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Found 12 results

  1. Grover

    Brewery at Prenmôr

    After the castle forge was completed, attention was turned to the brewery. Many castles had a small brewery, but Lady Gwenllian had planned a large facility located prominently in the inner ward next to the kitchen since it would be a significant source of her household income. The structure sat directly over a small fissure that had been excavated into a makeshift cave that allowed for a climate-controlled fermentation area. Like the blacksmith shop, it would eventually form part of the inner curtain, so the roof was built to slope only one direction. The brewery had been completed just before Ambassador Gisela was to leave for her journey back to Varlyrio to avenge the attempt on her brother's life. Lady Gwenllian wanted to tour Gisela through the brewery before she left, and they now walked to the large new building. As they entered the finished brewery, Lady Gwenllian showed Gisela around. Mohatu stood guard outside under the pentise, having learned to trust Lady Gwenllian as much as his training would allow. Looking around, Gisela noticed that someone had filled barrels with water and grain, but no one was around aside from several terriers that scurried about. "Might I ask who you have found to brew, m'lady?" Gisela asked. "I have not seen any new servants, and I see no one here." Lady Gwenllian laughed. "I myself am brewing." Gisela raised her eyebrows, but had learned not to be surprised by her liege. "Brewing was my family's business, so I am well versed and I will have to do the work myself until I can train a brewmaster," Lady Gwenllian replied. Gisela bowed her head. "As you will, m'lady." "How familiar are you with brewing?" Lady Gwenllian asked. "Not particularly. Could you please explain it? I would be remiss if I did not understand the intricacies of my community's largest industry," Gisela replied. "Of course," said Lady Gwenllian. "The first ingredient is the grain. The best is barley, but almost any grain can do. Oats are the second choice. Wheat can be used, but is usually combined with another grain since it's hard to brew. Once you choose your grain, you soak it in water for several days." Lady Gwenllian showed Gisela the sacks of grain and the malting vat. "This is the first step in the malting process. Any fresh water will do at this point, so we will use river water since it is abundant." "Then you dump the wet grain out onto the floor to let it germinate," she said and gestured to a slight depression in the stone floor. "It just sits on the floor?" Gisela asked, both surprised and somewhat disgusted. "Not entirely. You have to turn the seeds, which involves picking them up with a wooden shovel and tossing them lightly into the air once a day for a week. If you think of the grains as seeds, it makes more sense. They are sprouting, which makes the seeds able to brew. If you want a detailed explanation, you'd have to talk to a druid or a sage, but if you don't let the grains sprout, they won't brew." "So that's why the floor is tiled with stone?" asked Gisela. "Yes, and also to keep the dust down so the beer is cleaner," replied Lady Gwenllian. "The real trick to malting is to kill the new seedlings before they grow too far. Not enough or too far and you can't brew," Lady Gwenllian finished. "How does one kill the seedlings?" Gisela asked. "Great question. There are two methods." Lady Gwenllian held up a finger. "The first is to air dry them. Air drying is best in the summer, when there's a lot of sunlight and heat. It usually means a smoother tasting ale, but it's slower and less precise, so sometimes you lose yield to spores that grow too far. We mark the barrels containing the summer’s air dried brews and charge more for them since they have a cleaner taste but are lower yielding." She held up a second finger. "The other method is kiln drying, which you can use year round. Our kiln doubles as a heat source for boiling." Lady Gwenllian pointed to the kiln. "Kiln drying is more precise and kills the seedlings quickly, but it can be tricky. Too hot and you scorch the grains, making them useless. If you use a smoky fuel, the ale tastes like the fuel. Sometimes you want that, but usually you don't. I prefer to use straw or sea-coal, but most people use peat or simply wood. It's more expensive since you have to pay for the fuel, and since fuel around here is in fairly short supply, we will have to minimize kiln drying until we establish a good fuel source. The expense of the fuel is made up for in the extra yield from killing the seedlings precisely and from the higher price charged for the ale made from the air-dried malt." "At this point, your malt is done. Malt is easy to store for a year or more. We will make sure we always have an ample supply on hand in the case of a siege. Once our reserves are full, we will sell the excess. Small breweries without enough floor space will pay for malt to avoid having to malt their own grains." Gisela nodded. "I shall make it a priority to cultivate trading partnerships with such establishments." She looked at the barrels of malted grain on the floor, then to the storage of grains in the rafters above. A few cats roamed the overhead storage, while on the ground level, several terriers happily patrolled about. "M'lady, may I assume that the animals are for rodent control?" Gisela asked. Lady Gwenllian reached down and scratched one of the terriers behind the ears. "That's right. The dogs are easier to train to stay in a territory, so they get the brewery floor. The cats roam freely in and out, but they can get into the higher and