- 5 May 456.
- Diplomacy wins the day in regards to the captured cattle raiders. A team led by Heddwyn and Paulus travel to Alauna to negotiate the return of these men to their lord, one Publius Aemilius Atticus. Angus and Marcus accompany, along with a handful of Baron Caddell’s warriors. The baron flatly forbids Bradan and Meadhbh from going, knowing that their respective personalities are too close to his own and will result in an exacerbation of the conflict.
- After cooling their heels for some time, the diplomats are finally brought before Lord Atticus and Heddwyn makes his case. What (and others of the team) note, however, is that Atticus is actually surprised at the very mention of the cattle raid in the first place, as if he had not ordered it at all! When the baron promptly agrees to the ransom request without even bothering to negotiate it, Heddwyn further suspects that these men are about to be thoroughly and quite brutally questioned.
- The exchange is made – men for money – and the diplomat team begins their trek back to Caer Tarian.
- Shortly before they arrive, at Caer Tarian, a warband is sighted on approach bearing the standard of the war duke himself, Ambrosius Aurelianus. He and his nephew, Artorius, enter the caer alone, leaving the warband to set up camp, and Baron Caddell greets his friend the duke warmly.
- Once alone with Caddell and Bradan, the war duke declares his intent to gather all of the barons and place an ultimatum before King Vortigern about the monarch’s inaction with regards to the Saecsen issue. Caddell immediately agrees to accompany him but shoots down Bradan’s offer to join.
- Once the war duke and his adopted son have been shown to chambers, Caddell tells his son that Bradan is to rule in his stead and that rent must be collected soon. He further instructs his son to enlist Angus and Heddwyn in feeling out the locals regarding a potential mass evacuation of this territory. Caddell is thinking of heading north should this Saecsen issue grow worse and he is more interested in saving his people than holding onto his land.
- Baron Caddell rides out the following morn with many of his warband, leaving Bradan and Meadhbh to wonder if this is the last they will see of him, particularly as his avatar has inexplicably changed to that of Sean Bean.
- The following day, once the diplomat team has returned and rested, Bradan leads them out of Caer Tarian, accompanied by his father’s steward, Meical ap Cuill. None of them are especially enthusiastic about gathering rent but it is a necessary job.
- To that end, Bradan decides to make the best of a poor situation and declares the farm of man he particularly dislikes due to the man’s constant public questioning of and opposition to his father to be their first destination.
- Upon arrival, however, they realize the farm is too quiet. Angus and Bradan sneak forward, discovering a quartet of scared-looking men arguing amongst themselves. The smell of blood is strong.
- Acting quickly, the band surround the skulkers and intimidate them with their show of force into throwing down their weapons and surrendering. Almost immediately, these men begin declaring their innocence.
- In the barn, Angus discovers the bodies of the family that lived here, with the younger son – Enfrys ap Enfrys – strung up, clearly a victim of extensive questioning and torture. Further investigation uncovers that the weapon used was probably a tanner’s knife.
- Marcus struggles against flashbacks at the sight and eagerly agrees to Bradan’s suggestion that he and Echo try to find tracks and a scent. The trail leads to a stream where it promptly vanishes, a clear indication that whoever this person was, they had some considerable woodcraft.
- Back at the farm, the interrogation continues and the band learn of the existence of what sounds like (to them) a bandit leader named Morgan. The captured men eagerly agree to lead the band there, providing they themselves aren’t put to the sword. Bradan does not make such a promise and instead makes them dig graves for the dead..
- After collecting Meical and escorting him back to Caer Tarian where they leave two of the four skulkers, the band heads northwest for a day and a half, entering the periphery of Baron Caddell’s lands.
- Within a long-abandoned logging camp now turned into an almost fortified fort, they discover a fairly large group of men, many equipped with tools of war. Viewed tactically, this place has clearly been geared toward defense and the band is able to note indications that this Morgan fellow has at least taken efforts to set up a guard rotation of some sort. This would be a tough nut to crack, they realize, unless they returned to Caer Tarian and brought more warriors and even then, a lot of violence would ensue.
- After some consideration, Bradan decides to be bold about it and march up to the front gate. Naturally, there is a reaction as the armed men rush to defend themselves, but Bradan simply announces himself and asks for hospitality, knowing that if Morgan is a true Celt, he will grant it without question.
- And he does. Asking only that Bradan’s band hew to guest rights, he allows them entrance and offers them what little food they have.
- In no time at all, everyone is seated and discussing the situation, wherein they learn that Morgan was once a warrior for a Celtic lord now overthrown and slain by Saecsen dogs. He and the men that have flocked to him have wandered, seeking refuge and a place of safety as they consider their next options. He is considering heading north soon, as the Picts are quiet at the moment.
- Bradan offers a counter-offer: stay in the region and serve Caer Tarian. They can provide food which is sorely needed and can use strong arms in this chaotic time.
- Morgan considers the offer, then asks his men about it. The decision is made: Morgan’s warband will remain and, for a time, serve Bradan. As long as the proverbial check clears, of course…