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Black forest but no gateau (Saturday) - John C. Kirk

Nov. 16th, 2014

07:24 am - Black forest but no gateau (Saturday)

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This continues the story of the August LARP event from my previous post.

Saturday



I made sure that I was in camp at 10:00 so that I could secure the gate. The Lance had the first shift, but as acting Castellan I saw it as my responsibility to make sure that they were actually there; if the High King noticed that the gate was unguarded then he would presumably demand an explanation from me. As it turned out, they were still cooking breakfast, so I stood at the gate until they were ready.

After that, I spoke to Sir Will. He told me that someone had stolen Hazel's bow (Hazel was our previous High King until he was killed last year), and Lady Thal in particular was very upset, so I needed to get it back. He emphasised that this was my top priority, so nothing else was more important than this. I assured him that I would deal with it, although this turned out to be easier said than done.

We then had Parliament, where various people made announcements. I stepped forward and reported the theft of the bow: "We will get it back, but I would like that to happen sooner rather than later, so if anyone can help then please speak to me afterwards." Sir Will then spoke up, saying that if anyone was wondering why I had made that announcement it was because of my new role. Then Sir Hewitt spoke, regarding Grunewald and the garlands. He repeated what Grunewald had said at Naadam, namely that she would appreciate us "frolicking" rather than trampling the plants, and he demonstrated this. It was quite entertaining, until the High King roared "ENOUGH!" I sometimes forget that Idris has less patience for levity than Hazel.

After Parliament, I spoke to Anise. Sir Will became acting Castellan in May (when we were on the western continent), and in Parliament he asked for someone to act as his deputy. I didn't volunteer, mainly because I felt that I should talk to Captain Philips first, so Anise stepped forward. She continued in that role when we went to the Steppe lands, so I felt a bit guilty about stealing the position away from her now that there was a noble rank involved. However, she said that she was quite happy for me to do it, because (in her own words) "I'm not very martial"; I think that she'd mainly been involved with the paperwork, i.e. working out the rota for who was on duty.

I also wanted to talk to her about Hazel's bow. Clarent allows the bearer to meditate and gain insight into problems, so I hoped that she might be able to point me in the right direction. However, other people had already asked her to meditate on the garlands, which was fair enough.

I then went around to the nearby camps, asking them whether they'd seen the bow. I gave them a description, and said that if anyone turned up at the gate trying to sell it then we would appreciate getting it back.

Back at the Lions camp, our tourney began. It turned out that I only needed to take part in a single event, so I did the "sword, no shield or magic" contest (I don't recall the official name). Lord Blackwell announced each bout, and I was assigned to fight against Lady Teagan, just after Captain Philips had fought against Sir Will. The High King did ask whether Lord Blackwell was specifically trying to set up a rivalry between the Arcane Tempest and the Lance! The Lance won both fights, but I did manage to strike Teagan once. The goal was to strike the other person three times: she hit me in a different location each time, so I was wounded but not mortally so.

After that, I watched some of the other contests; in between bouts, the High King and Lord Blackwell reminded everyone about the importance of striking "heroic blows". Some people have a tendency to "drumroll" by tapping someone repeatedly with the end of a sword, but you really need a proper swing in order to have the desired effect.

The tourney as a whole actually finished ahead of schedule, which caused me a slight problem: when I worked out the gate guard schedule with Sir Will, I'd expected there to be a big crowd of people nearby, but now the area was unattended and it was rather short notice to find anyone else who could step in. I initially thought that I'd have to stay there until the next group was due, but a few of the Free Men of Rhull were visiting our camp and they kindly volunteered to help out. In particular, one of them warned me not to fall into "the Castellan trap" by doing it all myself.

After the next group took over on the gate, our visitor from the previous night came back: he'd found the monster that he was after. None of the other Lions scouts were around, but I said that I'd go with him. A couple of the Rhull folk came too: Bryn and Robyn. We stopped off at a few other camps to gather more people. As he spoke, it turned out that this really was more of a hunt than a scouting mission. His goal was to dissect the creatures so that he could learn more about them. Someone asked whether he'd be interested in capturing them (so that he could study their behaviour) but he didn't think that would be practical: it would probably take all our efforts just to kill one.

Once our group was in place, we set off into the woods, then he showed us a group of creatures. I have to say, they weren't quite the savage monsters I'd expected. I'm not sure of the terminology, but if they were beastkin then they were closer to animals than humans. They had some big claws, but they appeared to be grazing. As Bryn said, they looked like a family group, so he refused to attack them and said that we should withdraw. Robyn went with him, and I followed their example. The organiser wasn't very happy, and asked what we'd been expecting; in my case, I thought it was going to be scouting, although I realise that this was a misunderstanding since he'd never actually said that.