tighter spaces. Mice and rats are always a problem with the amount of grain stored here, but we should be able to keep the population under control with the dogs and cats." Next, Lady Gwenllian led Gisela to a large contraption with a hopper and three stone rollers in the corner. "The next step is to mill the malted grain." She pointed to the odd equipment. Gisela looked confused. "This does not appear to be any mill that I am familiar with. Are not mills usually two large, flat stones that lay atop one another and turn to grind grains?" "Many people grind their malted grain with traditional mills as you describe, but this type of grinding damages the husks too much, which makes the next step, the mashing process, more difficult. Small breweries get around this by hand crushing the malt in a mortar, but it's too time consuming for larger operations. My family invented this rolling mill for crushing the malted grains while being gentler on the husks." Lady Gwenllian demonstrated the hand crank that spun the three stone rollers. Gisela imagined the malted grain falling down from the hopper above and getting crushed in the rollers before falling into the barrel below. "It's been copied by a lot of breweries over the years, so it's not a great secret anymore." Lady Gwenllian walked past the door to the kitchen to the next corner of the brewery where a large lead vat sat atop the stone kiln. Next to it, a long trough stood, sloped slightly downward, and below it sat a barrel. Some steps led up to a wooden walkway around the lead vat. Lady Gwenllian climbed these and Gisela followed her. "The crushed, malted grain is dumped into this vat, and water is added. This time, the water should be fresh and as clean as possible, so we will have to cart in water from some of the nearby springs that feed the Afondraig River." "How is water sourced in times of siege?" Gisela asked. "In the case of a siege, we will use any stored clean water, but after that we can use either well or river water. Although it won't produce as high a quality brew, it will sustain our troops," Lady Gwenllian replied. Continuing, she gestured to the vat. "The mixture of crushed malt and water is heated from the oven below. This is called mashing and is the trickiest part of brewing. The temperature must be exact, or the brew will fail. Too cold and the mash is not activated. Too hot and the life of the brew is killed. The whole mashing process takes around an hour." "How do you know when the right temperature has been reached?" Gislea asked. Lady Gwenllian smiled at her. "That is the art of brewing!" she laughed. "The truth is that most brewers feel the temperature with their hands and only the good ones get it right all the time. My great grandmother found a way around this, and made our family famous for producing a consistently good beer." Lady Gwenllian climbed down to the floor again then unlocked and opened a chest, removing two candles: one white and one black. "These candles are made from special waxes by a secret family process. A cut of wax from each is placed in a small glass dish and floated on the surface of the mash. When the white wax melts, the temperature is hot enough. If the black wax melts, it's too hot, and you have to cool the fires quickly to avoid spoiling the brew." Gisela was suitably impressed. "Of course, these are actual candles, too, so their true nature is hidden well and if need be, you can burn them to prevent the secret from being revealed," Lady Gwenllian said. She reminisced for a moment on her old life. "When I escaped from Albers, I brought three chests from my family's castle. They contained gold, a few family heirlooms including the recipe books for our ales, and these candles. This is the secret of our craft that we must protect." Gisela nodded. "Of course, m'lady." Lady Gwenllian replaced the candles in the chest and locked it. She stood and dusted her hands. "The mash after heating is called the wort. Wort is sweet with the sugars, and has to be separated from the grains. The vat is drained from this spigot," she pointed to a metal spigot, "through a cheesecloth into a barrel to filter out the spent grain. The grains are poured back into the vat and warm water is used to filter it again, and then the process is repeated. Each filtration has less sugar in it, and makes a weaker brew. This is called parti-gyle brewing. The first extract is the 'single beer' and is sold. The weaker brews are called 'small beer' and are reserved for servants. The spent grains, called draff, are fed to livestock." "At this point the wort can be flavored. Many brewers flavor their drinks with herbs and spices. My family did as well, but hops can also be added as a preservative. Hops add a bitter taste so must be used carefully so as not to be overpowering, but the beers last much longer and are easily transported for sale great distances away. In Albers, there was another preservative plant, but I have not seen any here in Avalonia yet. If hops or other preservatives are used, the wort must be boiled with them for at least an hour. This uses more fuel, but the beer keeps much longer. Most brewers boil their beer anyway, since it kills some of the bad growth, which helps keep it a bit longer even if hops aren't added. Boiling also leaves a foam that is skimmed off, which improves the clarity. I have noticed that a few brewers here in Avalonia forgo hops and boiling to make their brew more quickly, but it spoils just as quick and has a sour taste." "M'lady, you have used the terms brews, beer, and ale. What distinguishes between them?" asked Gisela. "Brews are anything that is brewed, so it is a generic term," Lady Gwenllian