- Ro W. as Lady Glensi, the Lady of Sterling Castle, an only child who is betrothed to a stranger.
- Jessica K. as Lady Denai, a family friend of Sterling with six brothers, a (magical?) horse and a habit of wandering through the forest at night.
- Gillian F. as Nikole Sutton, a mysterious woman from the south with a magical and secret past.
- Dan W. as Marinus Hrauthwulfson, a soldier in service of Lord Pellandres with a heritage that forbids him from becoming a knight.
- Luther B. as Sir Pitter (not present), an older Saxon knight who owns land nearby Sterling Castle.
Once upon a time, there were two great battle lords. One was tall and wide like a mountain. The other was small, but thick like a tree. They fought together, bled together and swore an oath of brotherhood. They also swore that their eldest children would marry, forever linking their families together. This is the story of that fateful promise.
It has been twenty years since those warlords made that promise. They both served under Utherpendragon, helping him become King of All Britain, earning the promise of land in the North under King Lot.
But one year ago, Utherpendragon betrayed the Duke of Cornwall, and for his betrayal, he was killed. Now, in the South, the warlords who call themselves “the True King of Britain” wage a bloody civil war. But in the North, the people serving under King Lot are safe from the chaos of war.
See Sterling Castle? We are not so far from there. It is daybreak, but already, many in the castle are moving.
See a kitchen widow open? The cook sets two pies out on the window to cool. Then, she looks to see if any rascals are about, and satisfied, she goes back to work.
Elsewhere in the castle, a young woman orders about servants. She’s preparing for the arrival of a guest from the South. Her name is Lady Glensi and she is the Lady of Sterling Castle. She is the daughter of Lord Selivant, the man other men call “the Laughing Mountain,” a warlord who fought alongside Utherpendragon. Her mother died a very long time ago, leaving her to run the castle for her father. The guest she prepares for is the man she will marry in the Spring. The last time she saw him, they were both children. And, like boys will do, he teased her by calling her “frog” for the way she jumped in and out of the water. She remembers that now, but she pushes it to the back of her mind. She has other things to worry about. Sterling Castle is hers. The servants answer her commands, not her father’s. He is still asleep, but she is making preparations for the day.
Outside the castle, the daughter of Selivant’s blood brother is riding toward Sterling. Her name is Lady Denai, and her steed is Aldwyn. She found him on one of her many midnight wanderings through the great forest north of her home, Alkeep Castle. Her father, Lord Pellandres, is short, stocky and Selivant’s best friend. While her family was in Castle Sterling for the last week—waiting for the arrival of her brother, Lady Glensi’s betrothed—she was out in the fields last night, dealing with a “lambing emergency.” Her father is known as “Pellandres, the Kind” for the way he treats his vassals. She inherited her father’s compassion, and helps the people when she can. Even when she shouldn’t. She stables Aldwyn, speaking to him softly as she removes his saddle and brushes him. Later, her brother will arrive from the South. A true knight, trained by a man named Leodegrance. She has never met him, but they write letters. She has five brothers in total, all of them with the same golden hair as her mother. But Denai is her father’s only daughter. And she has a mane as red as flames.
Elsewhere in the castle, a woman named Nikole Sutton (“Nikole of the South”) leads an old man through the halls of Sterling Castle. His name is Einon, and he is the Druid of Alkeep. He strains to walk, telling Nikole that he will not see the Spring. She dismisses his talk, but he says, “It has been three hundred years. Time enough for anyone.” They enter the kitchens where Einon entertains the maids with prestidigitation, making apples appear and disappear. When he makes a pie vanish (then makes it reappear with another), the cook grows angry. Lady Glensi enters and chastises the girls for slacking on their duties. Then, she offers to escort Einon to the garden. He apologizes for distracting the help and he and Nikole wander outside. There, Einon marvels at Glensi’s work, especially a particular yellow flower that she has been nurturing all year. Glensi leaves the two of them, and Einon speculates on using magic to grow more yellow flowers. Nikole suggests that would be a bad idea and Einon agrees.
In the barracks, Lady Glensi has arranged for spare bunks for Lord Pellandres’ men. One of those men is Marinus Hrauthwulfson, one of Pellandres’ soldiers. He rises up at the sound of the bell and puts on his armor, told to double-time march to the courtyard. While he is a footman of distinction, he is not Cymric; he is a bastard of both Roman and Northman heritage. While Pellandres values him above all his soldiers, he cannot make Marinus a knight: both tradition and cultural pressures forbid it. But he serves faithfully, with courage, skill and distinction. As he follows his fellow soldiers out to the courtyard, he sees the reason for the sudden command: Lord Nidian has arrived.
