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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

El Pip

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Pictland was cold, wet and miserable.
It is reassuring that no matter how many strange, terrible and wonderful things change in this world, some truths are eternal and universal.

I must also say that even by the low standards of Medieval medicine trusting a doctor called the Sea-Devil is, at best, ominous. I'm unfamiliar with the CK2 event chain but I have a horrible feeling this might end up with Wigberht being butchered and maimed, hopefully not though.

I have been tormented and struggled with whether or not to bring him in.
This one is easy surely - don't.

The supernatural elements have a certain style and tone in recent updates, and Kelebek does not fit them (he's more grey monotony of evil and incompetence in my view, but whatever he is, it is different). Assuming you don't want a jarring tonal dissonance in the work one of them has to change. If you alter Kelebek so he fits into a NobleBright style you've changed everything about him bar the name and imagery, "Doing an Andomeda" as I believe it is known, which seems a bit cheap. This work is excellent enough to stand on it's own merits. Alternatively you have to change the entire story to fit around him, which means the world has to be re-darkened and pushed back into GrimDark, which seems like a step backwards.

As you've probably guessed I'm not a fan of the character, but putting that to one side I do genuinely believe it would be a mistake to introduce him.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

The Dark Lord Kelebek
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It is reassuring that no matter how many strange, terrible and wonderful things change in this world, some truths are eternal and universal.
It's really a CKII thing. Scotland is just a shithole. Constantly weak, poor and fighting itself. Cannibalistic rulers, lunatic vassals, Viking invasions, religious differences.

They just tend to get doomed whatever happens.

I must also say that even by the low standards of Medieval medicine trusting a doctor called the Sea-Devil is, at best, ominous. I'm unfamiliar with the CK2 event chain but I have a horrible feeling this might end up with Wigberht being butchered and maimed, hopefully not though.
Wait till you see his character sheet. He's missing limbs.

It's a game, so there's are some certainties. If you pick experimental option, I insist, it will almost certainly go badly. So I picked that the first time round because wigberht would. Pick something else, and you're more in the hands of rng and character medical skill.

The supernatural elements have a certain style and tone in recent updates, and Kelebek does not fit them (he's more grey monotony of evil and incompetence in my view, but whatever he is, it is different).
I saw him as a sort of Neolarthotep. He's a eldritch horror who is amused by humanity just enough to let them do stupid things and enable them, all the while manipulating them into selling their souls, which is always his only real concern. In TT, which I don't write, he seems to be a sort of demonic bogeyman that shows up whenever the plot demands and kills whoever needs deading. He doesn't really care, Attaturk already bought his services for souls before the game started. SITH basically serves as an amusing plaything for him to screw with people until his time is up, at which point he'll let a random underling take the reins and Cold War era secret wars will begin.

As you've probably guessed I'm not a fan of the character, but putting that to one side I do genuinely believe it would be a mistake to introduce him.
He is defiently a meme I don't really own or control anymore, so would hesitate to write into anything. If I ever go back to beginning Italy, and i do intend to eventually, he'll probably be written out. The medieval world has two obvious eldritch beings that will show up, but aside from them. I'm not sure about cosmic horror.

We just went over the five hundredth image for the AAR and are rapidly approaching the start of Elfwine's reign as previously stated. Chapter 10 may well be the last one before it all kicks off.
 

DensleyBlair

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I hadn't realised I'd got so far behind, but somehow it's been the best part of a week since I last checked in with this thread. The flip side was having four excellent chapters to catch up with. As other have said, I think the tonal shift has been done very well and I'm enjoying the new sort of optimistic medieval fantasia. As an aside to which, I hadn't realised before just how stacked Elfwine's character sheet was. Man, he's got some good stats. (As, I suppose, makes sense for a would be deity.)
 

Bullfilter

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Still, by every other measure the adventure had been a great and grand one.
Just generally, how much of the trip was game effect, and how much an interesting aside of knight errantry?
Lancaster had in his absence expanded its necessary franchise of ‘understanding’ between itself and the welsh princes (the understanding being that they were free to do as they would, provided they pay for the privilege)
This at least sounds like a tributary war.
“Return at once. My Lord Wigberht is gravely ill. He is…” the youth gulped, “not expected to last many morns hence.”
Oh no, you didn’t go for the “my life is in your hands” one? :eek:
If you pick experimental option, I insist, it will almost certainly go badly. So I picked that the first time round because wigberht would.
Looks like you did - poor Wigberht. :(

Re Kelebek:
This one is easy surely - don't.
It’s ok, it was just a passing reference, not a real suggestion. ;)
In TT, which I don't write, he seems to be a sort of demonic bogeyman that shows up whenever the plot demands and kills whoever needs deading.
It started as less demonic than that, but developed to what it did I think more organically. The TBC asides were probably the spark that sent him so far to the dark side. Mainly, it was when the translation to Turkish of The Butterfly Composer sounded kinda evil “Kelebek Kompositor”.
He is defiently a meme I don't really own or control anymore, so would hesitate to write into anything.
Probably safest, though outside TT you can of course use him as you wish (or not). But I agree with @El Pip in this case: seems like you have enough eldritch creatures to be going on with!
 

