Author Archives: Dennis

An Indictment of England, Take Two

I’ve noticed that the response to the government’s introduction of the various social distancing guidelines has been quite different in the Netherlands than it has been in England. The Dutch response has been lacklustre among a lot of the people that I know, with many people not taking it as seriously as I think they should. In contrast, the English response has been much more diligent. Now, I realise this is completely anecdotal and that it could very well be due to knowing different people in England than I do in the Netherlands. However, I think there is also something culturally different, where the English are also somewhat more obedient when it comes to these things. Culturally, the English are much more aware of decorum and have a stronger sense of politeness, and I think this fits neatly with what I have observed. As a result, I am completely mystified by the following:

Why is There Litter Everywhere?

I don’t know whether it’s a cultural different, a socio-economic difference, a waste-management difference, or some other societal element at work here, but it’s remarkable just how much litter there is on the streets and in the parks of Exeter. Most of the time it’s plastic soda bottles or crisp packages, leading me to think that it’s younger people who drop the garbage on the street.

I’ve never quite understood why people would litter. I’m always amazed when the lights in the cinema go on, and people shuffle to the exit, just the amount of garbage they leave behind. Often I mutter “people are animals” as I carry my empty bucket of popcorn with me to drop it in the bin, as I wade through and weave around everything that people leave behind. I’m not just virtue signalling here, I honestly don’t understand what motivates (or doesn’t motivate) people.

Once, I was walking down the street in Amsterdam and saw a girl rummage around in her pocket while walking with a friend, and then dropping the contents (some pieces of paper) on the ground. I stopped her to say that she had dropped something. She casually told me it was garbage, and I pointed out the garbage can that was perhaps fifteen steps away. She responded by saying that she pays taxes for people to clean it up. I was floored by that. By how rude, lazy, entitled and completely bent that way of thinking is.

And here, in England, where people tend to be quite obedient, I just don’t understand what moves people to chuck their garbage on the ground.

Joasia has suggested that due to the large number of seagulls that fly up the estuary, who pick the garbage from the bins and spread it around, there is a lot of litter on the streets. But that means that garbage is overflowing and requires more regular pick ups. It means tidiness isn’t valued very highly.

Rural areas don’t seem to have the same problem, from what I’ve noticed. Fewer people, sure. But I think there is also a better understanding and appreciation of the natural beauty of their surrounding. Garbage collects garbage, they say, and I think that if your surroundings are dreary you tend to care less for it.

Why are There So Many Cold Calling and Scammers?

I’ve had a mobile phone since 1995 and since then I have never once been cold called by someone wanting to offer me something, either products or assistance. For as long as I can remember the Netherlands has had the “Do Not Call Me” registry, which made it illegal for companies to call you if you were on that registry and wanted to be left alone.

Since moving to England, I’ve received text messages and robo-calls about twice a week. The messages tend to try to get me to visit a dodgy URL, while the robo-calls are always the same; a woman tells me that they’ve been told that I or one of my family members has been in a traffic accident that wasn’t my fault. When you say that this isn’t true, they say goodbye and hang up.

How is this legal? And how in all that is holy is this profitable!? How many people are foolish enough to fall for this? What does it say about a society where this persists?

When I spoke to Joasia about it she said that she has also had it since getting an English mobile number. When I mentioned it to my colleagues they said that it was normal. It’s not normal, it’s bizarre, and it betrays something is fundamentally wrong with this society.

A Swift Return to Kingsport

Previously, the heroes had settled the crusaders in a make-shift camp at the abandoned village off the eastern shore of Lake Llygad as the inhabitants of Pinefall were preparing to celebrate Highharvestide. Plans were made to have the griffon riders fly the heroes bback to Kingsport so that they could present the crusader leadership to court.

Highharvestide, 1262

(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

While Emrys, Emma and Luca had returned back to the camp at the abandoned village, Astrid, James and Quentin stayed behind in Bristlecone to make sure that none of the crusaders would return to cause any more trouble. Whether it was the Darkmoon standing in high sanction in the sky, or the darkness that some of the crusaders were marked by, the heroes were not sure if the villagers of Bristlecone would be safe that night.

They were offered blankets and a place at the fire in the came of the visitors from Hunter’s Hollar, but despite that hospitality, the night was a long and uncomfortable one.

First Day, First Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waning.)