began. "The other terms are more confusing. Back in Albers, we had a term called 'beor', which meant a drink made from honey, although I believe it is called 'mead' here. Brewers in Albers describe ales as a type of beer that ferments at warmer temperatures with a particular kind of yeast (lagers being another type), but here in Avalonia any brews made without hops are called ales while those made with hops are called beer." Gisela paused and looked like she wanted to say something, but didn't. "It's confusing, I know," Lady Gwenllian replied. "I'm not sure the terms have global agreement yet, so be careful to ask when you travel to different places to make sure it's clear what you're talking about. Ask what the brew is made from and if it has hops or not, and you should have a good idea." "Yes, m'lady," Gisela replied. "Once you boil the wort, you must cool it. The faster the cooling, the better tasting the beer, since less time is allowed for the growth of unwanted spores and such. To that end, we pour the hot wort into this long, shallow cooling trough." Lady Gwenllian pointed to the large trough that sat above barrel. "Because faster cooling leads to better beer, the best brewing is done over the winter, when the air is cold. This building is designed so the doors and some windows in the roof can be opened to speed the cooling process. If there is snow on the ground, it can be packed around the troughs for even faster cooling. For these reasons, malt is usually made and stored in the summer, and the brewing takes place during the winter. Poor quality brewers will make beer in the heat of summer and can have their brews 'foxed' if it's too warm outside. Foxed beers have a red color from unwanted growth. Our location on the coast helps keep the summer temperatures down, so we can start brewing earlier in the fall than some of the inland brewers." "After cooling, there's usually some sediment that falls out. You can see that the valve for draining the trough sits a little above the bottom. That prevents some of the sediment from draining. Small particulates are filtered out by a bit of cotton stuffed into the end of the valve. It drains more slowly, but has better clarity, and the plug is changed out each brewing." Lady Gwenllian walked Gisela over to a large wooden crane with various pulleys on it, suspending a barrel above some doors on the floor. "And now we come to the purification process. Yeast is added to the cooled and filtered wort, and the barrel is sealed with a lid. This part of the process takes a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the strength of the brew and the desired end taste. Usually the purification process must take place in a cellar to hold the beer at the right temperature. In our case, we were lucky to take advantage of a natural fissure in the rock that we dug out into a makeshift cave that serves the same purpose. These large doors close to keep the temperature in the cave constant. The barrels are lifted in and out of the cave by this rig," she said, pointing to the large wooden scaffold. "With the pulleys, a single person can easily lift a full barrel up and down without difficulty." "Is that rig built to the dwarven designs?" Gisela asked. "Yes, Sven used the design that you negotiated from the local dwarves to build this contraption. It is counterweighted with some stone from the top, and has gears underneath that allow the entire apparatus to turn back and forth to load the barrels. Nice work getting the design for such a low price!" Lady Gwenllian complimented. "Thank you, m'lady," Gislela curtsied. Pausing a moment and looking at the barrel, she then asked "Where does the yeast come from?" "For now, we're buying it from the baker in town, but eventually we will be able to hold back some of the yeast that settles out of our brews to begin our next batches, and in time, we will have enough to be sold to others," Lady Gwenllian replied. "Are the beers sold in the purification casks?" Gisela asked. Lady Gwenllian shook her head. "No, once the brews are purified, the barrels are hoisted back out of the cave and are opened and poured into new, clean barrels of various sizes. Excess yeast is harvested that can be used for the next batch of beer, and more sediment falls out, again improving the clarity. Then the casks of beer can be sent back to the cave for storage during the summer months, or stored in a shed in the winter before being sold or tapped and drunk." Lady Gwenllian led Gisela outside through two huge doors, finding Mohatu waiting for them. "The large doors allow for a horse cart to be pulled into the brewery to load the barrels," Lady Gwenllian explained. She gave Gisela a serious look. "Our first brews will be sold, since we need a source of income. I have spent most of my family's fortune on the beginnings of the castle, so it is important that you bring us the best prices you can for our beer, or we will have a hard time next year. I will mark each barrel with the flavors they contain and discuss prices for you to negotiate their sales." Gisela nodded. "I understand, m'lady. I will make sure that our beer is sold widely at the best price possible." As Lady Gwenllian closed the large doors behind her, she turned back to her new ambassador. "I'm sure you will. I wish you well in avenging your brother. I have assigned a small contingent of my guard to accompany you to help with your endeavor and keep you safe." "Thank you, m'lady," Gisela replied with a curtsey. Lady Gwenllian took her hand in a warrior's grasp. "Go with speed and luck!" she wished her new ambassador, and then watched Mohatu follow her down the rock outcrop to her waiting ship.