TheButterflyComposer

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I hadn't realised I'd got so far behind, but somehow it's been the best part of a week since I last checked in with this thread. The flip side was having four excellent chapters to catch up with. As other have said, I think the tonal shift has been done very well and I'm enjoying the new sort of optimistic medieval fantasia. As an aside to which, I hadn't realised before just how stacked Elfwine's character sheet was. Man, he's got some good stats. (As, I suppose, makes sense for a would be deity.)
When the forum updated, I had a feeling an update would get eaten by it. It wasn't but pretty much no one was online that day.

At the moment, it seems I can write every day, which because these chapters are short, means an update every or most days. This will cease to be the case when the aar catches up to the save state (which I checked, it still works!) because I both have to play the game some more and we're going to try to simulate the wittenmagot at least a little bit to see how it goes.

In a way, the three chapters before the last one were a trilogy so reading them all together makes sense.

Medieval fantasia seems about right, and I'm enjoying it more, as it seems all the commentators are too. As for Elfwine, it's something of a running joke that he's been buffed every time the game reboots, to the point where he's gone from a 'normal' Paradox genius strong character to being that plus Just, because he's written his own law code, attractive through Karling blood, brave and pretty much good at everything a person like that would be good at after living a hundred years In game.

And yet, despite that and appearing in a game buffed by many more dlc and patches, he's still not as overkill OP as Galahad Pendragon was.

Just generally, how much of the trip was game effect, and how much an interesting aside of knight errantry?
It was this, or telling the rather dull tale of how I squished the puny bugs around me for a few months while PC Wigberht was off in Jerusalem. Tributary wars can be interesting, but simply squishing all your tiny and weak neighbours into your sphere of influence isn't that good content. The whole system gameplay wise remains my favourite addition of the past few years. It really fills a big hole in medevial war and diplomatic dealings, especially for earlier starts but also for later empires that really don think want to move their borders and want to protect all their buffer states and smaller neighbours.

This at least sounds like a tributary war
Basically the explanation for in game effect. They are indeodant realms, but you whistle and they come running, and they pay you to protect them, although you aren't obligated to (good to have the option though).

Oh no, you didn’t go for the “my life is in your hands” one? :eek:
Finally a chance to rolplay a character being stupidly optimistic enough to pick that option.

It started as less demonic than that, but developed to what it did I think more organically.
The TBC asides were probably the spark that sent him so far to the dark side. Mainly, it was when the translation to Turkish of The Butterfly Composer sounded kinda evil “Kelebek Kompositor”.
Probably safest, though outside TT you can of course use him as you wish (or not). But I agree with @El Pip in this case: seems like you have enough eldritch creatures to be going on with!
I do like the character in some ways. He's fun and explains away all the strange things about HOI intelligence mechanics. He just doesn't really work as a main character in a work that isn't a Lovecraftian short story or an absurdist comedy. Initially he was an outside expert called in to the first big meetup discussion the aar had, then I and everyone else noted how incredibly sinister the Turkish word for butterfly is. Then he became a weird ocultist figure that eventually everyone accepted was metaphorically Satan, and literally facemeltingly OP and was safely carted off to Italy to beat the poo out of fascists for the rest of the game.

As said before, the medieval world does have quasi eldritch beings almost or comeplty beyond human understanding in the form of certain types of dragon and other monster, and also definite full on cosmic horror level beings developed almost by accident because of the religion they followed interacting with older pagan beliefs. God and His angels are, by modern standards, completely alien conceptual things that look and act completely differently to everything else they knew about. The other side, demons, devils etc, vary between that kind of thing and more normal, fairly easily repulsed but still quite dangerous monster.

Then of course there's the two separate things that always show up in mythology and never quite get lumped in with everything else, even in monotheistic religions trying to do just that. They'll probably be the pair that show up here, in some shape or form.
 
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Chapter 10: A Grim Fairy-tale

TheButterflyComposer

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Chapter 10: A Grim Fairy-tale

Once upon a time I sing,

of man who thought himself a king.


A young man came into fortune for himself, and so, as is the way of things, sought to spend it attaining that which he desired most. He bought himself an army and, with guile and effort, forged a kingdom of his own, and gold enough to rest upon, and crown his brow.

The land he made was beautiful, for that was what he desired. The people were fed, the people were happy. Their king was good, and generous, and had built for them a land wherein their children could play, for the monsters had all gone away.

Did they know, I wonder, what their monarch had done for them?

Upon their land, so fertile because beneath which the bodies of a thousand dead and buried lay. All these the king had slain for they would threaten his people, and Man and Monster he tossed together into the pit for his beasts to feed upon, or into great holes then covered over with new turf. And the people were so well-fed, and so happy, that what little did they care or notice when, upon occasion, their friend went missing in the night? Or a fatal accident struck down a poor preacher? Or when several brigands were burnt alive in the street? They were protected. They were safe.

The king was good.

And so on, and on, life went for the young man. The young monarch in time became a seasoned one, with a beautiful knife for a wife and a knight for a son. The people were happy and the kingdom was rich.

And yet…

Desire feeds itself, as though never sated. The king, who once dreamed of kingship, of power over mortal Man, found himself atop the world and made the mistake of looking down. What he saw, was what all there ever was. His kingdom was a land of Death, built by it and ran upon its bones. His hunters roomed freely, cutting down any promise of life within the realm, and his son the worst of the lot.


But this was surely no difficulty. He was a smart man, a clever man. He had forged a kingdom! What was this thing called Mortality to presume itself invincible? He would cut it down himself.

