The yearly tribute demands were both better and worse this year. With the Sarum Wall nearing completion, the plan for Salisbury was to pit the tribute requesters against each other in order to provoke a battle which would weaken all enemies. Unfortunately they seemed outmaneuvered, for though both Prince Cynric and Prince Caelyn arrived for “diplomacy”, after a private meeting Prince Caelyn departed for Essex, leaving only Prince Cynric behind. He said that he had been talking with his father, and due to last year’s shaming of Prince Aescwine he opined a battle with Sussex seemed likely. As a result, Wessex demanded a double tribute this year, payable only to King Cerdic.
Convinced that some sort of bargain had been struck with Prince Caelyn, the Knights were unable to prove anything. The price was steep, but with only one more year until Sarum was well fortified, the hope was that Wessex was just squeezing them as much as possible before they would become unassailable. Sir Gariant, Sir Esme, Sir Carver, and Sir Gwanon all voted to pay again, with the hope that their defenses would weather whatever storm the Saxons would bring to them next year.
If Salisbury was to stop acquiescing to the Saxons, perhaps even go on the offensive, alliances had to be sought. Therefore, Duchess Ellen made the decision to send her knights North into Cambria, to seek allies. There were two promising leads to pursue: Sir Alain of Cambria had invited the Knights to visit his father, King Nanteleod of Escavalon. Following that meeting, Sir Anelius of Orofoise invited them to parlay with his master as well.
The first stop was to treck Northwest to the nearby Kingdom of Escavalon. Sir Carver was heartened to traverse through the lands of Summerland again, however briefly. While there, he fought a brief skirmish with one of his kinsmen, and though having lost was still happy to be out on the road again. The group of Knights were met on the road by Sir Alain whose knights escorted them to Escavalon, and was happy to inform them in general terms of his father’s disposition. The Knight at least had a great hatred of Saxons burning within him, and he longed for the day to take the war to these foreigners.
Escavalon was a wealthy and proud city, tracing its roots back to Roman times, though not at the scale of Eburacum. King Nanteleod welcomed the Knights, but rather than hosting a great feast preferred a smaller, more intimate meal where he could query each knights in general. Though physically lacking, the King possessed a keen mind, and happily conversed with the knights at a wide variety of topics, rewarding each for their time regardless of outcome.
Regarding an alliance, he was quite agreeable to the idea, though he had first planned to campaign for a few years in Cambria to bring the Kingdoms there under his control. Since he could not commit his full forces yet, he proposed to have a mutually beneficial pact where each Lord would pledge to relieve the other if they were besieged, but otherwise to keep the alliance quiet for the time being. As most found this amenable, there was but one condition that King Nanteleod had: No alliance with King Idres without his approval. Nanteleod had no great love nor trust for Idres, and did not trust him to keep his word.
The Knights left positively disposed towards Nanteleod’s offer, and after enjoying the hospitality of the King, left for their second meeting.
Sir Alain offered to escort the Knights through Cambria during their visit, and though the diplomatic overtures were not lost on the Knights, they accepted the extra protection as they left to meet with Sir Anelius. He was stationed at the border of Escavalon, and bore a letter from his Lord. Though all seemed to be in order, no Knight present – including Sir Alain – knew of Sir Anelius, which did not speak highly of the importance the Duke placed on this meeting.
The trip to Orfoise was less pleasant as the mountainous terrain began to reach in the way. Passing by a mixture of villages and raided areas, the Knights arrived at a valley pass that would lead them into Orfoise. Though suspicious of an ambush, Sir Anelius assured them there were regular patrols in this area. Nonetheless, as they were halfway through, Wildmen rained javelins and rocks down on them from above, and as the Knights turned to ride for the entrance, a large number charged in to meet them. Most treacherously of all, in the conclusion Sir Anelius turned and struck a grievous blow to Sir Alain, dropping him.
Sir Carver and Sir Gwanon had remained by Sir Alain, and fought to protect him from Sir Anelius’s treachery. Sir Gwanon risked a great blow from Anelius to scoop up the Prince and ride to safety, while Sir Carver engaged in a great duel – proving victorious against Anelius. SIr Esme and Sir Aquila rallied the other men to fight off the wildmen, and though greatly outnumbered proved successful, and the knights succeeded – though not without quite a few casualties.
Facing the remaining Wildmen coming after them, the Knights retreated to an earlier fort to make a stand, but they were reinforced by another patrol – led by Sir Tathan of Orfoise. Though evasive at first, the warband had several healers that were desperately needed, and he and his men were admitted entry. Confessing what had happened, Sir Tathan denied knowing Sir Anelius, and swore to bring this matter up with his Lord to investigate. He also didn’t know of any diplomatic envoy to have been sent out, and so the Knights returned Sir Alain to his father, and proceeded back home.
Over the winter, news came in that King Idres’s campaign in Cornwall was gaining momentum, and more lands fell or swore fealty to him. In addition, all the Saxon Kingdoms are sending out messengers that soon a bretwalda – the Saxon version of a High King – would be declared, and Britain should choose their allies wisely. In addition, a new mercenary known only as The Silver King had been installed in the great fortress of Uther’s Shame, now renamed Argent.
Duchess Ellen was pleased by the news from Nanteleod, but unwilling to risk angering Idres right now, nor the other Saxons itching for war, the hope was that next year the walls would be finished, and a counterplan could begin…