A few other people attacked the beasts, who then fought back. Again, I followed Bryn's lead: we went back, and did our best to subdue the beasts without doing any permanent injury. Basically, we just wanted to give the other people time to withdraw. Once everyone was out of harm's way, we left the area. I don't think this was a great success from the organiser's point of view, but I'm satisfied that we did the right thing.

After I got back to camp, I had to leave again. This time, I went off to the ritual circle, so that we could have another attempt at upgrading Brother Cornelius to a greater shaman. We previously attempted this in June but that ritual failed. As we were walking over, Marlowe was concerned that Cornelius didn't show enough emotion within the circle last time and deliberately tried to make him angry. However, Cornelius came back with a very good response: he wants to be a demonologist rather than a banisher/necromancer, and these roles require different temperaments, so he needs to be calm rather than shouting. I don't know much about either discipline, but I was glad to see him speaking with confidence and standing up for himself, so that's something that we could base the ritual around.

When the ritual started, I asked Cornelius some leading questions to guide him in the right direction. Specifically, I referred back to an incident at Naadam when a demon stole (reclaimed?) a lantern from our camp. I didn't mention this in my previous blog post: basically, one of our allies (Tiny Shoots) had acquired it for us by grabbing it from our enemies when nobody was looking and then running away. I'm not sure of its abilities, but we wanted to hang onto it and we agreed that the best place to store it was in the middle of the Round Table: that way, it would be in plain view of everyone at the table, and there's always someone there. Soon afterwards, we assembled for Parliament, so we all stood in the centre of camp and left the Round Table unattended. (At this point, a keen observer may be able to spot the tiny flaw in an otherwise damn fine plan.)

Anyway, a demon then crept into our camp to take the lantern. Cornelius cast the Detect Spirits spell so that he could see it even when it was invisible and guided everyone else to attack it. Unfortunately, the demon escaped with the lantern, but this demonstrated that he was already making good use of his shamanic abilities. It also demonstrated that he (and we) needed a demonologist on hand, because we didn't have time to send a runner to another camp to fetch someone.

A mysterious voice then interrupted the ritual: this wasn't any of us (the ritual team) or the watcher. This voice challenged Cornelius to prove his knowledge; specifically, it asked him whether he knew the location of a particular object. He said that he did, but he wouldn't reveal that location in case the voice was hostile. "Clever boy, I am indeed malevolent!" So, some new demon is now paying particular attention to Cornelius, and potentially to the rest of the ritual team. Again, I think this demonstrates that it would be very useful to have a demonologist around to protect us!

Marlowe then tried to impose some restrictions on Cornelius, the idea being that if Cornelius used his newfound power for evil then Marlowe would personally drag him back into the ritual circle and leave him incapable of ever performing any kind of magic again. That's a noble goal, but it turned out that he'd overlooked some of the nuances. At first he asked Cornelius to promise that he would only study demonology and never practice it. Cornelius and the watcher both objected to this, on the basis that you have to be able to practice something as part of your study, otherwise you'll never be able to master it. Marlowe then revised his demands, and instead asked Cornelius to promise that he would never summon a demon. Again, Cornelius and the watcher both objected, saying that this was a necessary part of his training: his long term goal is to be able to get rid of demons, so he'll need to summon them in controlled conditions so that he can use them for practice.

On the plus side, this gave Cornelius another chance to demonstrate that he had researched this field and knew what he was doing. He simply promised that he would only use his new abilities in the service of the warhost rather than for personal gain. The watcher challenged this, claiming that "the ritual circle is littered with the broken promises of Lions". Cornelius replied that he had never broken any promise and that he would remain true to his word.

At the end, the watcher gave us another riddle to solve. As with the bane weapon rituals at Naadam, this involved specific knowledge rather than wordplay. I don't recall the whole thing, but it began with something like "I'm cousin to a demon..." I had no clue about it, and I asked whether we had to answer it right away or whether we could consult other people. However, Cornelius then stepped forward and provided the correct answer without needing to seek anyone else's advice. All in all, this ritual went far better than our previous attempt, and it was a success.

The next ritual was a divination for Cornwall. The warhost will be visiting there next year, so we want to know what to expect. I wasn't directly involved in this one, but I stayed to watch it. As well as the Lions, they were aided by the Jack of Shadows (a Fae from the court of Elvesham). The basic plan was that Cuilliock would use a form of astral projection to leave his body and travel to Cornwall in spirit so that he could observe the situation. I wasn't quite sure how they'd do this, and the Jack of Shadows took a fairly direct approach: he ran Cuilliock through with his sword! This didn't immediately kill him, but it's a bit of a precarious situation. The ritual continued, and suddenly the rest of the ritual team disappeared, along with a few people who'd been watching from outside the circle.

