Chapter One - The Hunt

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   It was winter in the forest. The snow lay deep and sparkling among the trees and under an iron grey sky all was silent, with the muffled stillness that only deep snow can bring. A robin’s red breast flitting through frozen branches was the only splash of colour. The silence was absolute, even the birds were quiet under its spell.

   Until, from the depths of the forest, a deep rumble began to penetrate the stillness, like the sound of distant thunder. Slowly, the rumble grew louder and became the thrumming of galloping hooves, the cries of baying hounds and the raucous shouting of men. Hunting horns began to blast and suddenly, between the dark tree trunks, in a headlong rush, crashing and snorting, came a huge wild boar. The beast was completely white, the stiff bristles on its great curved back stood erect and spume flew from its mouth and gathered around the great curved tusks.

   The boar smashed through the undergrowth, breaking branches and saplings in its path, crashing onward… until it reached a clearing in the trees. The snow covered ground gave way to white frosted boulders, along an edge open to the sky. There was a precipice beyond the clearing and far below, the river valley wound its icy way through the hills.

   The boar realised that it was trapped and turned at bay, swinging its tusks, just as the hounds burst out of the trees, followed by the mounted hunters. The hunters called to the dogs to hold and the great mastiffs formed a baying half circle around the massive boar: all knew that it could take down many of the dogs if they dared to attack.

   Behind the dogs, two of the huntsmen dismounted: King Urien and King Pellinore, their breath forming clouds in the freezing air. They were dressed for the weather, with coats of heavy leather and cloaks of fur.

   “Pellinore, as you are the guest in my chase, I give you the honour of making the kill,” said Urien.  “I appreciate your chivalry Urien, although I fear this monstrous beast may prove more

than I can manage on my own. I would welcome your help,” replied Pellinore.

   Huon, Urien’s chief huntsman stepped forward,

   “Sire, it will bring bad luck to kill the white boar.”

   “Nonsense huntsman,” said Pellinore, “come on Urien, we are grown men, not superstitious old women. We will make the kill.”

   Pellinore and Urien were both big men and hardened warriors. The two kings gripped their boar spears in both hands and approached the beast at a crouch, waiting for its charge. Except for the heavy breathing of the watching hunters and the panting of the dogs, all was silent again. For a while only the steamy breath of men and animals moved in the frozen air.

   When it came, the charge was sudden and full of fury. With a great bellowing snort the boar raced towards the hunters. Pellinore thrust his spear forward and the boar charged, hurling its massive weight against its attackers. Pellinore’s spear entered its great tusked mouth and pushed down the gaping red throat.

   Pellinore struggled to keep his footing against the impact, Urien pushed his shoulder into Pellinore’s back and added his solid weight to the contest. With their feet sliding in the snow the two Kings fought to keep upright. Some of the other hunters had dismounted and were coming to assist, but Urien raised a hand to keep them back.

    With the wide blade down its throat, the boar continued to advance up the spear shaft, its razor edged tusks coming close to Pellinore’s arms, until the iron cross guards on the shaft of the spear caught on the mouth and halted the beast’s advance. Gouts of dark blood and foam spattered from its mouth into the white snow.

   Urien moved from behind King Pellinore and drawing his hunting sword, thrust it savagely into the flank of the great beast. With a final push and a great trembling shudder, the boar collapsed onto its side and rolled over…dead.

   The hounds began to bark furiously and Urien slapped Pellinore on the back, as bracing the boar’s body with his foot, he pulled the bloody spear from the gaping throat.

    “A joint kill Pellinore,” said Urien “ a great effort between old comrades at arms.”

   Dark red blood steamed on the snow. The huntsmen all roared their approval and sounded loud blasts on their horns, all except Huon who turned away shaking his head.

   “He is the biggest boar that I’ve ever seen,” said Pellinore. “ The King of the Forest, brought low by we two Kings : a fitting end I think. “

   “The court will eat well tonight Pellinore,” said Urien. He studied the dead beast and mused “The hunt was good; excellent in fact:  but hunting is not war. I miss a good war, there has been peace for far too long.”

   “Would you have us start a war out of boredom Urien?” asked Pellinore.

   “Maybe not a war… or just a little war perhaps? I have been thinking, we could have a great tournament; all my knights, all your knights and all the knights of our neighbours’ kingdoms.

   Pellinore thrust the spear head into the snowy ground to clean off the blood.

   “We will all gather together in the summer. A great mock battle for the knights and a great festival for all… that should sweep out the cobwebs and sharpen the wits of our knights,” said Urien.