And so on, and on, life went. The people aged, as did the man. The people remained happy, but he was not. Colder and colder became the walls of his house. Many quests that he had began to find a cure, a salvation for his great enemy, all ended in failure. The Cup of Life was a fable he now no longer believed in. And yet, he had decreed it. Death had to die.

So, the man decided that if he could not cure it, he would prevent it. Departing his realm that was once so dear to him behind, he wandered in search of that thing that people spoke of in whisper and murmur. Eventually, after much trial and toil, he came across a most-aged fellow of remarkable constitution.

“Look here,” he said. “Surely you are Death, or His servant to be left so old and not wither. Tell me then where He is, or announce yourself forthwith, so I might meet with He and vanquish Him.”

The other fellow smiled at him and shook his head. “Why do you seek Death, my son? He knows where you are, and will come in Time.”

“No, no, I shall not wait for Death. I am the King, man! You will speak or see how far your master will go to protect you.”

The fellow smiled wider. “Very well,” he said. “You have had your chance.” He extended a knobbly finger and pointed. “Over there, by that stream, you will find a Fisher. He does not wait for Death, but He will be along presently.”

The king enthusiastically made good speed to the stream, which was rather more a river in size. It was a singular thing though, the ebb and flow most irregular in speed and motion. The king did not trouble himself with it for long however, for he had spotted the fabled Fisher of which the fellow spoke.

“I say! I am told Death is coming here soon?”

“Oh yes, yes, He is coming.” The Fisher looked up from his rod and smiled at the sight of the king. “Why do you ask?”

“I wish to meet with him.”

The Fisher laughed. “Well, you know where the river is,” and with that he turned back to the waters.

The king, angered by the man’s dismissal, drew his sword, only to find it stuck in its sheath. No matter how hard he tugged, it would not answer his summons, as it always had eagerly in the past.

“It’s no use trying for that,” the Fisher said cheerfully. “Death may well be coming along this river but He will not appear whilst I’m at work.”

“You repel him then?”

“Oh no, there is no way to keep Him back when the Time is right,” the Fisher said. “Of course, if you are still trying for a meeting, and you don’t want to try the river, I would make best speed to go home at once.”

“Oh? Will you speak to Him?” The king was suspicious.

“No need. He is already on His way.” The Fisher’s face dropped as he looked around again. “Tragic business, I must say.”

“You promise this is the case?”

“I do swear it, upon whatever deity you happen to name.”


The king, mollified yet confused, did turn around and did make best speed for home. He arrived back exhausted, and waved off all welcome. He had an important visitation that night, he said, and was not to be disturbed. Then he emptied his hall, and sat on his golden chair.

He waited.

And so, he might have waited many years hence, were it not for his son and his knights entering. He ordered them out, did they not see he was awaiting company. They said he would suffer their company, only as long as it took for him to die.

And when they and he lay upon the crimson floor, their life leaking from every crack made in the remarkable artwork of their bodies, Elfwine Lancaster kept his appointment with the Reaper-man.


Elfwine awoke from the vision, aware it had been no dream of his own conception. Above his prone and shivering body, on that cold winter’s night, towering above the forest clearing they had found respite in, Amser was.

How many men in ages past would have given their right hands for such a sight? Amser had been worshipped by Mankind ever since they first dwelt within the forests and hills of this country. Perhaps even before then, for Amser was a powerful thing indeed.

He was the Lord of All Dragons, and the embodiment of Time made physical.

“You mock me, now at the hour of my Father’s death.” Elfwine whispered, head bowed. He had before tonight been resigned to whatever terrible fate the Last Serpent had in store for him, when he finally came calling for it. But tonight, of all nights, was a cruelty Elfwine could only imagine one being committing.

“I am not you, King Lancaster,” Amser said, his quietest words still like a gale suddenly whipping the trees before vanishing as quickly as it arrived.

“Then why do you haunt my dreams and block my path?”

“Unless you planned on sleepwalking to Lancaster, I was not in your way.”

Elfwine scowled. “You may kill me. You may torture me for eternity as is your right and as is within your power. But I must see my Father first. His life carries worth yet.”

Amser hummed, and the sound caused Elfwine’s skull to vibrate. “Revenge…is the most worthless of causes, King Lancaster. And yet, you are filled with nothing but thought of it.”

“I rather thought,” Elfwine shot back, “of the vengeance sure to be delivered unto myself.”

“Because that is what you would do, to those who wronged you.”

Elfwine glared silently upwards. “Get out of the way, or get to the point.”

“Very well, you have had your chance,” Amser said quietly, his voice now a ripple across a still pool. “Wigberht will not live to see you step foot in Lancaster.”

Whilst that possibility had occurred to him, it still knocked Elfwine to his knees. “Then it was all for nothing,” he said, “I failed again, and again, and again. Now once more I have enriched my realm but burnt away another strand of family. And for what?”

“Indeed, it is most unfortunate,” Amser said. “That is why I have come to aid you both.”

Elfwine dropped his gaze to a slumbering Secret. The messenger boy was long gone, having been sent back to the army to tell them of what occurred. “Leave my friend out of this game you play. And my Father too. His soul is too bright an object to be enshrouded by our business.”

“You are wrong,” Amser replied, “to think his soul was not darkened by your presence in his life. And wrong also to think he did not do such a thing willingly in service to you. I will place you both together, that you might speak on matters of importance.”

“Just like that.”

“Yes.”

The dragon and the human stared at each other unblinkingly. Elfwine slowly rose from his knees. “Agreed.”