That was a bit odd, to say the least! However, I couldn't do anything about it, so I returned to camp. A little bit later, the ritual team returned, which was a relief. According to Cuilliock, the mission wasn't entirely successful: he was sneaking up on the enemy to eavesdrop when Sir Dalton (who'd been outside the circle) appeared nearby and said "What's going on? Where am I?" The enemy heard him and decided to have their discussion somewhere else.

We also discovered that Cuilliock had a lingering effect from the ritual: he can't see anyone he likes, for 1 year and 1 day. This specifically affects people from Cornwall, so he could see and hear me without any trouble. At first he didn't believe me when I claimed that other people were standing nearby, but they convinced him by poking him repeatedly. I cast Spirit Sight on him, and he seemed fine. However, Morwenna then asked me to cast the same spell again while she was standing in front of me, i.e. when he was looking through her to see me; this time I got different results, implying that something was now active rather than passive. That's interesting, and I'll bear that in mind if similar situations arise again.

Our camp was then attacked by wraiths. Most of our weapons and magic proved to be ineffective, but Anise was lethal with Clarent. The wraiths aren't living creatures, so the sword's normal restriction doesn't apply, and she destroyed four of them single-handed! (This is someone who claimed not to be very martial; maybe Clarent was influencing her?) At this point, my main contribution was to act as a human shield; even though I couldn't fight them off, I could at least delay them from getting to her. Fortunately that turned out not to be necessary. Sir Florence then offered to use her actual shield to defend Anise, but Anise had already accepted Lady Teagan's offer to do the same thing. That meant that I wasn't really needed, but I wanted to keep an eye on Anise just in case anything went wrong.

We discovered that these wraiths had come from the ritual circle. The Jhereg had performed a ritual to send an expedition elsewhere (including a few Lions), and these wraiths had come through in the opposite direction. That meant that when our force returned, they might be bringing more trouble with them, so several Lions went to the Jhereg camp (near the ritual circle) to wait.

This wait turned out to be rather longer than we'd expected, but it was peaceful, and gave us all an opportunity to chat. In particular, Sir Will told us about the way that he'd received his knighthood: he was in a battle, and the king ordered him to go up a hill. Will (as he was then) said that he couldn't do it because he was exhausted. The king then said: "Sir Will, get up that hill!" and that inspired him to do it. A few people made jokes about this, and he observed that he seemed to have become a figure of fun; he thought that his story had been quite touching.

We also discussed the garlands. As well as Anise's meditation, the Celestial College had also done some research (since this affected people from several factions). They concluded that we could remove the garlands in a ritual, but Grunewald would know about immediately, and she would probably react badly. On the other hand, if we left the garlands in place then she would be able to command the wearers from a distance, much as she already could with beastkin. So, we decided to leave them alone for now, but keep the wearers under observation; if necessary we could knock them out later to stop them from following her orders. In the meantime, the garlands apparently rendered them immune to possession from anyone else, so there was some benefit to the "blessing".

Eventually we heard a disturbance from the ritual circle and we all hurried over. There weren't any demons there, but there were a lot of people on the ground who needed healing. We took care of them, then returned to our camp.

Back at camp, the High King called a short meeting. This wasn't a full Parliament, but he specifically wanted to address what Sir Beaumont had done in the context of the Jhereg expedition. "Travelling into danger is brave. But sending other people, when you would much rather go yourself? I only know one word for that, and that is regal." So, Idris appointed Sir Beaumont as the new King of Deira; King Beaumont pledged that he and his line would hold the land, implying that this is a hereditary title. That makes sense, but each time I've seen someone become a king or queen (Esme, Idris, and Beaumont) the throne was already vacant, possibly because the previous monarch didn't have any living relatives.

A bit later, Grunewald summoned everyone with a garland, so Sir Will and Queen Esme tried to leave our camp. Several of us barred their path at the gate and someone was able to keep Sir Will's sword away from him, but they were both very insistent that they wanted to go. Even though I knew that they weren't in their right mind, it was surprisingly hard to refuse them when they still sounded like their normal selves. A few people tried to pull Queen Esme away from the gate, and Sir Will immediately shouted "Unhand my queen!" which is exactly what I'd expect him to do under any other circumstances.

Someone else then came over and reported that the High King had ordered us to let them go; however, we had to go with them and guard them. They walked along the path, and as we approached a bend some other people (from a different faction) warned us to stop, but we continued anyway because we were under orders.

