The cool morning air had fled quickly and the gathered Ironlanders along with the cooking fires made the thane’s hall very warm. Cloaks were hung on wall pegs or draped over the benches that ran the length of the long table that dominated the room. Hjalmar, the Thane of Greymoor sat on a chair covered in hides. He was not the hulking brute one might imagine when hearing their renown was based upon raiding other settlements. Quick-eyed with precise movements, Hjalmar was lithe in build and his hand was never far from a weapon. With his return, the þing was a forgone conclusion and was also the proper time for Branwhyn to address him once the local business had finished. Normally, the circle’s people would bring disputes before their thane, to ask for his judgment and wisdom. Here in Greymoor, the judgments seemed to have already been made.
While Thane Hjalmar had been away, Ragna daughter of Padma, had been the voice of reason, had settled disputes, and even merited out justice. While none of her judgments had been anything irrevocable, it seemed that the issues were being related were not for Hjalmar’s discernment, but for his approval. Only rarely that morning were modifications made to any of the decisions that Ragna had made in his absence and then adjustments were slight, making a penalty a little less or slightly harsher. It seemed the Thane knew the brusk woman’s judgment was sound and far from behind threatened by her, endorsed her speaking in his stead while he was away. More striking was that she had won his confidence and trust, given that the wind had whispered of a man who fearfully clung to his fragile reputation. It made the þing the most inauspicious Branwhyn had ever been to. The people felt it as well, they did not stand before their thane, unless they were simply inclined to do so; most sat at the table or pestered the servants for something to eat.
Preferring to be unobtrusive and observe, Branwhyn sat on the bench of the long table with his back to the dividing wall. On the other side would be the room he’d snuck into the night before. The lack of tension seemed felt particularly keenly by Corinna, who sat nearby, head resting in one hand, while quietly tapping the table with her fingers. Ragna at least took the gathering quite seriously, ultimately it was her decisions that were under review and each confirmation seemed to be taken as an affirmation of herself.
Whatever goodwill and feeling Branwhyn might have had for Hjalmar disappeared when the gathered throng began to settle in at the long table for the midday meal. One of the household servants, the woman who’d warmed the thane’s bed the night before, moved from working near the hearth to the serving table. Both eyes were blackened and purpled by bruises, there were welts visible on her arms, and there was a cut on her cheek that was still open. By all appearance, she’d been prevented from tending to it. Jaw clenched with anger, Branwhyn needed no magic to know what had happened. Come morning, Hjalmar had somehow noticed the missing iron coins and blamed his servant, punished her, and then prolonged her suffering by demanding her wounds go unattended likely because she hadn’t confessed to a crime that she had not committed. Corinna saw the woman a moment after Branwhyn and he could feel her hard claw-like nails dig into his arm. Gently, he put a hand over hers to reassure her. “I see it. We’ll make it right.”
Ragna overheard the words and seemed to see the injured servant for the first time. “It happens.” A helpless explanation for something she didn’t like but thought she could do nothing about.
Perhaps she could not, but he certainly could. Brawnhyn waited until the meal had been delivered. After there was a lull where house servants waited upon the needs of the guests. The shaman motioned for the injured woman to come. Fearful, she glanced at his hair – clearly afraid his raven-colored locks marked him as a Skulde, or at least a descendant of one – but too afraid also to find out what might happen if she didn’t obey.
“Sit.” He shifted to make room and straddled the bench so he could face her when he did so. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hjalmar watching them, smiling slightly. He must think Branwhyn to do some injury to the woman and be pleased by the further punishment. “Tell me your name.”
Obediently, the woman slowly sat down. Her whole body was tense, expecting harm of some kind. “Estrid, good master.” Her voice trembled as she said it.
“I am neither good, nor your master.” The shaman replied, softening his tone and his words. “But I am going to mend your wounds.” Corinna threaded the catgut through the needle from their medical supplies and started preparing the ointments and herbs.
Couple few things are happening here. We are of course healing the woman, but this is really about a power play against Hjalmar. We’re looking to shame him. Definitely a sideways attack, so we are Securing an Advantage w/ Shadow + Bind (7, 3, 5+2+1), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum (+3).