  2. Grover

    Castle Palisade

    The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 10. Castle Palisade Concurrent with the temporary palisade around the town, a small palisade was built on the castle grounds. Temporary defenses for the castle grounds differed from the town because of the shallow bedrock that the castle would be built upon. This bedrock, and the location at the top of the rock outcropping precluded a surrounding ditch. The logs for the wooden palisade were placed directly on the shallow bedrock, and the wooden wall was shored up with rock and dirt at the base. The logs were staggered and reinforced with wooden rails for strength. Care was taken with these logs so they could eventually be reused for the castle timbers, since wood was in short supply due to limited logging rights in the Enchanted Forest (minimizing impact on the forest and pleasing their elven trading partners). To further reduce demand on timber, only the temporary housing for Lady Gwenllian's household was enclosed by the palisade, no guard towers were built, and only one large gate was constructed. Like the gates on the temporary town wall palisade, the gate was rudimentary, with two swinging doors, but unlike the town wall, this gate had a defended platform above for an extra layer of security. A wooden framed rock staircase provided access from one side, and the logs were raised along this side to provide cover to soldiers climbing the stairs. Outside of the palisade, Lady Gwenllian had begun training Gisela how to use a weapon. While some of the guards looked on from the wall and Mohatu stood close at hand, the women sparred with wooden swords and some spare shields Lady Gwenllian had grabbed from her armory. Gisela's father Staffen had sent word that their family had located the assassin who had made the attempt on Gisela's brother Bernaldo's life, and that retribution to the Varlyrian family responsible was at hand. Gisela of course, wanted to be part of the retribution for her brother, so she had obtained leave from Lady Gwenllian to temporarily return to Varlyrio. Lady Gwenllian had agreed on the condition that she take Mohatu and a small contingent of her own Avalonian guard for her protection. She was not keen on losing her new ambassador. She had further suggested that Gisela learn to defend herself, despite her ever-present and formidable bodyguard Mohatu watching over her. Never a shrinking violet, Gisela had readily agreed, although now in the heat of the summer sun, fighting the skilled and powerful Lady Gwenllian, she wondered if she had bitten off a little too much. Lady Gwenllian did not hold back and hit Gisela with the force of a kicking horse, numbing her arm with several hits to the shield. Gisela grit her teeth to push down the pain, ignoring her sweat soaked clothing and numerous bruises, focusing her anger at her family's dishonor on becoming skilled with a sword.
  3. Grover

    Prenmôr Forge

    The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 9. Prenmôr Forge One of the most important buildings in Prenmôr was the smithy. It was to be the first permanent structure in the castle, as a blacksmith was needed to prepare (and repair) nails, tools, weapons, and other miscellaneous steel and iron items. The need for a forge was immediate, so it was built with the first load of stone from the quarries and had little decoration. The initial stone from the quarries was irregular and contained smaller pieces than would eventually be used for the castle walls, so the blacksmith shop had a distinct appearance. It was intentionally located in what would become the inner ward for security and to ensure a steady supply of weapons and armor should the castle come under attack. Fire was always a concern in the confined space of a castle, so the smithy was made from stone, located near the well for a supply of water, and placed apart from the residential structures. To further mitigate fire risk, Lady Gwenllian purchased expensive slate from a nearby dwarven mine for the roof. The smithy's distinct appearance was not just due to its stone: the roof sloped one direction and only two small windows appeared in the side walls. Since the back of the smithy would eventually become part of the inner curtain a vaulted roof was unnecessary, and since the windows would eventually face the gatehouse and the inner curtain walls, their use as light sources was limited. Thus, two lanterns were hung inside the smithy to supplement the lighting. Lady Gwenllian and Lady Seren planned for the future by designing a forge large enough for a master smith that they hoped to eventually attract to the site. Despite being large, the forge had enough conveniences (such as a bellows with a pull chain) so that a single blacksmith could work alone if need be. A large horizontal window at the front doubled as a work counter, let in most of the light and fresh air, and provided an exit for the heat of the forge during warm months. This window was closed by a large wooden shutter that could be kept closed at night and in the winter. A stone shelf near the forge contained charcoal fuel, and several log rounds would hold work, tools, and the all-important anvil. A huge bellows would blow air into the forge to keep the coals hot enough for steel. Iron bloom, wrought iron rods, and steel stock were kept in crates and barrels around the room. Outside, barrels