As we approached the Kesh camp; there were a few beastkin on the path and a huge group of them (including B'rakka) forming a wall at the entrance to the camp. The beastkin on the path were armed, and they responded to any challenge with aggression; in particular, they would attack anyone who tried to hold back the people with garlands. I kept my sword sheathed in my belt loop and walked beside Sir Will and Queen Esme as if I was also enthralled, so the beastkin on the path allowed me to pass but then the others in the "wall" stopped me (presumably because they noticed that I wasn't wearing a garland). Sir Will and Queen Esme passed through, then I lost sight of them, so I returned to the group of Lions. King Beaumont was there, so we deferred to him for orders, and he sent a couple of people to look into the camp from another angle.

Most people were worried that the beastkin would attack; since they were our friends and allies, we didn't want to kill them, but we were outnumbered so we'd be at a serious disadvantage in any fight. My advice was that if they all came charging out then we should simply let them pass, then we could get into the camp behind them and find out what had happened to the people who went inside. In the meantime, I knew that Sir Will was still loyal to Queen Esme (even under Grunewald's influence) so I hoped that he would continue to protect her.

Meanwhile, I belatedly understood why the people on the path had warned us to stop: if we wanted to intercept anyone else who was coming then we needed to do it before the beastkin could see us. I knew that some other Lions with garlands were unaccounted for; the last I heard, Sir Hewitt had gone to the tavern and Sergeant Major Wood had gone to visit another camp. I wanted to stop them from going into the Kesh camp if possible, so I sent Anise and Cornelius back around the corner. "On my authority as acting Castellan, if you see them coming then beat them unconscious. I will take full responsibility for this." Anise said that she recognised my authority but she wouldn't do that, then she left. I took that to mean that she'd find some other way to stop them; in hindsight, I now realise that bearing Clarent meant that she was incapable of carrying out my order.

While King Beaumont considered strategy, I tried to see inside the camp. The beastkin didn't seem to object to my presence as long as I didn't get too close, but I couldn't see or hear anything. Again, with hindsight I should have asked a Corporealist to enhance someone's hearing (either mine or their own); that way, we could have heard what was going on behind the wall.

While I was standing there, Sgt Major Wood walked past me. So, the people on the path hadn't stopped her, and it was too late to grab her since we were in full view of the beastkin. The problem here is that I wasn't paying enough attention to my surroundings; I should have kept checking around me. That's how I got paralysed by a hag in the Steppe lands (in June), when I focussed all my attention on the attackers in front of me and didn't notice her sneak up from behind. (OC, it's also how Cedric died; I didn't know that the imps were behind me until they said "Hey, wot'cher doing?", then that distracted me for long enough that the construct in front of me pulverised my head with a hammer.)

I wonder whether I could have tried something a bit more subtle. In particular, as a lesser shaman I can cast the Enthrall spell (although I've never actually done it). That means that someone else will give me their full attention and follow me around (as long as it's not into obvious danger) as long as I keep talking in meaningful sentences. In this case, my goal would be to get her out of danger by leading her away from the Kesh camp. However, there are a few snags.

Firstly, I didn't react quickly enough to think of it; I would have had to start casting it the instant that I saw her. Secondly, it might not have had any effect; since the garlands protected people from possession, maybe the wearers would also be immune to other mind-altering spells? Thirdly, I'd have the pressure of thinking of things to say. (OC, think of the Radio 4 game where people have to speak "without deviation, hesitation, or repetition". In this context, deviation would be fine, and I could get away with a certain amount of repetition, but I'm only allowed to pause for the time it takes me to draw breath.) This would be similar to the situation with the Forsythe daughter, where I struggled to remember all the song lyrics. In that case, I had the advantage that I could just hum or sing "la la la", but in this context I'd have to do better. There are plenty of things that I could talk about, e.g. the history of the Arcane Tempest and our structure of military/mage ranks, but if I stumbled in my speech and said "Um, er, what else" then that would break the spell.

Anyway, the point is moot since I didn't even attempt to cast that spell, so Sgt Major Wood also went inside. We all continued to wait, then eventually the beastkin dispersed. We rushed in, but there was no sign of any of our missing people; the only thing we could see was an altar. Someone else then realised what must have happened: our people had been buried alive, so we needed to dig them up before they suffocated.

I dropped to my hands and knees, then scrabbled away at the dirt. It didn't take long to clear the loose surface area, but then I hit the harder earth beneath, and my fingertips were sore from the effort. (OC, nobody is expecting us to injure ourselves, but if the referees are judging whether we've dug down far enough then I'm guessing that they'll look at quality of roleplay, and a half-hearted prodding may not be enough.) I saw other people standing around near the entrance and called out to them to come and help us. Other mages were a bit more imaginative, using the Reform spell to temporarily turn swords into spades so that they could dig more effectively.