Elfwine blinked, and was in a cavern. No, he was in a cavern, and the suddenness surprised him such that he blinked. Amser, now in a place that truly encapsulated his majesty, stretched his wings and winked, before turning his mighty head towards the comfortable bed on an outcrop of rock and mineral, so very far up from the cave floor. So very high that, for once, Elfwine was nearly at eye level with the dragon, if Amser would but stoop his neck a little.

“That is, he?” Elfwine pointed to the bed, but found he could not bring himself to move over.

“It is. Now be about yourself, King Lancaster. Your own master is calling fast.”

Elfwine grimaced, unable now to look away from the rising and falling blankets that contained the broken remains of his father.

He could smell the blood from where he stood.

“Come along, my dear boy,” his father’s voice rang out around the cavern, weak as it was. “I suspect I do not have long.”


“And I cannot believe you hired a Sea-Devil of your own, a man whom has lopped off his own limbs, and willingly placed yourself under his knife.”


“Well…he did much better the second time through.”

Elfwine rolled his eyes, that threatened to fill with tears. “You know, Ida was meant to be coming soon.”

“Ah, yes. I shall be sorry to miss it,” Wigberht sighed. “She seemed such a nice girl too. You must promise to look after her, you know? And your mother.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

The pair lapsed into silence. Elfwine traced the lines of blood, red skin and bandages. The butcher must have half-gutted the poor man. “How deep was the tumour?”

“Immensely. I was surprised he found it. And more so when he removed it.”

“One thing to his favour when I string him up. You won’t die of cancer.”

Wigberht made to straighten up in bed, but coughed and found he couldn’t. “Do not…do not do it, son. It isn’t worth it, and he is owed much for Judith’s sake.” He wheezed, but seemed determined to defend his killer.

“Of course, you are so,” Elfwine breathed deeply in once, closed his eyes when the blood infused his senses, and struggled to relax. “I will…try to be merciful.”

“Good. I think you may find it easier than you believe.” Wigberht’s mouth curved upwards, and he readjusted himself upon his pillows. “I thank our host for his kindness. Most of the pain is gone.”

“It is mostly the failing of your body, your Majesty,” Amser said regretfully, “though I did what I could.”

“Ah. Well, thank you regardless. I suspect this little stage in the Grand Plan had me dead with Elfwine away?”

“The intricacies of the universe, and the why or wherefore of Fate, these things are not for you to know,” Amser replied gently. “The helping out part however, was my initiative.”

“Thank you,” Elfwine said slowly, the enormity of the dragon’s mercy hitting him. “But…why?”

Amser looked at him, two suns in the darkness of the cavern burning golden light down upon him. “You think, little Lancaster, that you are the only Dragon-slayer in all the world? Many amongst Man sought and seek to challenge themselves with that which is strongest or seems immutable. My brethren are mighty and easily found, and so make war with these types eternally. But for us, we are different from you. Humans are, and then are not. We go on, never beginning but also never ending. It is like trying to destroy a number by destroying the mark of it.”

“So…did I actually-”

“Oh yes, you killed many serpents in your time. And you have suffered for it. But you have done far harder and meaner things. And you have suffered for those as well. Be at peace.”

Elfwine looked back down at his father, only to grasp him in alarm. The man was fading rapidly.

“I love you, and I love my family.” Wigberht said, no louder than a whisper. “Do not…be…” He looked at his son, one last time. “Forgive him,” he said, “forgive yourself.”


So it was that Wigberht, the Lord of Lancaster, and the best man Elfwine ever knew, succumbed to his sleep. Elfwine knelt beside the bed and gave himself permission to weep for a while. And so, he did, reflecting and remising on all that had been done, and all that had been said, and all that had been given to him by so blessed a man as this.

The sound of Amser shifting slightly in the background stilled Elfwine’s grief. He grasped his father’s hand and rose. Staring down at the body of his twice-deceased parent, he spoke aloud, “Take me instead, please.”


He turned and bowed to the silent shadow that now took up much of the rock. “Take me in his place, my Lord Death.”
 
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Elfwine seeking immortality, but failing...

That death scene was nice.

Beasts and ancient mythical creatures exist. Incorporating medieval folklore was a good decision. Makes the AAR more interesting...
 

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Elfwine seeking immortality, but failing...
Oh yes. It is possible to do in CKII, but never a very good idea unless you don't care whether your character survives or not (they will most likely die).
 

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Huh...this chapter didn't spawn with a thread mark. This happened for chapter 9 too but I caught it in editing. I do love how paradox, if it thinks you made the wrong choice, unticks the box for you.
 
Chapter 11: Deathmatch

TheButterflyComposer

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Chapter 11: Deathmatch

Elfwine brought down the mace with his remaining strength. Once. Twice. The light and much of the structure of his son’s face had long gone, yet he raised the maul one last time before it fell from trembling fingers, and he collapsed in a heap next to the corpse.

Secret’s roar and the cries of the guard sprang burst through the hall doorway, yet it was all too late. The two would-be-kings lay next to each other, cold in death.

This, Elfwine thought, is no less than I deserve.


He thought back, as his vision turned to black, to standing his boy up in front of everyone and proclaiming him his heir. Of the joy and pride in his face, which he knew mirrored his own. The jubilation was doubled when later that week, his wife gave birth to his second son Eadric. What a fine man he turned out to be, in spite of his lineage.


