In just a moment, they had found the portrait they sought, but in that time the double doors had been left undefended to long.
The pack of un-dead had pushed the doors wide enough for them to start pouring through the opening. As the two intruders examined the portrait, the two suits of armour and the mob of rotting, walking corpses closed the gap between them - their lifeless steps slow and methodical.

The portrait the intruders sought showed a handsome and dashing man, dressed in frills and finery. He was tall and well-muscled, with perfect proportions. He had thick, wavy black hair and a finely trimmed beard. A twinkle in his eye told of his zest for life... and something more sinister, perhaps. His other eye was hidden by a monocle, and he wore an ornate sword on his belt. With one hand, he held an elaborately carved harp, and the other rested on the shoulder of a young girl. No more than thirteen years of age, she was a dark beauty, like the man.

The pale-eyed man gave this portrait one cursory glance before flinging it from the wall. A black, round stone was set in the mortar, kept free of dust by the painting. The stone was the size of his hand, and he cupped his palm against it, pressing hard. The stone slid into a niche; and immediately the entire section of wall started slowly and silently to swing outward, revealing a wide, short passage beyond.

The two intruders ran into the passage, grabbing the handles to the double doors at its end. But to their horror, they discovered the doors were locked. The pale-eyed man looked back at the approaching creatures, and then turned to his half elven wife.

“It will take me several minutes to pick this lock. Find a way to keep those things away!”

As the man started in on the lock, Blubella looked about. Spotting a torch sconce twisted askew, she smiled with sudden dazzling realization. Twisting it, the walls started to swing shut again.... very slowly. She watched the walls shut, but as she did so her smug grin dissolved.

“It’s too slow,” she murmured to herself, shaking her head in despair.

Backing away from the closing walls, she said it again. “It’s too slow! Those things will reach us before the walls shut! All we’re going to do is seal them in with us!”

“No we won’t.” The pale-eyed man’s stony statement cut off Blubella in mid panic. While she’d been looking away he’d walked up directly behind her.

“We only need to buy a few moment’s time.” Blubella`s eyes flashed wide as she realized his intention, but it was too late. In that instant, the man grabbed her belt and her long lush hair with his strong hands, and hurled her forward... through the narrowing gap... and into the vast portrait hall. She tumbled to the floor, landing at the feet of the unnatural mob. She simply stared back at her companion... her husband... stunned with surprise and horror.

“It’s for the cause,” the man coldly assured her, raising a hand to point at her. “And you should not have doubted Kazandra.”

Blubella’s fear shifted into a blazing anger. She was hurling curses at her husband when the first of the ghouls fell upon her, and she was still hurling them when the walls shut, leaving the pale-eyed man alone to work. In a moment, the lock opened to his tools, and he cautiously entered the room beyond. It was a library. He stood in one corner, amid the stacks. His greedy eyes danced along the titles of the endless display of books.

“May I be of assistance?”

The pale-eyed man jumped, spinning to find the source of the hollow, clipped voice. A figure glided into his lantern’s light, but not from the direction of the voice. It was pale and vague, a transparent shape. A Shade. It had obviously been human, and its cause of death was clear: the silent figure lacked a head. Gliding past the pale-eyed man, the spirit moved to the source of the voice: a head resting among the tomes on a high shelf in the stacks. Like its companion, the head was spectral, its features aged and sunken. The body plucked up the head and held it out to the pale-eyed man, just as the man held out his lantern to the spirit.

“W-what are you?” the intruder stammered.

The head flickered with a smirk, a horrid little tic that was more spasm than smile.

“I” said the head “am the librarian.”

The pale-eyed man pondered this answer for a moment. His next words showed more confidence than his last.

“Very well, spirit. If you are the keeper of this library, then give me the knowledge I seek.”

The spectral head frowned.

“And who are you to offer such a command? You stand in the castle of Azalin, and I am his servant.”

The pale-eyed man grinned. “I am Ludvig Floss von Eislund. I am Kargatane, as were my... companions, and we loyally serve our mistress, Kazandra of the Kargat! We serve the same master, spirit, and I have come to Avernus to learn his fate!”

The spectral head’s eyes narrowed.

“von Eislund, eh? Kargatane?” It pursed its lips as it pondered its reply.

“Very well, Kargatane. You say you wish to learn the fate of our master? You have come to the right place. This is the Hall of Records. The knowledge you seek, all the knowledge, surrounds you! In these chambers, Azalin collected all that was ever written about these lands. Biographies, histories, romances, tragedies, all this and more . . . Of course, it can sometimes be difficult to discern the truthful works from the propaganda.”

Ludvig cut the spirit off. “Yes, but what of Azalin?!?

What happened to him in Il Aluk? Answer me!”

The librarian’s head sighed. “So impatient. As I once read in one of these books, ‘One measures a circle beginning anywhere.’ If you wish to know my master’s plans, you must share in his knowledge. In short, pick a book and begin reading.” The librarian’s body reached to a shelf and plucked out a tome with a spectral hand.

“Start with this one, for instance. Think of it as a way to expand your horizons . . .”

Behind the pale-eyed man, the door he had entered swung closed with an almost inaudible click . A key turned rustily in the lock. The house had passed it`s sentence, and Ludvig sensed he would have a very long time to read his newly discovered treasure trove of books.

*** *** ***

Thou, to whom the world unknown
With all its shadowy shapes is shown;
Who see`st appalled the unreal scene,
While Fancy lifts the veil between:
Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear!
I see, I see thee near.