Someone else then suggested the Spirit Sight spell. I used that on Cuilliock earlier (when I was standing near him), and that's the way it's normally cast. However, it has a range of 30 feet, so if I cast it straight down and there's someone buried underneath me then I should be able to examine their spirit. In this case, I don't actually care about the state of their spirit (e.g. whether they're possessed), I just want to know whether I see anything at all, i.e. whether we're digging in the right place. So, whoever came up with that idea saved a lot of lives; our shamans had to pick spots at random, but once they'd found someone everyone else could concentrate the digging there.

We pulled out Sgt Major Wood; she was no longer under Grunewald's thrall, but she also wasn't happy with us. She told us that she was 1 second away from death when we found her. Looking around, I saw other people who I recognised: the missing Lions, and Hawke from the Teutonians. I was relieved, because it looked as if we'd managed to rescue everyone, but I was wrong. It turned out that Grunewald had performed a ritual to separate people from their bodies in order to create spirit warriors who could fight against the forces of Terror. So, when I saw Sir Will, I was just looking at his ghost. He was another aspirant to become the Champion of Law, and he also took 3 steps towards Melaphine; assuming that this had the same effect on him that it did on me, he would have been the first to die after they were buried. Queen Esme and Hawke survived, but Rowan and Sir Hewitt died.

Together, the living and the dead returned to camp. Sir Will demanded his sword, and someone brought it to him. Even though the spirits couldn't touch other people, we discovered that they could hold inanimate objects. When I got back to camp, someone told me that the High King wanted to speak to me. I could guess why: he'd given orders that we were supposed to guard the people wearing garlands, but I'd stood by and watched Sir Will walk to his death. Similarly, Sir Will had chosen me as his deputy because he trusted me to protect the camp and the people within it, and I had failed to live up to that trust.

I went to the Round Table, where the High King was talking to Morwenna. He looked up at my approach and said "Ah, Deputy Castellan, take a seat." I sat down, thinking "Here it comes", but his next words surprised me: "Tell me everything you know about the Tribe."

I met a representative of the Tribe when we were on the Western Continent (back in May), and from our conversation I learnt the basics of their religion; it seems to be a form of ancestor worship. So, I began to tell the High King about this, but then Lord Blackwell came over and interrupted. He told the High King about the people who'd died, which clearly came as news to Idris. Based on that, we postponed our conversation for a later time, while Idris swore that these deaths would be avenged.

In hindsight, I think this is an example of a situation when I should have questioned my orders. I assumed that the High King was already in possession of the relevant facts, and if he felt that it was more important to discuss the Tribe than Grunewald's ritual then I would defer to his judgement. I'm not saying that I should have refused his command, but I could have said something like this: "Your majesty, I will gladly answer your questions, but are you aware of what has just happened with Grunewald?" If he didn't know then I could give a report; if he did know then we could continue as he intended, after a small delay.

After I left the command tent, I spoke to Captain Philips and Hawke (who had come back to the Lions camp with us). The Captain said that we needed to know more about Grunewald, and Hawke asked us what we'd like to know; the Teutonians have been dealing with her for a long time, so they're very familiar with her. I spoke up: "I only want to know one thing. How do we kill her?"

That level of intensity is unusual for me, but I took this personally. Aside from anything else, it bothered me that I had misjudged Grunewald so completely when I met her at Naadam. As I mentioned, Lord Leofric was being extremely cautious, but I laughed and supported her ideas, encouraging Philippe to frolic before her. She asked how we would react if she killed all our children and then offered new babies in exchange, which I treated as a rhetorical question; looking back on it now, it seems far more like a thinly veiled threat.

Does it make any difference if her intentions were good? It seems that she wanted to aid us in the upcoming battle. In my mind, no. In fact, I think this is very similar to the situation with the Forsythe family: sacrificing yourself is noble, but sacrificing someone else is despicable. If Grunewald had asked for willing volunteers then it would be a different matter, but she compelled them to come to her and then killed them.

Unfortunately, Hawke didn't have any good news for us. He said that the Teutonians would quite happily be rid of her, so they wouldn't object if we could find a way to kill her, but they don't know of such a way. I wondered whether we could construct a bane weapon, like we did for the demon Jeremiah, but apparently Grunewald was a Fae before she became a god. The Fae are already ridiculously powerful, because they've had thousands of years to study and improve their magic, so in her current state she'll be a formidable foe (to say the least). I then suggested that we might need a god to kill a god; the gods of Albion very rarely manifest, but some other nations (e.g. Teutonia) see their gods more frequently, so perhaps we could seek their aid. However, Hawke was sceptical; he didn't think that any of the other gods would want to establish a precedent of deicide. Captain Philips suggested that the "Godeater" (a creature we've encountered before) might be able to help, although I'm not sure of its current whereabouts. I'm not giving up on this, but I think it may be a long term project.