He remembered the day he finally broke Edward upon the floor, watched as the burn and fire he so desired entered his eyes and swore that he would better his father in every way. Elfwine remembered how pleased he had been. How proudly he moulded the child into his preferred killer.


By the time he came of age, Edward was a man of ice and iron. He knew, flawlessly, the account books of Lancaster. He knew the weight of gold in his hand, as much as he knew how to crush a skull with it. And he was filled with such yearning for destruction that he gave Elfwine himself pause. Multiple times he had to be confined to bed for injuries upon himself, multiple times punished for his…bloody indiscretions with commoners and House staff.


Eventually, the King of Lancaster had to rein in his monster. The people were talking, and not all of it good. Edward was the Knight of Lancaster, a thug, a brute, and rode about with twelve companions destroying everything they came across, friend and foe. After twice forestalling a decree of excommunication (the last of which for killing a priest in the middle of Mass), Elfwine brought his son before him.


Lancaster was to be the seat of a new and fantastic palace, a wonder of the modern world. Elfwine prepared a great display of feasting and merriment for the people, whilst the breaking-ground ceremony would be attended by all the lords and mayors of the land. It was here, he thought, he could reintegrate Edward.


The plan was scuppered by his own blood. Edward showed up in a flying rage, cowering most of the crowd in fear. He then challenged the king in front of everyone in a duel for glory. In his own anger, Elfwine accepted, and had brought forth his own father’s signature weapon, a great mace wielded by Wigberht on many an occasion in Welsh lands. He remembered seeing his son actually shrink from such a demand. Such a weapon indicated no mercy, no quarter. Had he, in his own heart, ever felt a flash of empathy, of regret or uncertainty at that moment? He remembered standing firm, and his son’s white face fill again with red.


And so, the greatest warrior Lancaster had ever known squared up against his own son, with a weapon designed solely to shatter the bodies of opponents. In hindsight, it was nothing short of a miracle that Edward lost much little more than his eye. He left his boy bleeding upon the ground, upon the hill that was meant to carry his palace of glory. Instead, he changed the plans so the palace would be its own gigantic mound, squatting as a sort of peninsula out to sea.


As the years went on, Elfwine began, slightly, to soften around his family. Or his newer one, in any respect. Eadric was a joy, as he always was. Poor Eadric…


Edward rallied as best he could. Despite himself, he remained a keen rider, even winning several trials and duels in tournaments. It was becoming clear however that his injuries and mental state rendered him unfit for ruling, and Elfwine made the decision to replace him with Eadric.


His son did not take such a thing well. His rage and his fury drove him to greater and greater extremes, deviancy and devilry that horrified Lancaster and the wider world. When he did enter and proclaim his quest for the throne, following Elfwine’s quest for Death, the king had, he supposed now, no right to be shocked.



And so now they were both to die, and be kinslayers together in death. His realm would not survive such a scandal, such a tragedy His line was ended, and his legacy ruined. Hatred and anger for Edward melted away against shame and sadness, before lighting up again in equal measure.


Elfwine supposed it was the bitterest irony of his life that it was then that Death chose to make its long-awaited appearance.


“You played an excellent game of Chess, for a complete novice,” Death chuckled. It was quite the hollow sound, yet was somehow as warm as Wigberht’s.

“You…let me win, I am sure,” Elfwine replied, lost in reverie.

“True, but you knew that at the time. One cannot play games with myself, and think to win.”

Elfwine rose from his bow. “How many times must we meet? How many must die for my sins and mistakes? I beg you, not one more. Not this man.”

Death, a figure he had long sought after, and afterwards long been acquainted with, and yet never truly understood, came to sit by Wigberht’s bedside. “You know me, and you know the world, my friend. How many mothers have pled for the lives of their struggling babes, crying out into the night? How many good men have pled for the lives of their followers in exchange for their own? And yet there was never any bargain, no matter the cause. There cannot be. What is, is. Humanity may make its play at Justice, but in this matter, there is none.”

“I cannot accept that.”

“That, my son, was always the problem with you,” a voice said quietly behind him.

Elfwine whirled around and beheld his father, blinking up at him, with a wry smile upon his face. “So, there is hope?”

“Always, my Champion,” Death said softly. “Not even I know what lies in wait for you beyond oblivion. That rather goes beyond my remit. In the minds of Men, you know that death comes to all. You know it as a sadness, a tragedy, and also a release from pain, a mercy as well as a punishment. And so, when it came to imagining Death, the Reaper of Mankind, you see an all-encompassing wind, so kind and yet so distant. You are, to my mind at least, a truly remarkable species.”

“I wish I could say I was pleased to meet you,” Wigberht said, “but I find I cannot just yet. My heart aches for your burden however. It sounds like the worst of all fates.”

“It is what it is,” Death replied, patting the man on the shoulder, bone meeting bone, “I do not mind it. As I said, you made me thus, and I would neither have nor allow another to comfort you in your last moments, and carry you over to the Beyond.”

“I suppose, now I am no longer mortal, I might beg for knowledge of Heaven?” Wigberht asked hopefully.

Death took in his face, earnest and yet fearful of what was to come. “Your heart is one that should never have feared what might await it, to be sure. Alas, I must refuse your request, as you are yet mortal still.”

“I am alive?”

“You are still dying. You happen to be lying next to a being of Time however, who has stretched out your last to far longer than usual.” There was no hint of accusation in the voice, yet Elfwine was amazed to see Amser duck his great head and appear somewhat remorseful.