collected rain water runoff from the roof to supplement the water supply in the forge. A small bucket of water was located in the forge for immediate use. Lady Gwenllian’s blacksmith was none other than Sven, one of her family's blacksmiths from back in Albers. Sven had been raised in Mitgardia, where he fought and sailed, but had also apprenticed for a few years to a dwarven blacksmith. Sven was not a master of the forge, but his nails, horseshoes, and various tools were functional. His apprenticeship had taught him to let form follow function, and though his work was not always pretty, it could withstand quite a bit of abuse. At the beginning of the summer, the forge fired up for the first time. Raw iron bloom was smelted in a makeshift clay brick furnace in the yard, then stored in piles in the smithy. Sven wrought this sponge iron and stored it as bars and plates for tools, weapons, and armor. The initial pieces consisted mostly of nails and a few repairs on plows, picks, and shovels, none of which taxed the capacity of the huge smithy. Sven set up a cot in the back of the forge that became his temporary home until the permanent apartments were built, which was just fine with him, as he was the oldest of the household and was pleased to sleep in warm, a water-tight building. After watching Sven at work, Lady Seren’s daughter, Alis, became interested in smithing, and with Lady Seren's permission, Sven took her on as his apprentice. She worked the bellows, fed the fire, collected charcoal, fetched water, and practiced working on scraps of iron and steel as Sven handled the main load of work. By mid-summer, Alis had made great progress and was helping make nails, while Sven was starting to make more tools and even a few spearheads for rudimentary defense. Being more sociable, Alis also routinely dealt with customers, which greatly improved the relations between the workers and the somewhat curmudgeonly Sven. Particularly with the more unruly customers.
  4. Grover

    Ambassador Gisela

    The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 8. Ambassador Gisela Due to the recent attempt on his son’s life, Staffen Conzaga decided to send his children away from him for their safety, choosing a different location across Historica for each. Distrustful and crafty by nature, Staffen sent false ‘official’ word of the locations and travel plans of each of his children ahead of them to confuse potential attacks. Only his daughter Gisela stayed behind in Varlyrio, but even this was a ruse. After a few weeks at home, Gisela set off to attend a concert of one of her favorite Nocturnian bands who were playing a show in Avalonia. She traveled light, and by all appearances, she was only going to be away for a few days. However, Staffen had secretly met with Gisela and her bodyguard Mohatu, directing them to attend the heavily guarded concert and connect with the many lords in attendance to secure a safe location for Gisela to reside while Staffen ruthlessly hunted down the source of the attack. Gisela was annoyed: she did not fear assassins and felt that she could take care of herself. She was not about to disobey her father when he was so furious, but she had little intention of begging some foreign lord for shelter while her family was under attack. Thus, she saw an opportunity to go to a concert, have some fun, and return home ‘unsuccessful’. She took one of her father’s nicer ships (loaded with all the comforts of home) across the sea, accompanied by her bodyguard Mohatu and several servants. Her ship anchored in the mouth of the Afondraig Riverat the fledgling rural community of Prenmôr and here she had attended a concert of The Rolling Bones. The concert was heavily guarded due to the number of nobles in attendance, and had drawn a huge crowd from across all the guilds. Gisela had enjoyed herself and the music, happy to be anonymous for a night, lost in the crowd. She hadn’t made a great effort to meet with the lords and ladies as she was more interested in listening to the music. The few she had met were from impoverished communities in Avalonia, the frozen wasteland of Mitgardia, or the desolate sands of Kaliphlin, none of which were appealing to her. At the conclusion of the concert, when Gisela had searched for accommodations for the night, she had found that this area was terribly underdeveloped, without a single inn or tavern yet. Faced with the unappealing choice of demanding shelter of some dirty peasant family or spending the night on her ship moored in the river, she chose the latter. In the morning, she had a mind to set sail back home, but, being the astute politician, had thought the better of it and decided to meet the local lord of this new community. Although she had no interest in asking the lord for a place to live, she had learned at an early age that it paid to make as many connections as possible, particularly among the nobility, in the case there was an advantage to be had. After all, this lord had put on the concert, so it was possible he was better connected than one could assume. After the servants had rowed Gisela and Mohatu to shore in the ship’s dinghy, Gisela had to make her way through the unseemly campsites of the peasantry who had attended the previous night’s concert, being careful not to dirty her skirt. Inquiring where the local lord might be, she had been directed to some temporary