Estrid flinched at first, but Branwhyn’s hands were sure and gentle. The balm that Corinna prepared eased the pain as well. As he worked, his rational mind was given time to push its way forward past his moral outrage. Life was hard in the Ironlands regardless of your position, there were servants in nearly every household with holdings of any worth, and a master was probably more likely to be vindictive than gracious. Could he do something about all of it? No, but he could do something here and now. At what cost though? The hasty vows he’d made in the past came to mind, his efforts had fallen short at both Wolves Haven and Grimwick. Would they fall short here as well because he sought to protect a single woman? Was saving her worth risking the greater goal? The simple fact was he needed Hjalmar, not just to help with Grimwick, but to ultimately join the alliance forming in the north. It would be easy to alienate the thane, shaming him into doing what Branwhyn wanted; yet that would not earn an ally. Worse, it would make Brawnhyn a monster. If he truly meant to prove to Corinna that there was a better way, then he had to find it for himself as well.
The timidity never left the woman, but the fear of the shaman dwindled along with the tension. What fear remained was for her master and what he might do to her or the man who helped her because they’d disrupted his will and intent. When next she jumped, it was not due to the needle, but to the sound of Hjalmar’s voice.
“Ragna, who is the Skulde-haired outside you bring to my hall?” The dismissal of the Shaman by speaking around him was a tactic to put him off balance. It was an all too common occurrence for Branwhyn though and it took little effort to keep the annoyance off his face. Besides, tending to Estrids wounds had been a social tactic as well, a calculated one. He kept his eyes on his work, not acknowledging even that he was being spoken of.
“His name is Branwhyn, my Thane.” Spoken almost as a question, the uncertainty in the normally outspoken woman’s voice wasn’t lost on anyone. “Branwhyn the son of Hugh. A shaman from the Havens, I believe. He saved my son out on the fens. He is, I believe, Ironsworn.”
“Ah, a troublemaker.” Hjalmar was then just as outspoken as Ragna, why they interacted well became more clear. Neither dissembled in their speech, there was never any question of where the other stood or thought. Ragna’s forthrightness was a valuable thing for a man of power who worried often about losing that power. “And what trouble does he bring?”
“Perhaps, my thane, he should speak for himself?” Framed as a suggestion, Ragna’s tone made it clear she was not amused by being a mouthpiece for the stranger.
Turning his eyes from Ragna to Branwhyn, Hjalmar looked expectantly yet still didn’t address the shaman.
“I bring two messages and a boon to your hall.” He didn’t look up at the thane as he spoke but continued to focus on his delicate work. Estrid would surely have a scar on her cheek, but he could at least help it to be a thin one. “I would say they are a mix of fortune and trouble, as most things are. Also like most things in life, they are what you make of them.” He pulled the last stitch through Estrid’s wound and tied it off. Leaning close to her ear, Branwhyn spoke in a near breathless whisper. “You’ll want to boil out cow’s urine and put it on the wound or it will become infected. You can stay or you can go and hide, as you will.”
“Will you shield me, good master?” Not looking at him as she asked, Estrid’s hands clenched at her dress.
Throughout the entire exchange, part of him warned that he was forgetting the mistakes of Wolves Haven. He did remember, but he didn’t listen to the warning. With two fingers, Branwhyn touched iron of the bearded axe at his belt and nodded, a bare motion of his head but one Estrid saw out of the corner of her eye. There were so many that he could not save in the Ironlands, but this woman here and now – defenseless in the face of her master – he brought into his protection.
Couple few things, first we just made a promise, so we Swear an Iron Vow w/ Heart (5, 1, 4+2), Strong Hit. +2 Momentum (+5). Troublesome: Shield Estrid. And we are laying the field for the request for aid, laying a mystery and forcing the thane to ask as a hopefully subtle manipulation. I envision this scene to be a balance between bear baiting the thane and having him getting tired of the game. Ergo, Scene Challenge [Dangerous]. Secure an Advantage w/ Shadow + Bind (3, 9, 2+2+1), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+6).
Sitting at the head of the table, the thane was not close enough to hear the exchange, but he’d watched the communication happen with narrowed and suspicious eyes. He breathed out loudly through his nose, the silence and the not knowing working on him like a spell. “What message and what boon do you bring?”
“Messages.” Branwhyn corrected gently. Calmly returning the needle and catgut to Corinna’s hands, he briefly placed a reassuring hand on Estrid’s arm before standing. Moving slowly, the shaman moved so no one was between them. It also served that Branwhyn was standing while the thane was sitting. He bowed his head slightly in acknowledgment. “I have, of late, come from Twin Rivers. They are restoring trade to the south, avail yourself or not of that knowledge. More recently, I have been in Grimwick. They are besieged and their thane calls for aid. As for the boon I bring, I will help you find that which has been taken.”