After a restless but uneventful night, Astrid, James and Quentin awaken underneath blankets heavy with dew. The visitors from Hunter’s Hollar were slowly waking up and getting ready to head back to their settlement in the forest. Goodbyes were exchanged quietly and without much fanfare or ceremony and the heroes walked back to the camp at the abandoned village in the early light of the morning.

Back at the crusader camp people are getting up at a much slower pace. It is the first morning they’ve spent outside of Atilesceon’s hellish realm for countless years and they were taking a moment to let it sink in that this suffering had come to an end.

Luca decided to bring Dame Victoria some breakfast. He found her in her bedroll quietly laying on her side with her eyes open. Not crying, but just laying still. When he offered her the food she gave him the briefest smile. They sat together, quietly eating.

When the others returned to camp they decided to get breakfast. Quentin made it a point to greet Dame Josephine, but as always she was preoccupied with talking to her squires and only had time to give him a small acknowledgement. She was cold and distant. He decided to talk to Dalinda instead, asking her if the griffon riders would be ready to depart soon, to which the designated translator responded that it would take another hour before departure.

Quentin decided to take the time to talk to Emrys about the possibility of using magic to disguise his sword. The scabbard was constantly sprouting thorny vines with roses on them and a simple blanket was not enough to stop that from showing, and so he was hoping Emrys could help out. Unfortunately, Emrys only had so many tools in his belt and it wouldn’t be enough to help Quentin. Overhearing this conversation, James suggested that perhaps it was the fact that Quentin held the sword that made it bloom and to try letting someone else carry to sword back to Kingsport to see if that made a difference. He suggested Emma, someone that most people in the party trusted.

First, however, Quentin asked Luca if he could use his magic to find out more information about the properties of the sword. Luca still had one of the required components that were necessary for the ritual, a pearl, and went ahead with it. He found out that the sword’s name was Róisín, and that it bestowed the wielder with wondrous abilities, provided the wielder was willing to bond with the weapon, committing to it, at least temporarily. Quentin had a lot to think about.

In the meantime, villagers from Bristlecone had come to see Lord Destan off, bringing with them a cart of his possessions, as well as the possessions of the heroes that they left behind at the Rudwick barton when they left for the Crimson Tower. They also brought gifts and well-wishings for Destan to take back to his lord father. Destan once again strained to play the good lord.

One of the people to join the well-wishers was Coranthe, mother to the witless Robart. She had brought her grandchildren Loke and Millie with her to bid the good lord farewell. While James was contemplating all of the belongings that the heroes had been carrying around in the chest that the Sheridans had provided to them upon departure from Lynnecombe, Millie came up to the group and proclaimed that she had found the perfect name for their company.

Months before, when the heroes had arrived in Pinefall and had made Millie’s acquaintance, she claimed that every company should have a name, and she vowed that she would think of a suitable name for them. “The Heroes of the White Eye,” she claimed. She had been told what the heroes had done, and the part that her father had played in it. Lake Llygad, once called Lake Gwenllygad, or Lake of the White Eye as it was known in the elder tongue of the elves, had been liberated by the heroes, and so the name of their company should recognise that fact.

James thanked her very much for the suggestions and proceeded to unload all of the belongings from the chest into his magical bag. He then gifted the young Millie with a gold crown, which she promptly took to her brother Loke in order to make him jealous.

It was time to depart. The griffons had been saddled with a double-saddle and special bags that would allow them to carry some food with them. Everyone found their rider and the birds made their way to the field where months before the heroes had met the Szygani group. They mounted the enormous monstrosities and took off.

When the wings start beating on either side of you, it kicks up pine needles from the ground, creating a pleasant scent in the crisp air. The birds quickly find lift and you are pushed into your saddle. It’s remarkable just how fast they take off, across the lake, making one last pass along the innocent looking, broken tower, before veering south.

Flying in a perfect v formation, Tourbillon at the front, the wind around you slowly warms up in the light of the rising sun. Your eyes quickly adjust to the rush and stop tearing up, allowing you to take a good look around you. You’re probably flying about 600 feet off the ground for most of the way, the tops of the trees rising and falling with the Silverpine hills below you.

Midway through the morning the landscape starts to change slowly; the hills become less rugged and the pine trees give way to the yellow, orange and red autumn colours of the deciduous trees of the Riverlands. The woods below you becomes thicker and neigh impenetrable at times. When the woods offer a peek, it is to reveal one of the countless little rivers, brooks and streams that give the Riverlands its name.

