A Tale of Meadowmarsh

Back in the days of Black Prince Ivar, evil roamed abroad in the lands of Drachenwald and Albion was far from the hearts of the people. The Lady Gwenllian rode upon the fields of Meadowmarsh seeking her fortune. For at that time she was not even yet a squire. Good patrons were thinly scattered and she had not yet come into her birthright.

And after a weary day's journey she sought lodging with the folk of the Meadow, asking a traveler's hospitality. This was given but not for charity but for fear of her noble blood and the arms she bore. This saddened Gwenllian but they would take no service from her nor had she any money to spare them. So after she supped she wrapped her cloak about her, put her feet up, and feigned sleep.

Slowly at first, but with increasing confidence, the villagers began to talk amongst themselves, for they did not espy her deception. Much of their talk was of mundane things; the trials of their labor, the oppression of their liege, and disparaging talk of the folk of the Marsh, whom they shared their land with. But after this there was a silence lasting a whole round of drinks. Then one began to speak, followed by another, and another. Each in turn telling of missing livestock, broken fences, and mysterious trails leading to the upper marsh. Ever since the first new moon of midsummer had these events started and they feared to graze their swine in the Marsh. And they fell silent a second time, drained their drinks, shook their heads, shook their coats and went on to their homes. Gwenllian turned in her cloak and forswore to relieve this village of their menace. For she kept the spirit of Albion in her heart and would not be in peace till she returned their favor.

And when morning came she set forth on her horse, but not along the well trod path toward the folk of the Marsh, but skirting the edge and seeking the high marsh near the most remote of farms. And morning turned to afternoon and as the shadows lengthened toward evening she espied a path. Not one as such the swineherds of the Meadow folk used. Nor one such as the fishers of the Marsh folk used. But one such as an animal might use, and such an animal that would give Gwenllian's horse cause to start from the lingering smell. So she tethered her horse on a nearby grassy hillock, wrapped her cloak around her and prepared to wait out and discover the cause of the village's menace.

And before long the sun set and not long after that the moon rose, for it was nigh full. And thus Gwenllian waited with the chirping of crickets for company as the marsh mist had risen and obscured the stars. But eventually there came a sound that was not the splash of a fish, nor the chirp of a cricket, but the passage of an animal. Twigs cracked, leaves rustled, and Gwenllian readied her sword and shield under her cloak as a dark shape proceeded into view. And just before it reached her she saw it before the moon. To her surprise it had not the form of an animal, but that of a man. He was large, unkempt with clothes in a wild state. And though he walked on two legs, he hunched often, and shuffled around, darting looks to left and right; showing the inner nature of a beast. And Gwenllian wondered at this, and wondered most of all that he carried a boar spear. The animals of the forest are full of guile and cunning and it is fair play in the hunt to use their own tricks of camouflage and surprise against them. But men are a different matter and contest between them should be honest and noble as befits their bearing. With this in mind Gwenllian threw back her cloak and stood forth in the path, brandishing her sword and shield. "Hold there, man of the marsh", she cried. "I Gwenllian stand in challenge to you. Put aside your spear and trouble these villagers no more or you shall face my steel." The man straightened and a look of understanding crossed his face, as a cloud crosses the moon. But it quickly fled and he readied his spear and began circling. Seeing combat was afoot Gwenllian quickly saluted her opponent and raised her shield to receive his charge. Powerful he was and, to her wonder, he appeared well trained in the spear, which was unexpected for a wild man. They clashed and drew apart, clashed and drew apart until Gwenllian, tiring, could see the combat going against her. For the wild man fought with all the training of a Knight, and all the cunning of a wild beast. She found herself backing, seeking a position where he could not bring the length of his spear nor the strength of his arm against her. Upon a stump she leaped both to give her height and to discipline herself to hold her ground. At this he lunged forward, but missing his thrust his weapon was fouled with her shield and he now was in her weapon's range. Several blows was Gwenllian able to land upon the wild man but he twisted and turned such that they were all glancing. But for the last whereupon she drew a thin stream of blood from his arm. And, in surprise, he drew back and stumbling across the dead tree's roots fell at full length and his spear clattered to one side.