“And now I see your game.” Hjalmar’s sneer showed teeth. “You come to buy our help in battle and if we refuse, your magical sight will be less useful in finding what has been taken.”
“Not at all.” Branwhyn smiled slightly, he couldn’t help the gesture but tried to keep it from being superior. “The Thane of Grimwick calls for aid, I am not sworn to him. Go to his aid or not, the choice is yours. Though I would recommend you help. My help in finding the black iron torc that was taken is not dependent on that decision.”
The failure to give reasons for his recommendations was intentional. Branwhyn held Hjalmar’s gaze and let the silence do its work. After a long moment, he gave a brief nod and turned, a movement to return to his seat but suspecting he wouldn’t get there.
Let us see if we hooked the thane, Face Danger w/ Shadow (1, 3, 5+2+1), Strong Hit. Hook, line, and sinker. No Momentum gained during the Scene Challenge, instead we generate Progress 2 of 10. Argument 1 Face Danger w/ Shadow (6, 3, 3+2+1), Weak Hit. Progress 4 of 10, But Clock ticks 1 of 4.
“Have you no more?” Hjalmar protested in exasperation. “Your counsel is cryptic troublemaker. Explain yourself.”
The last had been a command, which was well. The thane could hardly protest what was said next after he’d asked for the words to be spoken. The shaman allowed himself a touch of a smirk but suppressed it before turning back to the thane. “As you will. Regarding Grimwick, Thane Egil is a dangerous man, but fair. Having him in your debt would be no small boon.”
The thane frowned, skeptical and likely for good reasons. Thane, jarls, and war leaders across the Ironlands were distrustful of one another. Unless well known and tested, their words and promises were not made of iron, but something far more mutable. Branwhyn inclined his head, acknowledging the unspoken doubt. “He is not besieged by another settlement though, his Circle is threatened by a bandit. Do not think Grimwick is weak though, that its wardens are ill-trained, or their defenses unprepared. The banding is Blacktongue Breckin. If you’ve not heard of him, you will. Either you will hear the name when he is at your gates, or on the lips of those you seek to raid when they tell you that Breckin has already taken everything of worth.”
Argument 2, Face Danger w/ Shadow (4, 4, 5+2+1). Strong Hit w/ a Match. Mark Progress 4 of 10. Oracle Says: Breach History. I interpret this to mean something like what Branwhyn describes happened in the past and the argument is particularly compelling and speaks to Hjalmar’s fears. I’ll mark progress a second time, 6 of 10.
Hjalmar’s countenance fell. Perhaps something similar had happened in his past and the argument had breached the walls of his skepticism. He leaned forward resting elbows on his knees, no longer listening but instead absorbed in his own thoughts. Branwhyn let him think, content to wait and let the thane’s fears do the shaman’s work.
The hall was silent as the thane thought, the Ironlanders of Greymoor seemed to sense their thane’s concern if not his fear, it seemed to turn their own mind’s onto inward and troubling paths. The crackling of the cooking fire and the creek wooden benches as bodies shifted uncomfortably filled the silence until the thane look up from his own internal journey.
“There is a storm growing in the West Hjalmar.” Branwhyn took a step closer to the thane and crouched onto the balls of his feat to meet the other man’s eyes. “These troubles now are only the first darkening of twilight. When the storm comes, it will sweep over the Ironlands and sweep away our people, casting us back into the sea.”
And so we are setting the stage with Branwhyn’s insight into the future we will Secure an Advantage w/ Wits (9, 7, 5+3), Weak Hit. +1 Momentum (+7). And now we make Argument 3 moving from light to heavy, Face Danger w/ Heart (4, 4, 6+2), Strong Hit w/ a Match (and on 4s again no less). Progress 8 of 10. Oracle Says: Hold Decay. My first instinct is that Hold is short for Ironhold and that this decay’s the hold’s strength somehow, but of a strong hit this should be something positive. I think the hold’s nature decays, it becomes less isolated because of this moment. I’ve been suggesting that the people at the þing are swayed along with their thane. Greymoor as a whole will be affected by the result of this Scene Challenge. If we win, they will be champions of the alliance. If we loose, the doom is upon them and they will want to just see the world burn.