Lord Nidian. A ruthless and ambitious man. Handsome and cunning and, if rumors are right, looking to overthrow King Lot and make himself the King of the North. He has arrived with his wife, the beautiful and deadly Lady Arwen. Pellandres has called out his men to make a show of force, to show Nidian that any treachery will not be tolerated. While Lady Glensi had to invite Nidian (out of respect), they will also show him that Pellandres and Selivant are still united in support for King Lot.
Lady Glensi escorts Nidian and his wife toward their rooms, Pellandres arrives. He singles out Marinus and says, “Walk with me.” They walk away from the other soldiers. He says, “You know that I cannot give you what you want, but I can give you another distinction.” He gives Marinus the honor of being his daughter’s protector while here in Sterling Castle. They walk to the stable where Lady Denai finishes with her horse. She sees Lord Nidian’s knights leading their own horses into the stables, each of them just as much a bully as their riders. Her steed, Aldwyn, stares each of them down. Pellandres tells his daughter that Marinus will serve as her guard while in the Castle. She quietly interprets this as, “I have permission to go anywhere I want as long as I bring Marinus with me.”
Meanwhile, Nikole has set Einos to bed and is walking through the castle. She finds a small room with barrels. One of those barrels slides away and a large man with ill-fitting and mismatched armor climbs out of the hole behind the barrel. The man is Sir Dalan, otherwise known as “Dalan, the Mad.” It was he who brought Nikole here in the first place. Dalan is the older brother of Lord Selivant and the “rightful” lord of Sterling Castle. But he met a lady in the wood, clad in silver, who commanded him “Go into the world and bring justice with you.” He threw away his land and title and went into the world, bringing justice with him. He often returns to Sterling Castle, telling the tales of his adventures. On one of those adventures, he found Nikole and brought her back to Sterling Castle. She has been a part of the Castle ever since.
“I have returned!” Dalan announces and goes out to find his brother, Selivant. Nikole can hear him stomping through the castle above her, can hear him find his brother, and can hear the two of them begin to wrestle. Selivant shouts, “Armor! Armor! Not fair!” But Dalan replies, “There are no rules!” And the two continue to wrestle.
Out in the garden, Lady Denai asks Marinus if he will help her practice her swordsmanship (she learned from Sir Dalan). They practice for a while until she notices Lord Nidian is watching from under the shade of a tree. He asks, “Do you only play swords with soldiers?”
Lady Denai says, “I practice with any able swordsman.”
Nidian draw his sword and steps in front of Marinus. “Practice with me, then.”
Lady Denai and Lord Nidian cross swords for a short while, but he knocks the sword from Glensi’s hand and grins. “You hold the sword too loosely,” he says. “Like a woman would.” Then, he bows and leaves.
Marinus consoles her by giving her advice. “You must get in close,” he tells her. “Your sword is smaller. Get beyond the tip of his blade. Be quick. And he will not be able to defend your attack.”
Denai watches Nidian leave, glaring at his back.
Meanwhile, at the castle gate, three riders with no colors arrive. The guards at the gate question them. Lord Selivant comes out to see what the problem is. Nikole also sees the commotion and accompanies Lord Selivant.
One of the men at the gate claims to be Sir Gwinas, Lord Pellandres’ son and Lady Glensi’s betrothed. Selivant looks skeptical. “Do you have any proof?” he asks. The man shows letters written to “Gwinas” from his sister, Denai. Selivant looks at Nikole. “Is there a magical ritual we could use to see if he’s telling the truth?” Nikole sees a secret wink from the Lord and she smiles. “Yes,” she says. “Yes there is.”
She waves her arms about and a small storm appears in the sky, making rain fall down on the castle gate. Lord Selivant laughs. “It is you!” he shouts and grabs the knight in a bear hug, jumping up and down. Others come to see young Sir Gwinas including his father, his sister and Lady Glensi.
Gwinas embraces his sister, kissing her cheek. Although the two have never met, it is like meeting an old friend after many years. Gwinas’ father embraces his son, noting how tall he has grown and says he is glad Selivant cannot mock him for his height.
Lady Glensi approaches and Sir Gwinas bows. “I apologize for my demeanor,” he says, gesturing at his wet clothes and hair. She shakes her head. “No, I am certain it is my father’s fault and not yours.” Gwinas retrieves a small, wrapped package from his cloak. “This is for you,” he says. She opens it and finds a necklace with a charm: a small, silver frog with emeralds for eyes. She smiles. “Let us get you into some dry clothes,” she says.