housing on the large elevated rock outcropping that overlooked the ocean, river, and the fields below. Without a carriage, and without a nice, paved Varlyrian street, she was beginning to regret her decision to make the climb when she finally reached the top. Several neat wattle and daub, timber-framed, thatched-roofed houses, surrounded by roughly hewn wooden fences, sat in a disorganized fashion near a well. Filthy peasants were delivering stone from a nearby quarry to new foundation footings being set for structures of some sort. Gisela set aside her distaste for the rough living conditions and made her way to the largest of the houses that bore the green flags of Avalonia, assuming that belonged to the lord. A little peasant girl in some low-cost clothing was on the side of the house feeding chickens, and a few soldiers were in a side yard practicing at swordplay. She bade Mohatu knock on the door, which he did without complaint. He stepped back, resting a paw on his sword hilt while keeping one eye on the door and the other on the soldiers to his right. A moment later, the door swung open, and a rather pleasant lady greeted them. She wore the green colors of her Avalonian lord, but Gisela was a little taken aback that she was wearing pants rather than the more proper skirt or dress. She hid her surprise well as the lady addressed her. “Well met, m’lady,” she said in slightly accented Avalonian speech. “What brings you here this fine morning?” Gisela ignored the unrefined direct manner of the lady, replying with a polite Varlyrian greeting. “I bid you a good morning. I am Lady Gisela Conzaga of Varlyrio, and I seek the lord of this house. Is he home?” The lady seemed amused at this notion. “Indeed m’lady, there is no lord of this house, but a lady, and she is here.” She gestured with an open hand to the two soldiers at practice. Gisela directed her attention to the soldiers practicing melee in the soft earth that doubled as a pig pen and quickly understood, surprised yet again. With their helms and armor on, she had a hard time deducing which one was the lady of the house, as both wielded their arms with terrific skill and force. The woman in the doorway led Gisela and Mohatu across the yard to the edge of the pig pen’s fence. “M’lady Gwenllian!” she called out, and the fighting stopped. “Lady Gisela Conzaga of Varlyrio is here to see you!” Both combatants walked over to toward Gisela. The taller of the two wore full plate armor with a visored helm and wielded a hand-and-a-half bastard sword in a single hand like it was a matchstick. The other more slight individual wore a closed helm with scale mail under a green Avalonian tabard and carried a mace. Gisela assumed the latter was the lady of the house due to her stature, but it was the other who sheathed the massive sword and strode forward to the fence, shooing a pig out of the way with a gentle shove of the foot. With practiced hands, the helm was quickly unlaced and Gisela was confused when a cascade of long, dark red hair flowed out of the helm as it was removed, to reveal a sweaty, smiling face of a woman in her mid 30s. Tucking her helmet under her left arm, she removed her gauntlet and glove, pushed some wet red hair out of her eyes, and extended her hand to Gisela in a warrior’s greeting. “Well met, Lady Gisela,” she said with the same slight accent as the other woman. “I am Lady Gwenllian. I see you have already met my Lady-at-arms, Lady Seren.” The usually unflappable Gisela actually hesitated a moment from shock, and started to curtsey before realizing that she had best return the greeting offered her. She took Lady Gwenllian’s hand to shake as she had seen her father’s warriors do many times before. She immediately noticed the feel of Lady Gwenllian’s hands: they were callused and incredibly strong, like the hands of a smith or a soldier, having obviously known hard work, and were not the smooth hands of nobility she was so used to. She sensed Mohatu stiffen ever so slightly to her side, not entirely sure of this strange and potentially dangerous woman. If Lady Gwenllian was at all distressed by an armed lionel standing before her, she didn’t show it. Gisela had always been tall for a woman, taller even than some of the male soldiers of her family’s home, but Lady Gwenllian matched her every inch and then some, standing several inches over six feet, with broad, squared shoulders and a muscular frame. She looked imposing in full plate armor, but her rather plain face and inviting smile put Gisela at ease and she quickly regained her senses. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Gwenllian,” Gisela began formally. The handshake ended and Lady Gwenllian smiled as she continued. “I am of the house Conzaga from across the sea in Varlyrio. I attended the concert last night and wished to meet the lord of these lands before I departed.” Pausing a second, she added, “The concert was quite lovely, and I greatly appreciated all of your effort in sponsoring such a lavish event.” Lady Gwenllian held her hand up. “I am glad to meet you, but I cannot take credit for the hard work of my household and the villagers that put up the stage and trappings you see below.” Just when she didn’t think that she could be more surprised, Gisela was. Here this noblewoman was giving credit to peasants? For labor they were supposed to be doing anyway? What? “How generous of