Though she could have finished him there and then, Gwenllian's heart forbade her to strike at a fallen and weaponless opponent. So she drew back to give him ground to regain his feet and weapon. But the wild man, knowing naught of chivalry or honor, misunderstood her actions, and fearing his end was upon him, took to the woods and fled.

Gwenllian paused to regain her breath. She was pleased that, for once, paying due respect to honor had not cost her the bout. But knowing the matter was not yet at an end she shouldered her shield, scabbarded her sword, and proceeded through the marsh after the wild man. Through fen and brook she tracked him. But his trail was wide and he fled with no thought at deception or ambush. Before long the yellow light of a tallow candle shone through the mist and she was upon a shrine to Saint Lingquist. And in wonderment she entered, seeing the wild man clinging to the alter in the center. A hermit stood forth from the shadows saying "Do not enter here bearing weapons! This is a place of peace and sanctuary."

And so Gwenllian left her weapons upon the threshold. "I respect your wishes, hermit, but do you know whom you give sanctuary to? Is he man or beast?"

The hermit answered her "He is both, my Lady. He is His Excellency Swindon, a Baron of Prince Ivar's Court, but he is cursed, his reason has left him and he remains but a beast."

"Then surely you must know that at night it has been his wont to rampage amongst the villages and drive off their swine. This cannot be allowed."

"Ah, my Lady, neither can it be rightly stopped. For Baron Swindon is these people's liege. As when whole he was in the habit of rampaging against the villages for sport, now as he is cursed, so he continues. As they are in fealty to him, so they must provide for him."

"Good hermit, did not Saint Lindquist himself say that the bond of fealty goes both ways? Even as the peasants in fealty owe service to their noble, so too does the noble owe service to the peasantry in turn. I am not surprised that a curse has been pronounced upon him. For as he abused his people's fealty when in possession of his reason, so he continues to abuse it even as his reason has left him."

And the hermit was silent for a good bit. He looked long upon Lady Gwenllian and long upon Baron Swindon. "My Lady, for many years I have dedicated my life to Saint Lindquist. But in so doing I see now it was merely in service to pride, and no true learning. For in this simple test I have as wholly failed to see right as you have wholly shown the right. I am humbled."

"Be not hard on yourself, good hermit. For I have only seen the problem and not the solution. And little use are those who can only find fault and not help to work for correction. For in this I am now lacking and I hope that your studies are far more use in this area!"

And the hermit thought long on this too. "As a misuse of service brought this curse upon the Baron, then it can only be remedied through good and true service. With the mind of a beast Baron Swindon knows well their ways. Tomorrow morning I shall rouse him and entreat him to scour the marsh for all the swine he has driven there. To herd them together and as many of the wild pigs who also roam there and drive them to his villages to bolster their own herds." And, indeed, on the next day the hermit did entreat Baron Swindon. And with such persuasion as one might cajole a stubborn donkey or contrary cow he urged him out into the marsh. And there he did collect all manner of swine of which he had driven forth, or had escaped their owners aforetime, and their progeny. And first to the fear, but latter to the amazement of the meadow folk did he drive this diverse herd into the village common and kept them penned there as like unto the best sheepdog. And all wondered at this wild man in their midst who had doubled their herds. And as the young folk capered about the elders looked long and hard upon him till at last one recognized him and called out his name. One by one all the meadow folk looked and each did recognize him for who he was. But rather than cower in fear or abuse him for his beastly nature each did solemnly thank him for the service he had rendered. And when the very last had thanked him his reason returned to him and he did return their thanks with noble words of praise.

All this Gwenllian watched from her horse atop a nearby hill. And when it had passed as related above she turned her horse and moved on, knowing her debt was fulfilled. And in her passing the village and Baron Swindon took note and spoke much of her. And none were greatly surprised years later when word came to them that she had overthrown Prince Ivar. But that is another tale for another time.