The Orphans

It is late January when Manzio, Uther & Cullen begin to make their way up the Eastern coast before reaching Hadrian’s Wall. Uther outlines an alternative plan, which involves travelling cross country before using the wall itself to help navigate west before crossing into the Scotia lowlands and hence to meet with men loyal to King William the Lion.

For several days the three make their way through some difficult terrain, stopping only for rest and to resupply in small villages along the way. They make good progress passing into northern England. On the third night, the sounds of wolves can be heard and Manzio and watches as Cullen transforms into a massive hound, his coarse black hair becoming a shaggy coat of fur. He slips off into the night and shortly afterward the sounds of the wolves’ cease. Uther finds this difficult to credit and makes clear his dislike of such magical transformations. Manzio, simply listens to his mentor though is glad that Cullen is able to keep the pack away from the two.

After a week of travel, Uther believes that the group is approaching Hadrian’s Wall. Cullen has returned although clearly, Uther is ignoring the big man from Galloway. It is approaching noon exactly one week since the shipwreck when the three come across the grizzly remains of a freshly abandoned coastal village. The thatched roofs have been torched and the entire area burnt and scorched. The group is just leaving behind the scarred scene when Cullen comes across a group of huddled children, petrified and filthy.

The largest of the three wears a torn brown shirt with baggy ragged grey shorts and has scarred, bare feet full of ugly callouses. His face is covered in dirt although even through the filth, Manzio notes that the boy has striking, sapphire blue eyes. His hair is a sandy blonde covered in dust. His nose is short and stubby and also covered in dirt. He stands at 5ft 3inch.

The second, shorter boy wears a similar torn shirt of grey cloth and torn shorts. He too is without shoes or boots, his left ankle visibly swollen. Like the older boy, his face and brown hair is also filthy and covered in dirt, his brown eyes lifeless. The malnourished boy shares the same button nose as his older counterpart and Manzio guesses that the two are surely brothers. He stands at 4ft 10inch.

The girl wears a torn white dress, her delicate feet caked in mud. She has light brown hair, not dissimilar to the shorter boy, which is messy and comes down to her shoulders, covered in dust and dirt. Indeed, as Manzio studies the girl further, he suspects that the two younger children are twins, so alike are the two.

“Do not be afraid, ‘says Uther crouching down in front of the three children. I am a man of God and will offer you safe passage. What are your names and tell me what has happened here?’

The children are at first reluctant to talk but after Manzio has offered them cheese and bread, which they devour like animals, the older boy visibly relaxes.

‘I thank you kind strangers. My name is Ulf and these the twins, my brother and sister, Randar and Sequane. A group of Araken came into our lands recently…we’d heard that they had already attacked other villages but didn’t believe it until we saw it with our own eyes. They came at night, killed our men and then torched the village taking everything they could, including women and children as slaves. We three hid in a cave close to the coast after we gave them the slip.’

Manzio feels great pity for the children having lost his own family less than a year before. He is happy to see Uther agree to take the three refugees to the nearest Templar’s chapter house where they are promised work and a keep.

Travelling North with the three children slows the group as they move more cautiously keeping a lookout for the Arakaen warband abroad. Ulf is the only one of the three capable of keeping pace with the adults and it is not long before Randar and Sequene begin to lag behind. As the day progresses, Uther walks with Ulf whilst Manzio takes responsibility for Randar and Cullen carries Sequance in gis broad back, much to the girl’s delight.
That evening, Manzio and Uther share their rations with the children. Once again all three are famished and make quick work of the food before settling into a fitful sleep. Randar in particular is beset with nightmares, calling out several times in the night.

The following morning, Uther is the first to spot the great wall like a snake silhouette on the horizon.

‘A site for sore eyes, thank the Lord,’ cries Uther. ‘Behold, Hadrian’s Wall.’

The companions make their way toward the structure feeling much relieved. They have made about half of the ground separating them from the wall when to Manzio’s horror, he spots movement from the trees to his left. Simultaneoulsy, the booming rhythms of a great drum resonate from within the forest, Sequane screaming, her hands held over her ears. Emerging from the trees two wargs burst free followed by an Araken scout and the rest of his warband close behind!

The Orphans

Albion Andrew_Brereton iwilliamson