Occasionally you notice larger flying predators rise up from the trees and wisely turning their tail from the path of the flying monstrosities that are carrying you across the kingdom. At one point, you see two wyverns in the distance veer off to the north. Later, you notice a group of harpies who make their nests in the tops of the trees below you cower and flee at the sight of the griffons.

A little past noon, after having flown through a freezing rain storm, the riders signal to each other to prepare for landing. The griffons touch down close to a river that Luca estimates to be the Bray, which leads south, past Brayford, towards the Bourne. The griffons take their rest and feed off the food taken from Bristlecone. Everyone gets a chance to eat, rest and dry their clothing near a fire.

After about an hour, you once again take flight and start heading towards the south-west. The landscape becomes more hospitable and you can see farms, villages, fields and the occasional keep. Villagers and farmers stop their work and observe the strange formation of birds flying overhead. Some of them run for safety in their huts and hovels.

Soon after, you see a familiar cobbled road below you and the traffic starts to pick up. You have reached the Silesian Road. To your left you can spot the glint off the waves from the Lyrian gulf, with fishing vessels dotting the waves, sailing the day’s haul back to port. To your right you can see the fields of freshly harvested wheat, barley, oats and sorghum. The air is alive with the sounds seagulls coming from the south and the wind carries traces of dried hay which lies stacked in enormous round bales on cleared fields to the north.

Mid-afternoon you fly over a t-junction and you see the familiar Inn at the Crossroads. About an hour later you see Gheolgothis, the enormous tree that marks the Seat of Friendship. You keep following the coastline and soon after, you notice small plumes of smoke coming off of the wood fires around Kingsport. You start to make out the city’s ramparts, you see the large lighthouse atop the Bastion of Illumination and splendour of the royal palace on Garamond hill.

When you get nearer, a group of griffon riders can be seen headed your way. For all who have stayed in Kingsport it is easy to recognise Dame Miranda Ravensbourne, the captain of the Crownsguard, sitting astride Frostfeather at the front of the formation. When the two groups meet, a brief flash of signals are exchanged between them, seemingly perfectly understood by the riders of both companies.

Dame Miranda turns Frostfeather around and both companies fall in line as she leads them away to a field just north of the city, across the river from the Corbray Gate, where both groups make for a landing. Once on the ground, the crusaders dismount their griffons and step forward. A small group of people have gathered in the field in preparation for their arrival.

Two among them are very familiar to you, Ser Benten the Purple, with his dark grey hair, and Lord Marcus with his red-brown hair. Both of them stand at an obscene 7 foot, sticking out above the Sheridan guards, Lyrian knights and Crownsguard accompanying them.

Besides Dame Miranda, the Crownguard and Lyrian knights that came to welcome the heroes back to Kingsport, there were three other people of note; lieutenant William of Eastwarren, the handsome head of the palace guard, Lady Annabella Waxley, the queen’s handmaiden and a man introduced as Ser Roderick Corbray, representative of the Order of the Lance in Kingsport.

The heroes took the time to explain the situation to Dame Miranda and Ser Roderick Corbray. Upon the realisation of Prior Benedict’s identity, Ser Roderick fell to his knees in front of the prior and made the sign of Paladine and muttered something about “saint Benedict”. This further deepened the understanding among some of the heroes of the implications of the crusaders’ return.

In the meantime, Lord Destan was reunited with his brother Marcus and their mentor Ser Benten. The brothers shared a tender moment together before the heroes joined them in conversation. It was the Sheridan’s intention to return to Lynnecombe and the heroes were invited to come up to the Sheridan estate to claim their reward.

The strange missive which had been sent to Falka at the Bournemouth academy while she was helping the heroes do research into the Crimson Tower and the Age of Fear was brought to Ser Benten’s attention. He explained that shortly after the heroes departed Kingsport the estate had seen a burglary and one of the things that was stolen was Lord John’s seal. This, Benten offered, could be an explanation for the letter, but he assured the heroes that the letter was not genuine.

Lady Annabella approached Emma and asked her if they could speak in private for a moment; an invitation Emma accepted. They turned away to walk together for a moment, but not before Annabella made eye contact with Emrys. Her glance gave him the impression that he would be seeing more of her in the near future. Lieutenant William followed at a discrete distance as they spoke together.