She leads him toward the castle, up the stairs and to his room. She stops at the door and does not enter the room. He bows to her again and a necklace slips out from under his shirt. Hanging from the necklace is a silver cross. A Christian knight in the pagan North. He quickly puts the cross back under his shirt, but not before Glensi notices. She tells him to come downstairs when he is ready.
As she walks back downstairs, Glensi thinks about what she saw. She doesn’t care about Gwinas’ religion. She cares little for such things. She does not want to marry because she will lose everything she built here in Sterling. Unmarried, she is the Lady of Sterling Castle. She commands the servants, maintains the stocks and the cellars, and commands respect. If she is a married woman, she loses all of that. And while she does not care about Gwinas’ faith, she knows her father—and Glensi’s own father—will. This is the pagan North. A Christian will find little love here.
Meanwhile, a messenger arrives at the castle. The messenger wears Lord Pellandres’ colors, a fact that Lady Denai notices. The messenger looks flushed and afraid. She confronts him as he stands by the guards at the gate. He tells Denai that her mother has been kidnapped and is being held ransom by “the Sterling Bandit,” a troublesome rogue who haunts the woods and steals from wealthy merchants and land-owners. Denai turns to Marinus: “I’m riding out to find him. You can come with or stay here.”
Marinus says, “I swore to your father to protect you. I am coming with you.”
Denai fetches her steed, Aldwyn and Marinus borrows one of Lord Selivant’s horses as the two ride out into the woods. Denai follows the road, looking for a place where her mother’s carriage could have been diverted. She finds it.
Meanwhile, back at the castle, the messenger delivers his ransom note to Lord Pellandres. The warlord curses and shows the note to his blood-brother. He also curses. Pellandres and Selivant swear they will murder the Sterling Bandit and prepare to ride out, but one of Selivant’s knights, Sir Cymrain, suggests that he should go out to look rather than the Lord himself. Cymrain is Selivant’s master hunter, after all, and with the sun going down, a lone tracker could sneak in and get the lady out with no notice. Nikole suggests to Lord Pellandres that Cymrain’s plan is strong and suggests she go as well—to provide magical assistance. She tries to find Einon, but the Druid is no longer in his bed and is nowhere to be found.
The two warlords agree: Cymrain and Nikole will go out to find the Bandit and return the kidnapped Lady Ade. Of course, nobody inside the castle knows that Lady Denai and Marinus are already on the road…
Out in the forest, Denai and Marinus find a patch of trampled grass on the road between Castle Alkeep and Sterling. They move slowly and quietly, finding a small camp with five bandits and a hooded fire. They also see Lady Ade, bound and gagged. Marinus whispers to Denai, “I can handle them. Get your mother out of here.” Denai moves around the edge of the camp. When she is in position, Marinus rushes into the light, screaming a Norse battlecry, crushing one bandit’s head into his neck with his massive blade.
Marinus fights on with the remaining four bandits. He delivers a dolorous blow to one, slicing him from belly to shoulder. His armor spares him from two hits from the untrained bandits while his sword pierces the chest of another.
The bandits begin to flee while Denai unties her mother. She asks Lady Ade if she saw the Bandit. Lady Ade shakes her head. “No,” she says. “He wore a hood and a mask and never spoke.”
Just then, Denai looks up and sees a man with a hood and a mask standing in the woods—a bow pointed directly at her head. His hand has already released the arrow, but he tilts the bow just slightly, changing his aim. The arrow strikes just a breath away from her cheek. It was almost as if he recognized her as he was firing the arrow, and suddenly changed his mind. The bandit turns and runs, but as he does, Denai sees something she cannot believe.
That man is my brother, Gawan.
Denai and Marinus return the carriage to the road with the help of the coachman (tied and gagged inside), then, they meet Sir Cymrain and Nikole on the road. The group travels back to Sterling Castle where Lady Ade is greeted with kisses and a huge embrace. Lord Pellandres tells Marinus, “You have returned my wife and my daughter safely. I cannot repay you with what you want, but tonight, you will dine at my table, on my right hand side.” Marinus bows and thanks him.
The servants begin to present dinner, but many questions remain. Why did the Sterling Bandit go so far as to try ransoming Lady Ade? He’s never been so bold before. And is he truly Lady Denai’s brother? What of Sir Gwinas and his “southern faith?” And will Lord Nidian be even more of a bother during the celebrations?
All these questions, and more, will be answered in our next exciting episode!