Under the Cover of Darkness

On Christmas Eve, Manzio and Uther had been called back to York Minster to meet with The Archbishop of York. However, Manzio and Uther were not with Storm, Tector or Sophia. The three had already left joining Sophia’s father, Baron William de Percy. The group was now split, with Uther attending to responsibilities in the city, accompanied by Manzio. The two had become friends.

It had been a bitterly cold winter but the heavy snowfalls of the previous week had started to subside leaving a thick, brown slush in the main thoroughfares’ of York’s streets. With nowhere else to go and now under the patronage of Uther, Manzio spent his days in the Knight’s Templar lodge in York and had engaged in some sword training. As Christmas approached, the young Vesuvian had begun to gain confidence in use of the short sword, impressing the o0lder knight with his speed and dexterity.

It was Christmas Eve morning when Uther & Manzio were called once again to speak with the Archbishop of York. The two were shown into the same small, antechamber used when the group had first met several weeks ago. A roaring fire kept the room warm and settling into a comfortable chair, padded with plump cushions, Manzio felt a sense of safety the like of which he had not experienced since leaving his homelands. Eventually, they were invited to follow a young acolyte and led into the chambers of the Archbishop. As they entered the two noticed another man, huge and wild looking, sat at the far end of the room. He nodded a stern, dark look in his eye. The figure is a solemn, serious looking man with jet, black hair and dark brooding eyes to match, wearing thick, shaggy black robes as though made from wolfskin. As the Archbishop begins to make introductions and the man stands, he is a good 5 inches taller than 6ft. He carries a staff of blackened wood, though highly polished even though showing dark red liquid as if stained by blood. The gnarled staff is carved at the hilt in the likeness of a gaping wolf’s jaw. He carries no other obvious weapon, although on his left hand he wears a blackened, unadorned ring. His brow seems set in a permanent furrow as he stares out from behind thick, black eyebrows.

The Arch Bishop of York motioned for the two to sit.

“Uther, Manzio, I thank you for responding to my request at such short notice and especially on Christmas Eve. Allow me to introduce you to the man sat to my left. His name is Cullen Mckenzie…it is a name that carries great strength north of the border for he is a man of great valour in battle. He has travelled north at the bequest of his King, William the Lion, King of Scotia whom I personally saw swear fealty to our own king, Henry II here in York cathedral in the year of our lord, 1175.

There are many in Scotia who foolishly see this as Scotia bending the knee to France and England and a revolt has broken out in the border lands of Galaway. Until now, this revolt has been small and contained but recently the threats have become a lot more serious to the King’s peace.

“I would like you to board a sea vessel bound for Lindisfarne in the north. You can then cross into Scotia and travel by foot across into the West and Galloway. The ship is an old Viking longboat but refitted for trade and known as ‘The Hammer,’ named after the massive battering ram attached to the prow. Your Captain for the voyage is a loyal man of the church, Brother Mark Seaboard. Go now and may God’s blessing be with you.”

  • Boarding The Hammer*
In the cold of night, Manzio, Uther and Cullen trudge through the light snows, their breath frosting in the cold. The three make their way down to the River Ouse, which in places is close to freezing and quickly board the old ship, The Hammer.

As they boarded the ship, an old, stooped figure with a lined, weathered face appears. Uther notes that is wearing the Templar’s sigil on his boiled leather jerkin, a white and red-cross painted onto the breastplate. He has grey stubble and a shaved head. Despite his stooped posture he still commands physical respect, partly because of the wicked rapier at his waist.

“My name is Brother Mark Seaboard.” said the figure. “I look forward to travelling with you for the next few weeks.”

For a week, the three make their way slowly toward the East coast heading down the wide tributary, which opens up out onto the open sea. A crew of individuals imprisoned for petty crimes had been rounded up and promised their freedom at Lindisfarne serving Captain Seaboard with begrudging respect. Several times during the opening week of travel, the crew were forced to earn their board, as they navigated via floating ice, bending their backs into rowing positions in which their hands grew blue with cold.

The New Year passed quickly. Rum was served on deck and even the criminals were given a respite from the backbreaking work to toast the start of 1180. Unfortunately, disease was rife on board and as the journey continued, now in the open sea (though the boat kept in sight of land) several men were cast overboard. Uther did what he could to help other men already rife with Scurvy and other diseases.

  • The Attack*
Several weeks had passed with the ship making slow progress up the eastern coast and with Lindisfarne only now days away. It was a bitterly cold evening on the boat with the crew entertained during dinner by an acrobatic routine performed by Manzio.

Later in the evening, whilst everyone was asleep, the crew was suddenly awoken by an ear splitting crash! A massive tail swooped out of the icy cold water. Sailors were screaming on the deck, obviously terrified and bewildered. It didn’t take long before the whole body had risen out of the icy water.

“Get to your battle stations” Uther commanded of the prisoners, who grabbed whatever they could find to use against the Sea Dragon. It attacked the boat with its tail, splitting the aged vessel in half with a mighty blow. On one half of the boat were three prisoners and Manzio, Uther, Cullen and Brother Seaboard. The other half of the vessel contained the remaining prisoners, huddled together fearfully noting the motionless bodies floating in the dark waters of those less fortunate in the first attack.

Manzio took out his Blinding Strike, and as the creature rounded and then rose up in the ater for a second attack, blinded it with an accurate throw of the dangerous chemical compound. The giant, horned head screamed in agony, splashing around in the water. The exposed underside was then stabbed by Uther further adding to the creature’s injuries. As Cullen rushed along the deck to attack, something remarkable happened! The big Scotian transformed into a giant wolf, jumped onto the Sea Dragon and raked his giant taloned paws on the back of the creature. Retaliating, it lashed out at Cullen, catching him a massive blow as the wolf was thrown back onto the deck. It lashed it’s tail out at the men one last time, wounding both Manzio and Brother Seaboard before retreating back into the water and out of sight.

With decking now beginning to sink perilously low in the water, all hands gathered bits of splintered wood and the remaining oars to reach land. Those in the other half of the smashed longboat had been less lucky, as their makeshift vessel had been struck during the second attack, debris scattered in all directions and no signs of survivors.

Reaching dry land, those prisoners still remaining wasted no time on bolting for the woods.

“W-what was that?” Manzio gasped, his heart still pounding after the battle.

“That,” said Uther, “Was a baby Sea Dragon. I’ve heard tails of them. We were lucky it was only a child.”

“Only a baby!” Manzio exclaimed with shock.

“Yes.” Replied Uther. “Had it been a full size Sea Dragon, we would have been doomed. Thankfully God was with us.”

Cullen had returned to his normal state. His shoulder wounded, as he on the beach, unconscious after being smashed back down onto the deck. Uther gathered his body gently into his hands, which glowed momentarily with golden light, the big man instantly breathing more easily.

Brother Seaboard, gathering the remaining crew loyal to him and the provisions, which had survived the shipwreck, suggested that he would take word back to the Archbishop of all that had befallen them. The following morning after a scant breakfast, the survivors split into two with Uther leading his trio north and Capatin Seabord heading south.

Under the Cover of Darkness

Albion Andrew_Brereton iwilliamson