The heroes revealed to Dame Miranda and Ser Roderick that they wanted to get an audience with the queen in order to inform her of the situation. Dame Miranda explained that the queen had fallen ill and that Lord Gabriel Valois-Antille, the Steward of Kingsport had taken over the duties during her majesty’s absence. The heroes decided that an audience with the steward was in order and they agreed with Dame Miranda that their travel through Kingsport would best be done more subtly and so carriages were arranged for those attending the audience.

The griffon riders, with the exception of Dame Josephine, stayed behind with Ser Roderick and Dame Miranda’s knights in order to take care of the griffons, while the others joined the heroes in the carriages. James, eager to take in the sights, sounds and smells of his beloved city once again decided to ride up front of the coach instead. They passed through the Corbray gate, down the Corbray Street toward the Elysian Street toward Steward Square. They crossed Queensbridge and went up Garamond Hill along Palace Road to reach the palace gates.

Once inside the walls, the group were lead through the spectacular garden, making note that the flowers on the gate to the water gardens were fiercely blooming, possibly influenced by Bláthnaid, the spring blessed by Emma upon request of the queen, all those months ago. Lead into the palace, through elaborately decorated rooms with painted walls and polished, wooden floors until they were lead into a modest throne room and were confronted by a group of sycophantic courtiers surrounding the steward, who did not turn out to be as receptive to the message that the group was presenting.

The steward claimed that he had more important matters to be concerned about and he rattled off a couple of things that were occurring in the kingdom that the heroes had missed in the last couple of months. He charged House Sheridan with stewarding the crusaders, since they came to Lyria on their lands. He did not care about them as long as they paid the taxes that anyone in Lyria owed the crown.

And so, the heroes departed the palace. It was getting late and the Sheridans departed for Lynnecombe, the lyrian knights departed for Correntine where the knightly orders made their home, and the heroes went to the Careless Wanderer. All except James and Emma. Emma went to the Sacred Baths of Sedna, while James headed to the Silver Cross.

Arriving at the Silver Cross, he was greeted by Samuel, the bartender and custodian of the brothel who James had looked up to while growing up. While sharing a stiff drink at a distance from the other patrons in the establishment, he shared some troubling news; in James’ absence, the guild had gone through a war with the Sunken Knuckles that lead to the violent death of the Knuckles’ leader Lydia. It had cost the guild lives and territory that they were reclaiming now that the Knuckles were fighting over who got to take charge of the gang. In the meantime, James’ mother had held an appointment with the Day Master at his butcher shop on Fleet Street in the Southside Ward, as she did regularly. However, she never returned from this particular date. Several requests by Madam Valerie, the owner of the Silver Cross, were ignored and the madam stopped paying her dues in protest.

Troubling news, made all the worst by the fact that his attic room had been cleared out. Madam Valerie had asked Samuel to remove James’ belongings when it appeared that James might not be coming home. Samuel taken James’ belongings for safe keeping, but for now, James had to find a place to sleep elsewhere.

Lost Respect

It’s crazy just how much I’ve lost respect for many people in my extended social circle. I have watched in amazement as they took they flaunted the guidelines. Things are getting better in spite of them, not because of them. They seem to be heading towards a second lockdown trying to race each other there.

At the same time, I have gained a ton of respect for people who keep enduring their quarantine with discipline.

Highharvestide Celebration

Previously, the heroes had returned to Pinefall with over four hundred rescued crusaders and came face to face with Lord Destan, alive and well in the care of the witch Isobel. After a conversation with the villagers of Bristlecone aid was sent to the abandoned village where the crusaders would make a temporary home. Food, blankets and tents were provided. The conversation quickly turned to what to do next, and it seemed like the crusaders were not as unified as the heroes had liked. Some had thoughts of returning to their orders, some wanted to live a quiet life and some seemed to have darker goals in mind.

Highharvestide, 1262

(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon in high sanction.)

When everyone was getting settled in at the abandoned village, Luca took the opportunity to speak to Dame Josephine, by way of a translator, to inform her about the current political landscape and the general history of Lyria and the different dynastic families that held the royal seat.

The Celtician listened intently, in particular about King Philip d’Aragon, third of his name, who decreed that women were equal to men under the law, in all matters of inheritance, including in rights of succession. This is how the Valois dynasty started. A dynasty Dame Josephine belonged to and was arguably the most senior member of.

A decision was made by the heroes and the senior leadership of the crusaders that the court should be made aware of the crusader’s presence in the Silverpine Hills, especially considering many of them had no intention of returning to the orders they once belonged to. The court would want to know that a small army of strangers had appeared in the heartland.