In the morning, I thought that I would just be acting Castellan for a single day. Now that Sir Will was dead, I would have to assume that role for a while longer. The High King spoke to me privately a bit later, and said that if I needed any help from him or any of the other nobles, I had only to ask. I appreciated that, since it was all a bit overwhelming. For my part, I said that I was willing to continue in this role until he could make a more permanent decision. There's certainly no guarantee that I'll be promoted again; aside from anything else, Sir Will was acting Castellan for several months before his appointment was confirmed. Obviously I didn't want to move up the ranks under these circumstances, but I also didn't feel ready to take on the job. For instance, if Captain Darcy returns to the warhost and resumes his former role as Castellan, I would be quite happy to serve under him so that I can learn how its done.

In hindsight, I do feel bad about laughing at Sir Will earlier (in the Jhereg camp). It was his birthday and his deathday; had I known that, I'd have been more polite. Since I'll never know this in advance, maybe I should be more careful not to entertain myself at another's expense.

Although Sir Will was dead, he was still in camp. I spoke to him briefly, and said that I would like to confer with him at some point to get his advice on the Castellan role. Normally when people die, the Speak with Dead spell will only allow you to ask 3 questions; since we had the opportunity for longer conversations, I wanted to take advantage of that. However, I also didn't want to impose on Sir Will, so I left it up to him to speak to me whenever it was convenient for him. Someone else made a similar comment when Sir Hewitt volunteered to guard the gate: it doesn't really feel right that you should still have to keep working even after you're dead!

(OC, my new role reminded me of a quote from the novel "Barrayar" (by Lois McMaster Bujold), where Lord Vorkosigan speaks to his father: "Yes, the present setup is a little peculiar. As a count's heir, my hands are between yours, but as your Regent, your hands are between mine. Oath-stalemate." )

IC, I was in a similar situation with Captain Philips. He is my commanding officer, so I am sworn to follow his orders, but as acting Castellan I outrank him when it comes to the safety of the camp; my authority comes directly from the High King. Happily, the Captain made this easy for me: he said that he would obey my orders regarding camp security. I suspect that a more challenging situation will arise if and when I have to test the limits of my authority with other members of the privy council.

The Captain then gave me some useful advice: since I was now responsible for working out the guard rota, he recommended that I should give the Tempest an unpopular slot, just to make it clear that I'm not showing any favouritism to my own unit. So, I scheduled us to do a late shift on Sunday (22:00-00:00).

I've also found that I need to adjust to the way that other people treat me. For instance, I was standing at the gate a bit later in the evening, after the sun had gone down. There was enough moonlight to recognise shapes in a clearing (such as the middle of our camp), but the path was much darker: it was lined by trees on either side, and their branches met overhead. On Friday night, there was a wooden board outside our gate with some small candles stuck to it, and that allowed us to see people who approached. By Saturday, most of those candles had gone, possibly because they'd been kicked aside.

Prudence (from the Order of Papilio) commented on this, because it made the guard's job more difficult. I agreed, but then I realised that this wasn't a case of two colleagues sharing a grumble about their working conditions. She was reporting this to me because it was my job to do something about it! I went to Lord Blackwell for advice, and he suggested moving one of our lanterns (attached to a pole). I did feel a bit exposed as I stood by the path pushing the pole into the earth, but I was confident that the gate guards would notice if I suddenly disappeared. Once the lantern was in its new position, it definitely made a difference, so I'm grateful to Prudence for nudging me in the right direction.

Later on, someone kidnapped Lady Thal from the middle of our camp: I think they must have teleported out, because I was standing at the gate and never saw her leave. Soon after that, a man turned up at the gate demanding a particular stylus in exchange for her safe return. In order to prove that he actually had Lady Thal, he presented us with her ear. He was alone, but it was clear that he was possessed, e.g. he referred to himself as "this meat puppet". So, there was no point in resorting to violence: we'd just be hurting an innocent person while the true perpetrator remained safe at a distance. Anyway, he then left, but he told us to expect his return.

Just to recap, when we were in the Steppe lands in June I took part in a ritual to cleanse and renew a stylus. This used to belong to Uath (an evil druid), and we wanted to use its power for good. Presumably whoever had kidnapped Lady Thal had different ideas.

Lady Joanna and Queen Esme took charge of the situation, so they were at the gate when he returned. They told him (or rather his "passenger") that he was wasting his time, because the stylus was stored in our warchest and Thal was the only person who had access to it. They also wanted proof that she was still alive. He said that he didn't think we were taking him seriously, so on his next visit he would bring us something else. I didn't like the sound of that, but Queen Esme stepped forward and made it very clear that if he cut any more pieces off her friend then we would never cooperate with him.

