Harvest this year for the knights of Logres looked grim. The tribute that was due to Essex from Prince Aescwine had to be paid. Cartloads of food and resources were moved east under the Saxon convoys. To make matters worse, Prince Aescwine had returned to demand tribute again this year, and as no alliance had been forthcoming Prince Cynric had arrived demanding equal payment to the kingdom of Wessex. Though neither Prince admitted to timing these visits with the other, there would be no capability of deception.
Duchess Ellen summoned knights to her court for advice, and along with Sir Gariant, her conclave consisted of Sir Carver, Sir Esme, and Sir Conlan all gathered for advice. From his own peerless sources of gossip, Sir Carver had heard that the Isle of Wight had refused to pay King Cerdic his tribute, and the country would doubtlessly be watching what the Saxon King’s response would be. As Salisbury was one of the closest counties the possibility of reinforcing the Isle was discussed, but it would involve either going through Wessex, Summerland, or Silchester. Silchester was apparently allying with King Ælle of Sussex and would likely choose to remain neutral, and King Cadwy was again hiding in his swamps. Ultimately, the Countess decided the Isle would have to stand alone.
Regarding the tribute, most knights balked at the thought of paying one Saxon again, much less two. Starting with Sir Gariant though, most of the knights eventually came around to the point of view that there was simply no ally they could rely on, and it was uncertain they could defeat one Saxon kingdom, much less two. Even if they only paid one tribute, the Saxons could sweep in next year to finish a weakened army off. Both tributes were to be paid, though Sir Conlan was the last voice to give up, saying that this would only work as a stopgap solution.
Both princes accepted their tribute, though Prince Cynric mentioned that in exchange for knights, his father would pass on the tribute. Duchess Ellen refused this suggestion and dismissed him from court. Once they were gone, she asked her knights to ride out in secret to try and meet with the other Kings to try and forge alliances that would serve their county well. Though many options were floated, at the Duchess and Sir Carver’s suggestion, they chose to ride out to seek King Fallagantis de la Fontaine and the Kingdom of the Circle of Gold. That mythical Kingdom was known to house many knights, and an alliance with them would be a strong addition to any army.
The return to the Kingdom of Gold was much easier. It seemed almost as though the Gateways opened for them, and again they were asked to duel for Love, and not Hate. Sirs Conlan and Carver were notably inspired, and more than a few knights were mortally wounded in their quests. The deaths still saddened the knights of the Circle, but not enough to persuade them to cancel the challenge.
All three Knights cleared through three aspects of the Challenge, whereupon they came across a monster trapped in the woods that Sir Carver helped free from a trap. In return, he told the Knights of three paths: One to a Man of Iron, One to a place of Bright Magic, and one to a Den of Monsters. Sir Conlan moved to inspect the Iron Man, Sirs Gariant and Carver to the Monsters, and Sir Esme to the Bright Magic.
Sir Esme found herself among a Rose Garden tended to by beautiful servants who offered to bring her into a great feast. Fearing eating faerie food, she asked politely to be excused, and then finally took her horse and quickly fled the area. Carver and Gariant found themselves reaching a great pit, which contained within one of them was a trio of Griffins which attempted to attack them, but were bound by some unknown force. Asking a keeper of these monsters, the two were told that they were kept here by the will of their King for the good of the land.
Sir Conlan however found himself at the last challenge, and after a fierce duel won the right to see King Fallagantis himself. Moving in to the city, the other three Knights found themselves drawn to him, and the four formed the wedge of a steadily growing parade into the city. Meeting King Fallagantis, Sir Conlan was again reminded to duel for love, not hate – and King Fallagantis faced him in a duel to the death. Though Sir Conlan was shocked at this request, the pressure from the crowd found him drawn on to defend his Valour, and he fought the King. Though Fallagantis struck him a mighty blow, Conlan managed to down the King. He looked for advice, but the crowd was merely silent waiting for the duel to be completed, and Conlan slew the King.
Being granted the titular circle of gold, Conlan was instituted as King of the land. With it came a heavy burden, and he realised he could not send knights, for he needed everyone present to help defend his lands against competitors to ensure only the worthy could challenge him. There was an ancient curse on the land that if the King died in any way but from completion of the challenge, all the evils would be released. He bid adieu to his friends, and said they could always come to the Kingdom if they needed to, but he could not abandon his new land.
Returning to Duchess Ellen to tell her the news of Conlan’s ascension. As feared, King Cerdic had indeed conquered the Isle of Wight and killed many of the nobles there. In some good news, Lady Junah had managed to halt the advance of King Idres with the assistance of Sir Brastias. Still, with no sign of any leader rising up, the Knights were facing the possibility of double tribute next year, and even more dark days.