“I thought it best.”

“I’m sure you did,” Death said. “No matter, for I would speak with all three of you.”

“Then I was right?” Wigberht sat up in bed, aches and pains forgotten. “There is a doom upon the land?”

“Of a kind. In this world, there was no Elfwine. No line of Lancaster to descend from. This world needed such a line to survive, and so a higher power intervened. There is a Seal upon this Earth, of all Earths, that contains within such horrors only hinted at in the darkest pages of sacred texts. A being of Power and Benevolence long ago sealed them away, here and now.”

“The Seal can be broken?” Elfwine frowned.

“Yes,” Amser said. “It is one of Time as well as Space. Through cracks and weaknesses, a demon will take the opportunity to break through. Humanity is far too easily swayed, too easily tempted, too easily convinced to be adequate gatekeepers. Not without warning. Not without…you.”

“In a trifle of a game of Chess, you played with Death. You quested and searched the realms, battled foes and killed your offspring in search of ultimate power and knowledge. Time and Fate wore you down, that you could safely be granted an equally trifling amount of Power as Death’s Champion. Yet now, through the machinations of a being beyond even myself, you have come to a place of Doom and Dread, and fought for Life instead. Demanded it, in fact, to my face, out of love and respect. In so doing, you have pledged yourself to another.”

“I am freed from being Death’s Champion?” Elfwine breathed, hardly daring to believe it.

Death shifted, “You will always be my servant, for the things you have done, and the path that you walked. Yet you are no longer damned to be only that. Come what may, and I warn you that you are still fully capable of grievous error and judgement, you are the Champion of Life as well.”

“No! You will not burden him with more than he already must carry!” Wigberht said, leaping out of bed and advancing on Death. “My son is a man, a person of conviction and strength like no other. Yet he has been dogged by demons all his life, of his own making and those of the likes of you, that seek to make him your plaything! You speak of his crimes yet enabled him to make more, many more, in your name! And you Amser, who claims to see all of Time, cannot see a better solution than this? Elfwine should not be sacrifice upon the altar of your infernal machinations.”

Death stared at him in silence. Amser turned his head towards Elfwine with sorrow. “In a way, your father speaks true. I see things so differently from Mankind, that I know not what you would truly find acceptable. Know however that I have seen you in your many forms and histories, and know who and what you are beneath the trappings of your crown. If I or my friend selected you for this terrible thing, it was because we knew you could not help but be-”

“-the man that he is,” Death finished. “He set himself on a path to me, gentle Wigberht. He had his chance to turn back. And were you to turn to him now, and ask him thus, he would say much as I.”

Wigberht raised an eyebrow at his son.

“I regret everything,” Elfwine began, “it is true. I made my own path, cutting through others when necessary. I would change that if I could, for I brought such suffering on my own world and family…but I would not allow anyone else to shoulder this burden but I. I am already damned by my own hand. No one but the worst of people would deserve such a punishment, and I would not trust anyone else with such a responsibility.”

Death nodded. “Be it so,” and withdrew from the folds of a cloak two chalices of ornate and carved wood. “I believe you searched for one of these fruitlessly, my Champion.”

Elfwine caught the cup that was thrown to him. Upon the side, he saw the Red Rose of Lancaster, and within the cup, a lining of glimmering gold. “Life…” he whispered. “The Cup of Life.”

“Just so,” Death said. “So, whomever of your blood that drinks from the Cup shall be blessed and cursed with the traits of Life’s Champion.”

Wigberht was passed the other cup. This was of a paler complexion, with a white blossom upon the side. Within the cup was a lining of darkest material. Light seemed consumed by its depths. “And what is this?”

“Knowledge,” Death answered. “So, whomever of your blood that has been chosen, that has drunk from the other Cup, might drink from this and receive the blessing and curses of Death’s Champion. Be warned however, that once taken, this Cup be absolute. As it was in Eden, the Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.”

Elfwine took the other cup, and nearly dropped it upon seeing the white flower. “Snow drops,” he said, and an image of an empty hill emblazoned with the plant, beneath which his son slept, came to him.

“Just so,” Death said. “A reminder of the cost. This is a burden not just on you, but your family. Whilst any of them might drink from Life’s Cup, one must drink from the other. This is the price you must pay, for the fate of your world.”

Wigberth and Elfwine looked at each other. They both nodded.

“Then it is so, with Amser as witness,” Death said heavily. “I wish it were not needed.” The figure of Death seemed forlorn for a time, staring up into the cavern ceiling as though piercing the very sphere of heaven. “It is time, Wigberht.”

“No!” Elfwine cried, reaching for his father.

“I must go son, it is over for me,” Wigberht smiled at him, moisture alighting in his eyes. “I will look for you, when your own time comes. May you meet your end as nobly as you ever could.”

“I am not ready!” Elfwine’s voice broke, “I am not capable of being the King in the North any longer, nor do I have any wish to be.”

“You will always be King in the North,” his father said, smiling, “but whoever but you said that was a terrible title?”

“Father I…” Elfwine, so old and yet so young within the moment, held Wigberht close to him one last time, “You were everything I ever remembered. I wish I had known you better.”

“I think, my son,” Wigberht said, tears finally falling down his face, “you knew me at my best.”


Arm in arm, the Lord of Lancaster and Death went onwards into mist, leaving Elfwine behind.