On his next visit, he did indeed bring an item with him: Lady Thal's key, so that we could use it to open the warchest. While people were dealing with this in the command tent, he remained at the gate. However, he grew impatient, and shouted that we only had 10 seconds to bring him the stylus, then began a countdown. Queen Esme said that she would negotiate for more time, so I ran back over to the gate to announce her. Normally I wouldn't interfere in a situation like this, but I was concerned that she wouldn't reach him before he completed the countdown, so I just wanted to delay him for a few seconds. He said that he was leaving again, but he (or another puppet) would make one final visit to collect the stylus.

I wasn't involved in the high level discussions about this, but I think the dilemma was fairly straightforward. The advantage of cooperating was that we'd get Lady Thal back, since she was more valuable to us than the stylus. The disadvantage was that it might encourage other people to try kidnapping, if they saw that it was an effective way to achieve their goal.

Anyway, we wanted to make sure that the exchange would go smoothly so we put the warchest out in the middle of the path. I didn't see the contents, but I would assume that any other items of value were removed first; it would be unwise to hand over any more than we have to! However, we didn't want to leave the chest unguarded, just in case someone else stole it. So, Baxter (Lady Joanna's bodyguard) stood next to it while the rest of us watched from the gate.

Now that the situation had calmed down, I left them to it: I had another appointment at the ritual circle, although this time I would just be spectating rather than participating. As I mentioned earlier, I met someone from the Tribe on the Western Continent. It turns out that I was one of the last people to speak with him before his death, so his colleagues invited me along to the ceremony to appoint his replacement. Unfortunately, this message was relayed to me via someone else, and there was a misunderstanding about the time of the ritual. Normally each ritual team is granted 30 minutes in the circle, but at this gathering that was reduced to 20 minutes because there was so much demand. If I'd been paying attention, I would have realised that the ritual therefore couldn't start at 21:30; they were at 21:00, 21:20, and 21:40.

Even if I'd been correct about the time, I would still have been slightly late, but I thought that it wouldn't matter if I missed the first few minutes while they were getting ready. As it turned out, I arrived just in time to see everyone leaving. I'm disappointed about that, because I really did want to be there. In hindsight, I should have followed Anise's advice and left camp at 21:00 (before Lady Thal was kidnapped) so that I would be there early rather than leaving it until the last minute. I think my problem is that I try to pack as much activity into each day as possible, and that doesn't leave much margin for error. Ah well, maybe I'll be able to find someone else who did attend the ritual and hear about it from them.

When I got back to camp, I saw Lady Thal (with a bandage around her head) so I deduced that the exchange had been successful. Later, one of our healers was able to reattach her ear, so I'm glad that she wasn't permanently maimed.

I then escorted Lady Skye to the Kesh camp, so that she could consult one of their ritualists regarding the people who Grunewald had killed. There were provisional plans to set up a ritual which would free their spirits, i.e. allow them to pass on to the afterlife rather than being trapped in our realm. The person who Lady Skye wanted to see wasn't there, but someone else objected to this plan: it turned out that he was one of the people who had died earlier. He wasn't happy that he'd died, but he said that he'd spoken to others in the same situation and some of them wanted to remain as they were rather than dissipating. So, he was concerned that we shouldn't be making that decision for him. We reassured him that at this point we were just trying to assess our options, and rituals normally require everyone involved to be within the circle so it would be a simple matter for anyone else to remain outside if they so chose.

I can see why people might be content to stay as spirits, so that they could continue to talk to their friends. However, if they were anchored to the Black Forest then they would be alone when the rest of us left. Some of them were considering ways around this, e.g. asking the living to fill a box with earth from the forest and carry it with them so that the spirits could haunt that box. However, this was something that we couldn't really test until we left the forest, and other people were dubious about how well it would work; none of us really knew the exact nature of Grunewald's enchantment.

Anyway, Lady Skye and I returned safely to the Lions camp, just in time for manoeuvres.

(OC: manoeuvres means that it was our faction's turn for the monster slot. I'll put the next section in italics, since I wasn't doing any of it as Cox.)

At the ref hut, we divided up into groups. The idea was to spy on each of the factions, so we would have a main force going in to attack the gate but this was just a distraction so that we could get scouts inside. I was put in charge of the scouts, so I divided us up into pairs: each time we came to a new camp, I'd send 2 people off to sneak inside. Our brief was to get inside, wait for 10-20 minutes to learn anything useful, then get back to the ref hut to report it. To assist with that, we could each use the Chameleon skill 4 times: that means that we're invisible if we're pressed against another object (e.g. a tree or the ground) for as long as we stay still, but we can't use it to stroll through the middle of a camp.