you,” she offered. “I’m sure that you had many hours of planning involved." Lady Gwenllian smiled again. “Your compliments are what is generous,” she said with a laugh. “How about some tea? May I offer you a drink and a place to sit while we talk a bit?” She gestured to her house. “Thank you, I would be honored,” Gisela replied. She followed Lady Seren as Lady Gwenllian clanked into the house in her armor. Inside, the home was neat and tidy, or at least as much as a dwelling with a packed dirt floor and an open thatched roof could be. She found herself somewhat put off by this sparse, rural dwelling. The two-story house had a fire pit on the bottom level that fed heat into the upper level by means of a hole in the floor above that formed a sort of balcony. Lady Gwenllian led Gisela upstairs, which had a wooden floor, and offered her a chair while she doffed her armor on a stand near her bed. Gisela wrinkled her nose as she carefully wiped the chair off with a handkerchief before sitting. Mohatu took a post not far behind her, standing. “What’s your family business?” asked Lady Gwenllian rather bluntly, as she looked at Gisela over her shoulder while continuing to remove portions of her armor. “We are vintners, growing some of the highest quality grapes and fermenting some of the best wine in Varlyrio,” Gisela replied. “Very nice,” replied Lady Gwenllian. “I am originally from Albers, and my family were brewers.” Suddenly, everything was clear to Gisela. She remembered hearing of the land of Albers, far to the north of Varlyrio and west of Avalonia, across the sea. She recalled that Albers was a matriarchy, with families ruled and inherited by the first-born woman. She had always been fascinated with tales of this land as a small girl, wondering what it would be like to have the kind of power and respect her father and brothers did. She never thought anything past it being just a fantasy, however, and had forgotten about it as she grew up. The revelation that here, in front of her, was a real-life example of her childhood imagination was exciting: an intelligent, confidant, and capable lady who was completely oblivious to the male-dominated culture that she was now a part of. Gisela’s disgust with the backward, dirty village and home was temporarily lost as her interest was now piqued: this was no widow of some male lord, holding down the household until another man came along to marry her, as Gisela had assumed. No, this was the noble in charge around here, and it opened many new possibilities in Gisela’s mind. “We have not yet had a harvest,” Lady Gwenllian continued as she sat down across from Gisela, wearing her sweat-soaked dark green tunic and heavy breeches. Lady Gwenllian leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs as Gisela had seen her father do so many times before, but rather than seeing his fancy shoes, she saw a muddy leather riding boot crossed on Lady Gwenllian’s other knee. “But we hope that our first will offer enough wheat, hops, and oats to brew some ales and lagers this winter. One of our first priorities is our brewery, after we finish the forge for our blacksmith, of course." The same small peasant girl Gisela had seen feeding the chickens earlier arrived with some tea as Lady Seren joined Gisela and Lady Gwenllian. Gisela then understood that Lady Seren was not a servant, but a minor noble of sorts herself, as the Lady at Arms and seneschal of Lady Gwenllian’s household. The serving girl then interacted with Lady Seren in a way that made Gisela realize that she was not a serving girl at all, but the daughter of Lady Seren herself. This household was full of surprises! The conversation devolved into some discussion of the Conzaga family fermentation process, something with which Gisela was familiar but by no means an expert, so she confidently fabricated the details she didn’t know. When Lady Gwenllian began explaining the brewing process (which Gisela really couldn’t care less about), Gisela was more interested in the plain and direct manner with which Lady Gwenllian spoke. It was clear to Gisela that there was a great opportunity here: Lady Gwenllian would be underestimated by almost all the men who met her. Combine an underestimation of Lady Gwenllian’s ability with an adversary’s overconfidence and it would spell disaster for anyone who opposed her, and by extension, be a boon for those allied with her. For her part, Lady Gwenllian was similarly impressed with Gisela. She had been happy that a young lady had the temerity to approach her without a man (even if she was wearing a dress), something that had not yet happened since she had arrived in Avalonia. Listening to Gisela describe her family’s business, Lady Gwenllian realized that Gisela was extremely socially adept and that she was likely very good at something Lady Gwenllian was terrible at: politics. Lady Gwenllian’s direct nature, while beloved by the peasants of her land, had not been particularly well-suited for the court in Albers, relegating Lady Gwenllian’s family role to more physical activities like swordplay and jousting while her mother and sisters played political games. With the rest of her family having been murdered in Albers, Lady Gwenllian was now on her own and her household had a need for a shrewd politician. She thought that Gisela might be a great liaison for the neighboring tribes, communities, and fiefdoms, so