-William Collins, “Ode to Fear”

Blubella screamed her curses at the now fully dust covered wall, and the un-dead surrounded her with dedicated and malicious intent. The encircling army of cadaver reached for the elegantly dressed woman with chop and fetid hands, and their stinking breath was putridly rank and overpowering. The half elf expected to feel teeth sinking into her flesh any moment, and she closed her eyes tightly, and offered a silent prayer to her Goddess for a quick and painless end to her life.

She felt no pain.... no rending flesh.... no stench of zombie breath.

All was silent, and she opened her eyes once again.

She was standing on a flat expanse of fallen leaves, and a deep impenetrable mist swirled around her is a slow concentric maelstrom of eldritch dwimmer. Yet no wind stirred her flowing locks, or ruffled her silken mantle. Her skin felt clammy with dew, and fine gossamer strands almost tenderly brushed her cheeks. She stood alone, she thought, amidst a forest of ancient pine... this much she could discern through the grey impeding blanket, though whether it was night or day, Blubella had no clear notion.

Behind her, she heard a muffled footstep and swinging round she prepared to defend herself against this sudden intruder; the memory of the walking dead was still vivid in her mind, and her heart was in her mouth with fear, as she half expected to see multiple shadowy shapes lunging towards her through the banks of mist.

“Perhaps I`m already dead?” She thought to herself.

But as her eyes adjusted to the grey white scene, she realised she was staring at a single female figure; heavily cloaked and wrapped against the biting chill of this strange unknown land. For cold it was. Like the crisp, silent, dead decay of Winter.

The now figure stood still, only feet away, and surveyed her (almost critically) from a distance.

She newcomer was, like Blubella, dressed in fine apparel and raiment of blue, though her garb looked somehow... older.... and peculiarly out of vogue with the times.

“Um... h-hello.” Blubella intoned. “Who are you?”

The strange lady replied, almost sleepily and in a sing song voice: “La belle dame en bleu.”

.... and then, when her words met with an uncomprehending stare, she spoke again, this time in the common tongue of Scoatia, and with only a slight accent:

“I am you, and you are me. Welcome to Alboran... my home. We have much to discuss, and very little time to do it in. Come walk with me; it`s alright, you`re perfectly safe here with me. These forests belong to me, and none would dare oppose my authority in this place.”

*** *** ***

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.

-“Emily Bronte”

The campaign begins.

The idea is to create a crossover campaign which takes place in pseudo Post Arthurian Britannia, and an Imagi-Nation of the 16th/17th century. So far I am simply workig out ideas and jotting them down as I go along; so things may change. Basically I want to write everything down (changes and U turns alike) so in weeks, months, and years to come, I can look back and see where everything started.


The year is 611 AD.

King Arthur has been dead for almost two hundred years, the Roman way of life is all but a forgotten dream (to some, a nightmare) and darkness has befallen most of the lands, as Britannia,Scoatia, and Walsha once again become a divided amalgamation of tribes and petty kingdoms. On a large island situated close to the west coast of Highlund Scoatia, Dumfry castle perches high upon Gallowglow Hill like an ancient spider protecting its web, and looks out upon the land withan ever watchful eye.

(castle photos to add)

Recently, a young woman (Blubella Heather Bridie Floss) has inherited a small fortune from her recently deceased (mysteriously vanished) husband, and she invests a large portion of her wealth in purchasing for herself, the island, the castle, the myriad of islander farms, hamlets, and settlements... as well as a large portion of the coastal mainlund (even as far inland as the Great Weeping Forest and the Tenth Lakes of Nimue). People say this strange half Elfin woman is mad, senseless - at best just very stupid; but within a month, this new `self styled` Laird begins to forge herself a secure `would be`Queendom of grace and virtue, and re-invents herself in the process (like a Phoenix arising from her own ashes; she re-shapes her tragic broken past into fire tempered steel).

Lady Ann Floss is Queen Blubella`s cousin and lady in waiting at the court of Dumfry Castle* in the Gallowglow Marches on the imaginary Highlund West Coast of Scoatia. * Pronounced dum-free.... more on this later. She is a fierce warrior, and her heart swells with a firm pride and belief in her people.

So far, I have visions of Spinish and Atalianos fops courting the Scoatish rag tag (but noble) Highland Lords (and especially their Ladies); ever vigilant and with a speculative eye to the main chance.... a malleable Spinish pretender is already being groomed to wed the Scoatian Queen and in effect claim the throne: name of Dandy Prince Carlos; while the Atalianos also claim the Scoatian`s old Queen Marie had a somewhat passionate fling with the Ataliano Ambassador Anniballs Strambino, and they claim a child came of the union. Meanwhile the Amoricans maintain a possessive friendship with the current Scoatia Queen Bethania MacEnrie - though the exact reasons of which remain shrouded in mystery (speculatively speaking, it seems the dead Queen Maire really loved being friendly with visiting foreign diplomats).Hmmmmm, just imagine Spinish (Spanish), Atalianos (Italian), and Amorican (French) dandies and rakes posing through the Scoatish (Scottish) Royal residence... a draughty old thatched barn, some might call it... while the cunning and beautiful young Queen grows steadily rich upon freebies handed out by each rival for her affections - as each tries to outdo the other nations suitors with more lavish and expensive gifts.Meanwhile, the Britannic Nation to the south (British) grows increasingly uneasy with the new Queen`s rising wealth, and her potential power base – should she ever choose to exercise her will.

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