It was a frozen night, so very far from home. Ida sat alone in the cold open air, watching the twisting and shattering of the waves below. Her father and her uncle had been quarrelling now for hours; even on foreign soil, in a hall guarded by giant bears the Karling brothers had a rivalry that shook the earth.

Her husband-to-be was absent, further away still apparently on campaign. And her new father was supposedly on his deathbed, yet had vanished somehow before the party of Franks arrived. So, Lancaster was a mysterious, as well as a foreboding place.

There was wonder too, she thought. The huge and sprawling bear pit, and the Bear Guard itself, were most magnificent. The creatures were as a rule, shy, peaceful and gentle to her ministrations, yet she knew from reputation and from their mighty claws and teeth what dangers they were to Lancaster’s enemies. Both Karling men were determined of course to utilise them against the other.

And so, her own wedding was to be another duelling match between those two strutting cocks.

She had dared to hope of Lancaster, for the man she was to wed and the whole family were, according to talk, of great mind and body. Ida herself was no fool, and desired more than most to be free to pursue her own interests whilst, naturally, fulfilling the duties of devoted wife and mother. She hoped Elfwine would be kind, if nothing else. It was all anyone could ask in a world such as theirs.

Shouting from the hall had grown louder and louder, and a servant ran up to her with cries of “My Lady! My Lady!” Ida frowned and turned her back on the sea front, only to gasp in astonishment.

There, below the hill and outside the walls and gates of Lancaster City, sat an enormous and fearsome dragon, with scales of midnight blue and eyes of flaming gold. She, as well as other onlookers now gawping at the sight, took in the impossible: the white fur of a bear dismounting from the dragon’s back! As the bear grew closer, passing through the front gates, a cry rang out “It’s the Lord Lancaster! He has returned!” and a great cheer rang out from much of the local contingent.

Their shouts of excitement quietened when they saw that a young man did indeed sit astride the great bear, yet carried another wrapped in the sheet of death beside him. Amaudru, a most kind and gracious lady, burst into tears at the sight, and Ida felt her heart to out to her.

“It is Elfwine,” a boy said next to her. After looking at him, she knew it to be Beor, son of Wigberht. So, her husband was not so far after all. “And…father,” he said, quietly. She reached out and embraced him, his sobs as sudden as his outburst.

It was indeed the pair, and Secret, a bear of infamy across Europe, that trooped into the hall before the gaze of three courts. Elfwine gently place the body of his father down upon the dais, before turning to Amaudru. They said few words to each other before sharing their sorrow as only mother and son could.

Then he came to her.

“My lady, I apologise for the circumstances of our meeting,” he said. His voice rang with grief, yet carried still the strength of his character. “I will in short order meet and make merry with you and your good men of Francia,” he said, looking over at her gobsmacked uncle and father in the corner, then wryly back at her. She managed a small smile of amusement, one he shared back with her. “The State, unfortunately, comes first.”

He went back to the shroud and announced the death of his father, the Lord of Lancaster. “We must mourn the passing of a man whom touched the lives and hearts of all whom reside within our realm, and far beyond. We will then go forward together, as one people, under the legacy of Wigberht the Holy, and the House of Lancaster.”
 
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Well, it looks like Edward had it coming although bad blood did not make his course any easier.
Poor Eadric? Oh no...
All this talk of seals has me rather worried. Is it already time to summon the horsemen?
I must say that I love the image of a man riding a polar bear riding a dragon, all that is missing is a mount for the dragon!
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Well, it looks like Edward had it coming although bad blood did not make his course any easier.
In gaming terms, it's pretty clear the player dropped him for the younger; smarter second boy who was already heir to mercia. He became an adult and immediately began a rivalry, which is fine and interesting. Then he came up to me when we were both doing the dueller decision and placed me in quite the impossible position. As the game says, you can hardly refuse.

Unfortunately for him, my character came equipped with a maul.

Poor Eadric? Oh no...
Yeah, this one is entirely Elfwine (and mine) fault. Such a promising young lad too...

All this talk of seals has me rather worried. Is it already time to summon the horsemen?
Would you believe I had forgotten the film existed till this comment? It must have rattled in my mind however because it does fit rather well.

Then again this is Lancaster, so in this universe the great seal may in fact be a large blubber mammal of some description.

I must say that I love the image of a man riding a polar bear riding a dragon, all that is missing is a mount for the dragon
Oh, such a mount exists in-universe. In getting old archived pictures for the flashbacks, I recalled a most...interesting series of events, one of the few game events where elfwine and secret continually failed to achieve any results. Now I know we have the pictures, I'm sure a chapter on them will emerge, though I am wary of summoning their wrath in this new game as well...

A man riding a bear riding a dragon is perfectly in keeping with the spirit of CKII, I feel. Whether you imagined them all atop one another in some humorous riding pile or secret and elfwine sat awkwardly next to each other with the corpse in the back, either way its quite funny.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Just to inform, this is the last chapter before the game catches up to us and thus, the mild interactivity might come into play. I am interested to see how everyone suggests how we corinate and marry Elfwine this time, and with 3 courts in attendance, without starting a war or diplomatic incident.

Then the wittenmagot has to opinion/talk down Elfwine's plans for the kingdom after his reign begins, if that is something readers are interested in doing.

And just a bit of housekeeping, are alerts showing up right on people's feeds? The last two chapters before this one had issues with their thread marks so I'm curious to see if that had any effect?

Thanks for reading.
 
