Kismet in Ost Baranor



The Sun rose over the Weather Hills, and Brychan Forester stepped out onto his front porch. There to greet him was a broad-shouldered, red-bearded man with a frown fixed upon his weather-beaten face. “I think this most unwise, milord,” the man said.
   “I know you think that Burle,” replied Brychan, “But I also know that if I tolerate this slight then thirteen-hundred years of proud strength shall be forgotten, and people will remember only a frightened old man, cowering by his hearth.” Burle Pierson nodded unhappily, for he knew nothing could be done to change his lord’s mind. “Don’t look so mournful,” Brychan said bravely, “These knaves will want trouble no more than we; they are robbers, not warriors. Now saddle my horse, and also Stagwell’s.” Burle went to his task and Lord Forester buckled his sword to his belt. The blade had not seen service for many years, and its cross-guard betrayed a hint of rust. Brychan nonetheless knew it to be a sturdy weapon, for the stout Dwarf who had made it now dozed inside, sleeping off eight mugs of ale. Eanflaed had asked whether she should wake Master Siggald, but Brychan did not wish to disturb his guest, who knew nothing of the dispute with the brigands.
   Stagwell, the man-at-arms, stepped out of the front door, wearing both a mail hauberk and a grim look. The lord saw him and spoke gently, “You do not have to come, you know that?”
   “True, but I do not trust these bandits. Go alone and they’ll rob and kill you.”
Brychan sighed at this, for Stagwell had little faith in humanity, having seen Men do much hurt to one another. Still, he was glad to have such a seasoned fighter by his side this day.
   Together they walked down the steps, and Burle soon brought the horses round from the side of the hall. Both men mounted up, though the ageing Brychan needed his other retainer’s help. Seeing the worry etched upon Burle’s face, Lord Forester patted him on the shoulder, “Fear not old friend, all will be well.” With that he shifted in the saddle and squeezed his legs together, and the chestnut steed set off at a walk, Stagwell following closely behind.
   Out in fields they passed Eanfaled, the old servant with an unceasing scowl. “You’d better bring that lad back in one piece!” she yelled at Brychan, “I be needing him to sheer the sheep!”
   The lord laughed, deciding to take it as a jest, though Sal never spoke in jest. She had always been a serious woman, even in her youth when half the boys in Bree-land had come to admire her beauty. Many young men had begged for her hand, but that was before she gave birth to a daughter and from then on she was more serious than ever. She was a hard worker though and had always stayed loyal to Baranor’s line, even when her master had given her cause not to.
   That master now rode east with Stagwell and within the hour they came to the old ruin of Ost Baranor. It was built by Brychan’s distant ancestor, though the family had always lived at the hall, for the fortress was no home but a cold skeleton of stone. The Foresters nonetheless claimed it as their birth-right and the presence of a band of outlaws was not something Brychan could tolerate. He and Stagwell approached a narrow archway guarded by a young man carrying an axe. Upon noticing the riders he raised it, and shouted a challenge, “Who goes there?”
   “My name is Brychan Forester, I come to treat with your leader,” came the response, the lord hoping that he would be able to pay the bandits off.
   “Boss, this old man wants to speak to you!” Brychan and Stagwell heard someone bark an order to the sentry, who kept his eyes fixed on them. A few moments of silence passed and Stagwell wondered whether the man had even heard the order, but then he finally spoke again, “All right, you can come in, but just the old one mind!”
   Stagwell appeared concerned, but his master calmly dismounted and handed him the reins before disappearing beyond the archway.
Brychan walked into the bailey, passing the mud-splattered tents of the bandits. While he did his best to stay composed the sight of these ruffians in his ancestral stronghold made him angry. Their leader waited on a low dais, circled with unextinguished torches that told of a night spent drinking and playing dice. The bandit chief accordingly spoke in a half slur: “What do you want?”
   “I am Lord Forester, and you are on my land,” Brychan said, retaining an air of proud formality.
   “Oh am I now? And I suppose you mean to evict me? Hah! Come and look boys, come and watch this decrepit ram challenge me!”
   “I do not come to fight,” said Brychan, reaching into his pocket, “I have brought coin…”
   “Which we’ll be very happy to relieve you of! After we’ve watched you dance,” the brigand grabbed one of the torches and thrust it towards Brychan’s face, “Come on old man! Dance!”  
   Brychan reached a hand to his sword hilt but felt a kick from behind, causing his legs to collapse beneath him.
Stagwell heard shouting within the ruin, feeble cries of pain. Leaving the horses, he rushed towards the archway. The sentry barred his way but Stagwell merely braced for impact, crashing into the brigand and knocking him over. Inside Ost Baranor, the man-at-arms found himself looking at his master being beaten, on the ground, by three outlaws. Lord Forester however was not one to accept such humiliation and he struggled tirelessly, punching and kicking at his assailants. One of the robbers took a blow to the stomach and cried with pain. Eyes blazing, he seized up his spear and stabbed Brychan in the gut, and the old man screamed in agony. As Stagwell ran forward the bandits saw him and seized up their weapons. The one with the spear jabbed his weapon at Stagwell, but the mail turned the point aside and Stagwell slashed the brute across the face.
   He fell to the floor and whimpered like a dog, while none of his comrades seemed willing to take on the newcomer. Shaking his sword at the brigands, he edged over to Brychan and carefully lifted his master onto his left shoulder. Stagwell would have liked to kill them all there and then, but instead he took Lord Forester back under the archway and put him over one of the horses. Taking the animal by the bridle, Stagwell quickly led the animal west, back to Baranor’s Hall.