One challenge was keeping the remaining scouts safe until it was our turn to go in. We deliberately didn't join the attack force, but we were vulnerable on our own and we looked a bit suspicious if we just stood still by the side of the path. I found that a good strategy was to go past the gate (while our attackers were busy) and wait a bit further down. If we saw anyone coming, we would immediately turn around and start slowly walking back the way we came. That way, we'd appear to be fellow travellers and they wouldn't be able to see us clearly from behind.

I deployed everyone else before I went in myself, so I wound up going solo in the Teutonian camp. I have to say, I was actually quite impressed by their security: this essentially acted as a penetration test. The gate area was well lit, with no obvious hiding places anywhere nearby. However, I was able to sneak in during the initial attack, then dash to the nearest tree. I waited there for a while, and heard some potentially useful information (e.g. the names of the people in command), so my next challenge was working out how to leave. There were 2-3 guards on the gate at all times, so I didn't think that I could sneak past without any of them spotting me, and I didn't really want to get into a fight when I was hugely outnumbered.

I waited until some other people were leaving, then I calmly walked over to the gate from my tree. It took an effort of will not to run, because I knew that I'd be exposed, but it was a calculated risk because running would draw attention from anyone who saw me. I did hear one person in the middle of camp say "Hey, who's that?" but by that point I'd reached the gate. There were a few other people ahead of me, so I said "Excuse me please" (in my Mempo accent) and touched them on the shoulder. In that situation, the normal reaction is for someone to move forward and let the other person squeeze past behind them, so by the time the people in camp had shouted "Stop him!" and the gate guards had figured out who they meant, I was on the path.

At this point, I had no more need for stealth, so I sprinted for a tree that I'd seen on my way in and chameleoned again. Several Teutonians came after me, but they moved past without seeing me. Once they'd given up and returned to camp, I set off back down the path to return to the ref hut. Initially I was walking, but then I started running again, just in case anyone came after me. As it turned out, one of the guards was a bit more stubborn than the rest and he followed me, although I wasn't aware of it at the time. When I got to the ref hut, I turned right (off the main path) but then stumbled in the dark and fell over.

That was when the Teutonian guard caught up with me. He immediately asked whether I was ok (OC), i.e. whether I'd injured myself in the fall. Annoyingly, my right leg and arm were both bleeding, but nothing was broken. He then said that IC he was going to kill me, but I thought that I was safe once I'd got off the main path. Neither of us were quite sure where the official IC/OC border was, so he let me go, and I reported in with what I'd learnt.

I also told the refs that I'd injured myself, so they let me off the second half of the monster slot so that I could go over to the first aid tent. It's the first time that I've needed to use their services, although I'm normally on the opposite side of situations like this (i.e. cleaning up other people's wounds when I'm on first aid duty). He advised me to hop in the shower so that I could clean off the blood/dirt, then come back to get it dressed. I was limping a little bit after that, but I didn't need to declare myself as a non-combatant, I just figured that I'd try not to do quite so much running around until it healed up.


After that, I went back to camp. While I was standing at the gate, a woman approached. I didn't recognise her, but I said "Welcome to Albion". (I think of our camp as an extension of our homeland where our own laws apply, a bit like an embassy.) She seemed surprised, and said that this was a much more polite reaction than she'd expected. I'd like to claim that I was being diplomatic, but the truth is that I didn't recognise her face markings: she was pale with a red band across her eyes, and I thought that she was from the Crimson court (i.e. one of the Fae of Elvesham). In fact, she introduced herself as Jagra, a druid from the same group as Uath and Verlaine. Those two had both caused us trouble in the past (before we killed them), but she felt that they had handled things badly, and wanted to find a way for us to co-exist peacefully. That sounded reasonable to me: I don't have the authority to make any treaties, but I was happy for her to come in and discuss it. She voluntarily surrendered her weapons and left them at the gate, so I left Morwenna to escort her around the camp and discuss things further.

Our next visitor claimed to be the Merlin. I met the Merlin last year, although he hadn't travelled with the warhost since Hazel's death, and I was a bit sceptical because the man at our gate didn't look anything like the person I remembered. However, I understand that he does change his form every few years, so it was possible that he was telling the truth. He then said that he had come to visit his wife, Morgaine. At that point, I felt a lot more comfortable about allowing him in. If he was telling the truth then he was certainly welcome among us. On the other hand, if he was lying then Morgaine (Queen to the Fae of Elvesham) would be able to deal with him far more effectively than I could. So, I asked one of the other gate guards to escort him to the Round Table. After a few minutes, I hadn't heard any thunderbolts or screaming, so I concluded that he probably was telling the truth after all.

By the end of the day, I hadn't actually used any of my greater Mage spells, even with everything that had been going on. So, I used them to practice one of the new Tuareg spells rather than letting them go to waste.

Continued on Sunday.

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