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Bullfilter

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Been immersed writing a long chapter of my own, but am now in catch-up mode again. I'll comment on Chapter 10 first as it deserves it richly and i wouldn't want to let it slip past without some observations :). Then I'll move onto 11 in a bit.
A Grim Fairy-tale
Nice little wordplay.
Elfwine awoke from the vision, aware it had been no dream of his own conception.
But much truth in the dream, it would appear.
“You mock me, now at the hour of my Father’s death.” Elfwine whispered, head bowed.
TBH, he would deserve such, but Amser is bigger than that.
“You are wrong,” Amser replied, “to think his soul was not darkened by your presence in his life.
Cruel but fair words.
Elfwine blinked, and was in a cavern. No, he was in a cavern, and the suddenness surprised him such that he blinked.
Nicely said.
“Take me in his place, my Lord Death.”
He grows further, though I doubt his offer will be accepted. Yet. Perhaps he will have endless rebirths, Groundhog Day style, every time the Paradoxian Deity corrupts one of your game saves! :D
 

TheButterflyComposer

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TBH, he would deserve such, but Amser is bigger than that.
I would say so. He's nigh-omnipotent, in some sense, because of his relation to time. Thus being petty or cruel seems fairly...idiotic. Even the Greek gods, capriciousness personified, didn't tend to dick around with Fate and children of destiny when it was important. And the norse gods knew they were an order of magnitude higher in power than humankind, and so tended to be surprisingly gentle around everyone they met who weren't colossal pricks of their own.

He grows further, though I doubt his offer will be accepted. Yet. Perhaps he will have endless rebirths, Groundhog Day style, every time the Paradoxian Deity corrupts one of your game saves! :D
Urgh, it may yet come to that but let's not pre-empt it. The attempt makes all the difference, though even here it's still him fighting death, just for someone else this time. Acceptance of oblivion just doesn't seem to be in Elfwine's nature.
 
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HistoryDude

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Well, it seems as if threats are coming.

Poor Eadric...

And, indeed, who but Elfwine thought the title King in the North accursed?

Although Elfwine’s line will face troubles...
 

TheButterflyComposer

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And, indeed, who but Elfwine thought the title King in the North accursed?
Even in his own world, not many. It was a symbol of Man's defiance of and deliverance from the evils of the supernatural world. The King in the North, who ruled from Lancaster, pushed back against the monsters and the darkness till none remained. It's a worthy goal and title, if done properly.

Who knows what it will mean in this reality? Hushed tones from foreign lands who speak of the North and the powerful yet wicked king within? A symbol of hope and Christian virtue in a land under dire threat? Simple propaganda and pageantry, much like the king of the franks and Roman's? Who knows, just yet. We have yet to write such history.

And the issue of the line of blood merely ensures that interesting times will continue past the end of Elfwine, should he ever die that is. I don't oarticualry like the idea of divine right of kings or blood talents etc common to fantasyland stories because it smacks of some very dark poltcial thoughts and philosophies but there I see no getting away from the fact that in CKII, old established families simply are on average much better than everyone else a time everything. They are healthier, stronger, smarter, more prestigious and holy. The game's system of bloodlines and lineage make this even more implicit.
 

Bullfilter

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“I think, my son,” Wigberht said, tears finally falling down his face, “you knew me at my best.”
Great line.
And just a bit of housekeeping, are alerts showing up right on people's feeds? The last two chapters before this one had issues with their thread marks so I'm curious to see if that had any effect?
I believe they were. I don’t think threadmarks should affect them ... :(

They were some dark flashbacks ... it’s a good way of you not having wasted all the play and shots you have left from v1 and makes for a substa and game-based backstory. Hoping he will learn some good lessons from his first run at the kingdom. All up to date now, eh ... interesting.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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They were some dark flashbacks ... it’s a good way of you not having wasted all the play and shots you have left from v1 and makes for a substa and game-based backstory. Hoping he will learn some good lessons from his first run at the kingdom. All up to date now, eh ... interesting.
There are a few shots left, but mostly burnt through the useful ones now. I'm fully reminded of how the world ended up in the past...and the family really had been put through the ringer. And the world come to that. Will fling up a few maps showing the collapse of christianity and the wierd places that sent france. The Scandinavians had a go at England too and very nearly succeeded. They even managed to get a few good licks in at Lancaster, which might make Elfwine extremely biased against them in the new world.

One thing I'm going to miss is the nice golden map colour Lancaster had, because the colour of the found a new kingdom seems to be randomly assigned. The new one is pink like wessex, which makes sense, but its not as nice or distinctive.

Yes, we are all caught up. Next chapter will be I think coronation and a catch up of the situation at hand between Elfwine and his small council (at the moment just Beor and Ida) before introducing the wittenmagot and what could happen going forward (kingdom income, neighbourhood threats, plans of expansion etc).
 

DensleyBlair

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Fell behind a bit, though through no fault of the forum's I should add – just one of those weeks, even in lockdown.

Two fantastic updates, in any event. Top quality storytelling all round, really. It manages to be sombre without getting too heavy, which is nice. Oftentimes AARs that go for 'heavy' can sort of tip the scales too far, if you know what I mean.

I had Scott Walker in my head for pretty much the entirety of chapters 10 and 11. Funny to read that you'd forgotten about the film, but I suppose this is just one of those ideas that never really leaves us was a people – the battle of wits with Death.

Exciting to hear we're all caught up now. How will the dealings of the Witengamot impact this of all worlds, I wonder.