A plan was hatched to use the griffons to fly to Kingsport. Dame Josephine would fly on Tourbillon and Lord Destan would fly with her as a passenger. Prior Benedict would be a passenger due to his status as the Knight Captain of the expedition, as would Ser Florianus because of his renown. Dalinda the elven translator would get a spot, as she would be invaluable in any conversations. The rest of the griffons would be used to transport the heroes.

When the plan had been formed formed and agreed upon by all parties, Emrys eagerly joined the Highharvestide festivities in Bristlecone and Astrid decided to go with him. James followed, not because he was keen on the party, but rather to keep an eye out for any of the crusaders who were out for trouble. Quentin went as well and made an attempt to hide the scabbard of his sword by wrapping it in a blanket, only to find that the thorny roses bloomed straight through the cloth.

When they arrived in Bristlecone they found that the villagers had set up tables and bonfires around the bridge across the small river. They shared pastries with clotted cream and jam, honeyed apples, rich stews with mutton, cloves and parsley, and tankards of rich Fulham ale. The inhabitants of the hollar had travelled down to Bristlecone and had laid out their assortments of foraged nuts, berries and mushrooms and some they were roasting a large dear over an open fire, glazing and basting it with honey and forest thyme.

As the visitors arrived the villagers seemed well prepared. Children gawked a little but were quickly distracted by the dog breeders’ puppies and the face paints that one of the villagers was decorating them with. They soon went back to pretending to be bears and wolves.

For a while the festivities were pleasant. But as the evening set in the mood started to turn. The mood of a  small number of the crusaders, armsmen mostly, had turned sour ant their demeanour became hostile. The heroes were quick to pick up on this shift and came up with several plans in order to get the crusaders to depart back to their camp at the abandoned village.

James put Astrid to the task of causing as much awkwardness as she possibly could, trying to dissuade the crusaders from lingering at the feast. Emrys tried to perform a song meant to convince the crusaders to wrap things up and head back. Quentin decided to load up a cart of food and drinks to lure the crusaders back to camp. Together they managed to convince those crusaders who had no or few bad intentions to retire, but a small, persistent group of trouble seekers stubbornly stayed behind.

Eventually, Destan is convinced to tell the Bristlecone villagers to return to their homes and cease the festivities. Due to the visitors from Hunter’s Hollar having plans to camp out before heading back to the hollar in the morning, the troublesome crusaders continued to have a place to gather and look for entertainment. Frederick, the foppish Daerlanian who was the defacto leader of the people of Hunter’s Hollar tried to diffuse the situation, with little success, considering the language barrier.

While all of this had been happening, Luca and Emma had stayed behind in camp. Emma had been tending to the needs of all the shell shocked crusaders and Luca had been taking care of Dame Victoria Greywater, the knight that Emma had inhabited during her time in Old Llygad. She had a fragile mind and was prone to bouts of crying. It would be the perfect victim to Blackstar’s incessant hunger. The staff had been more forceful and communicative since returning to Pinefall and Luca though that nobody would miss Dame Victoria and her constant wailing.

When Dame Victoria had found a moment of calm, which were few and far between, Luca convinced her to lay down to sleep. He made note of who was sleeping where and how easily it would be to prey upon her. He found Emma, and the two decided to head for Bristlecone.

Once there they were quickly informed of the situation and decided to help the rest of the heroes get the unruly crusaders in line. Luca ended up charming several crusaders to come back with him to camp. On the way he changed his mind on Dame Victoria and decided to single out one of the unruly crusaders instead. He lured the armsman into the woods where he murdered him with rays of fire after a short struggle. Blackstar seemed satisfied.

Having no other way to hide the charred corpse, Luca went down on both knees and spent a long time digging in the dirt with his bare hands in order to create a shallow grave in which he could hide the corpse. He paid for the hastily hidden corpse with dirtied and bloodied fingers. He hoped it would be enough.

Back at the bridge things escalated quickly as Astrid and James engaged the last remaining trouble makers. Before the injuries escalated beyond black eyes and broken noses Emrys used his magic to make a bonfire nearby explode in coloured fireworks. Everything came to a screeching halt at that display and in that moment, the remaining crusaders decided to avoid bloodshed and return to camp.

Emrys and Emma returned to camp as well, while Quentin, James and Astrid decided to stay behind, just in case.