   “A great tournament will be excellent Urien! Something to look forward to. Will I see your beautiful wife, Morgana, there? “asked Pellinore. “She hides away when I visit the castle of Gorre. Maybe she has taken a dislike to me?”

   “No Pellinore,” said Urien,”it’s not just you that she avoids.”

   “What is it that she does with her time?” asked Pellinore. “She doesn’t hunt or entertain. Nor have I seen any tapestries made by her fair hands to adorn your rooms.”

   “I don’t know how she spends her days Pellinore,” said Urien. “I don’t enquire. She does whatever women do, I suppose? As long as she is there when I ask, I don’t care. She can amuse herself as she likes. They call her a Fey you know, the faery queen, weaving her little charms. It means nothing to me and little harm can come of it… I suppose.”

 

 

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Chapter Two - The Tower of the Ravens

  It was a dark and stormy night on the sea coast of Gorre and on a lonely crag of black rock, above the angry crashing of the sea, stood the ancient Tower of the Ravens.

   It was here that the sorcerer Morgana wove a wicked spell. In the deep dungeons of the tower, a round well descended far down into a subterranean realm and it was in this secret place, where she was alone and need fear no intrusion, that she conjured the spell. Using ancient and secret incantations, older than the written word itself, Morgana summoned a frightful fiend to rise from the depths.

   At first, a swirling cloud of monstrous insects rose from the darkness, filling the chamber. Morgana covered her face and staggered back against the wall, as thousands of insects swarmed around the chamber and began to coagulate into a writhing black column. A dreadful stench filled the stone chamber, the deathly stench of rotting flesh. The swarming insects gathered closer and closer, with each insect clinging to the bodies of its neighbours until the column began to take on the tall shape of a man; a wavering form, whose surface slid and changed as the insects writhed.

   Morgana quailed with fear at the sight, but moved her hands in patterns to follow the complex incantation. Lying on a stone slab, against the dungeon wall, lay an empty suit of black armour, like a huge insect, the armour glittered with sharp points and strange horny crests.

   The hideous insect entity entered the iron suit through the open visor of the horned helmet. The sorceress stepped closer and firmly closed the visor. She preferred not to look upon the ghastly face within. From the slots of the visor came a sibilant echoing voice:

   “Who dares…who dares to wake Balor from his slumber?”

   Morgana spoke in a loud and commanding voice,

   “I dare demon. I am the sorcerer Morgana and by the power of my magic and by the power of my will, I have summoned you from your dark halls to do as I command in the upper world.”

   The suit of armour slowly sat up on the slab, then stood and took ponderous, echoing steps into the room.

   “My Demon Knight,” whispered Morgana.

Chapter Three - The Green Castle

  Deep in the great forest lay the Green Castle, hidden amongst dense oak and beech trees, its old stones overgrown with creepers. Its ancient walls were crumbling and falling after many years of neglect.

   In the courtyard of the castle, standing on the broken cobblestones, was Olwen, a girl dressed boyishly in the garb of a hunter. She practiced with her hunting sling…twirling the twisted rawhide cords rapidly over her head, before releasing one of the cords to launch sling stones at a rusty old suit of armour hanging from a high battlement.

   Her shots were all on target and the old armour swung and clanged on its frayed rope under the forceful impact of the stones.

   Above the clanging of stone upon iron she heard her father calling: Sir Silas, an ancient knight, was leaving for the great May Day tournament at the Castle of Gorre. His old armour was much repaired but clean and polished.

   “Olwen, please change your mind and come to the tournament with me,” said Sir Silas. “You will see all the delights of civilization: dancing, parties, fine food and drink and handsome young knights to keep you amused.”

   Sir Silas tried to sound encouraging knowing that his words would probably fall on deaf ears.

   Olwen turned to her father.

   “I can’t go with you father, you know what I think of all that. Grown up men bashing each other senseless in the name of sport! Swaggering lords and lofty ladies too full of themselves to…to fart!

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   I couldnt bear the company of young idiots only interested in gossip and the latest fashions. In particular I have no interest at all in stupid, arrogant young knights!”

  Olwen stood awkwardly, wrapping the sling cords tightly around her forearm and tying them firmly into place.

   “My home is the forest,” she said, “ I’ve no time for all of that nonsense. You brought me up here away from civilisation. I can count the number people that I’ve met in my life on my fingers and toes. The forest is my home and I’m quite happy with my own company.” Olwen turned away and walked away across the couryard.

    Sadly, Sir Silas tightened the straps of his antiquated armour, mounted his old warhorse and set off alone into the deep green trackways of the forest. His horse did not seem keen to go and Sir Silas considered changing his mind…but it was part of his knightly duty to attend, so reluctantly he must.