Hjalmar’s eyes flicked up to Branwhyn’s black hair, for it was the Skulde invasion that had driven their people from their homeland a mere two generations before. A time that was only just now passing out of living memory. “What can be done? You would not ask me to expend our strength to help another Circle were our doom already certain.”
“I would not.” The shaman agreed, a grim-faced understanding between them. “A united Ironland can stand against the storm. If chieftains and thanes set aside their grudges and feuds, if Ironholds and Circles unite against the coming foe; then there is hope.”
Once more, Argument 4, Face Danger w/ Heart (2, 9, 6+2), Weak Hit. 10 of 10 Progress, Clock Tick 2 of 4. Resolve Scene Challenge w/ Progress (1, 10, ). Weak Hit. Pay the Price: It wastes resources. I’m a little stumped as to what that means, so I’ll ask the Oracle: Journey Blood. I take this to mean that Greymoor is the resource and in the journey to and or from Grimwick, their blood will be wasted. While they are great allies of the alliance, they will be a weakened Ironhold. Success on this Challenge does a number of things: Progress on Breaking Grimwick’s family Curse 2 of 10. Gaining Hjalmar’s favor is a step towards shielding Estrid, Progress 3 of 10. And we’ve brought a new Ironhold into the Alliance, so Progress on Kingmaker as well, 4 of 40.
Straightening in his chair, Hjalmar’s bearing and demeanor seemed to change. His old fears and troubles seemed to be swept away by the vision Branwhyn had cast. Captured by greater peril and the seemingly impossible idea of a united Ironland, he was transformed; his spine a little straighter, his shoulders held a more confident set, and his eyes looking to the future instead of coveting his neighbor’s wealth. “Ragna organize the hold and begin to gather supplies for a journey, start tonight. The warband travels north to Grimwick in two days. Sharpen your weapons, repair your armor and strengthen your shields. We have a siege to break.”
The raucous pounding of tankards on the thane’s table and the approving roar of voices filled the hall. It had not just been Thane Hjalmar who Branwhyn had captured with the vision of the future he’d woven, but the minds of the people as well. The shaman smiled in wonder, in awe of the unexpected turn, and found himself hopeful as well. Sweeping his vision across the hall, he found Corinna smiling back at him. Then his gaze shifted slightly to Estrid, who set beside his adopted daughter. She too watched him, though with uncertain eyes. The grand vision was lost on her, a servant to a man all too ready and willing to heap scorn and physical abuse upon her. Branwhyn’s oath to her was unfulfilled even as he bound her tormenter closer to the alliance he was building. What kind of ally had he just brought into the fold?
I think we are also going to use using this as a teachable moment, less to mollify the monster inside of Corinna, and more to show a way other than violence so this Progress your Relationship w/ Heart (2, 5, 5+2), Strong Hit. +1 Relationship (11 of 20) & +1 Spirit (+5).xp
Branwhyn ap Hugh
Health +3 Spirit +5 Supply +4 Momentum +7
Edge: 1 Heart: 2 Iron: 1 Shadow: 2+1 Wits: 3
Bonds: 13 – XP: 19/31
Cursed (Break the Grimwick Thanes’ family Curse)
[Paths]: Sighted+, Ritualist+;
[Rituals]: Augur, Bind, Sway, Visage, Ward
[Companions] Kindred (Corinna) +2 – Shield-Kin;
Kingmaker [Epic] 4/40
Break the Power of the Broken’s Apostle [Extreme] – 5/20
Mentor Corinna [Extreme] – 11/20
-Rival [Monster Within] – 5/20
Find the Heir of Twin Rivers [Formidable] – 3/10
Renew Twin River Southern Trade Route [Dangerous] – 2 xp
Winter Meeting at the Seven Strong Men [Dangerous] – 0/10
Revive Corinna [Formidable] – 3 xp
Protect Grimwick [Dangerous] – 2 xp.
Break the Grimwick Thanes’ family Curse [Formidable] – 2/10
Save the Boy [Troublesome] 1 xp
Shield Estrid [Troublesome] – 3/10
Threat: Corruption in the North – 3/10 – Pending
Failure Track – 20/40
Bonds: ???, ???, ???, Esyllt the Herbalist, Ironhold of Crow’s Perch, Björn Blacksmith of Greybrook, Valknut, Ironhold of Twin Rivers, Ironhold of Greybrook, Priestess Indirra of Wolves Haven, Old Gray [wolf], Brumhil of Grimwick, Triplets of the Shadow Fen, Ragna of Greymoor,