she tried to steer the conversation in a direction to interest Gisela into staying. Little did she know that Gisela was already thinking along the same lines. “It’s not much now, but we have some designs on turning Prenmôr into a thriving community and a strong outpost. Lady Seren has already drawn up plans for the castle itself, along with some sketches for the surrounding lands.” She turned to Lady Seren. “Lady Seren, if you could please bring the parchments, I would like to show Lady Gisela the construction that is underway.” Their tea finished, Lady Seren rose to collect the plans, and Lady Gwenllian tossed a chain shirt over her tabard, fastening it with a belt. She led Gisela and Mohatu downstairs and outside. Lady Gwenllian motioned to the man she had been training with, who was sweeping up. “Chwyd, go fetch my sword,” she directed him. The man diligently scurried off without complaint. Gisela smiled to herself at the thought of male servants carrying out her every whim. “I prefer to be prepared for any eventuality,” Lady Gwenllian explained as Chwyd and Lady Seren returned. “You never know when you will be called on to fight.” After fastening on her sword and scabbard (much to Mohatu’s chagrin), Lady Gwenllian led Gisela around the grounds, showing her the foundations of the buildings in progress. Lady Seren walked alongside Lady Gwenllian as an equal, holding the unfurled scroll of parchment with the plans for the castle as Lady Gwenllian pointed out the areas where different parts of the fortress were to be laid and discussing the military strategy for each. Gisela did not have a formal education in engineering or military tactics, but it seemed to her that these two women knew what they were doing and had spent a great deal of time planning the strongest possible fortress. Lady Gwenllian stopped by the foundation of the blacksmith’s forge that was underway. “As you can see, we have some way to go, but by setting a priority, we will build the most important logistical and defensive structures first.” She looked around the high plateau, then back to Gisela. “I am in need of a strategist and liaison with the neighboring communities. We are surrounded by humans, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and other races, all of whom we need to trade and collaborate with in order to flourish and remain safe here. As we are a new community, we cannot yet bring great leverage to the dealing table, so we need someone practiced in negotiation to help provide as favorable a position as possible for Prenmôr. You strike me as such an individual. Would you be interested in taking up the position of Prenmôr’s official ambassador? At present, I cannot provide vast wealth, but I can assure you a living wage, room in my personal residence and such comforts as the area allows, plus travel to the neighboring communities and whatever entertainments and victuals accompany these, until such a time as our permanent residences are constructed.” Gisela paused a moment to take everything in. “May I have a moment?” Lady Gwenllian nodded, and Gisela took Mohatu aside. Gisela assumed that he would be displeased with the lack of fortifications of the area and would try to bring her to a safer area per her father’s instructions, so she was determined to force her will on him. “We shall be staying here. I know you’re going to argue that it doesn’t have high walls and all the troops of Varlyrio, but my father’s instructions were explicit that I find a lord willing to take me in until this family trouble blows over. I expect that you will send word to my father that this area and this lady are acceptable,” she finished with a pointed look. Mohatu held up a paw and shook his head. “My lady, I shall take no convincing and will wholeheartedly report that this area is secure. What it does not have in high walls and fortresses, it more than makes up for in its obscurity. With a population this small, outsiders will be noticed immediately, making it difficult for assassins to blend in, and this geographic site,” he motioned with his paw around the plateau, “provides a vantage over land, sea, and river, making it impossible for an advancing army to take the area by surprise. These ladies have done well in selecting the most defensible position, and while the lady herself,” he said, inclining his head toward Lady Gwenllian, “regrettably does not have a bodyguard, she looks… formidable,” he finished with a low growl and an almost begrudging respect. Gisela was pleasantly surprised, although she never let it show to her bodyguard, and smirked after turning away from Mohatu. She returned to Lady Gwenllian. “I accept your offer and the position as Ambassador of Prenmôr. I have a few household servants and my bodyguard Mohatu, who will require residence here.” “Of course,” Lady Gwenllian replied. “I will have space made for the servants with the rest of my household. Mohatu,” she turned to him, “you shall have a place downstairs in our residence with Lady Seren and her daughter Alis, while Gisela and I shall share the upstairs.” That settled, the servants began transferring Ambassador Gisela’s possessions from the ship to Lady Gwenllian’s home, and Lady Gwenllian’s household began making room for the entourage to share space with them until their permanent residences could be built. Gisela looked around the plateau, taking in the salt smell of the ocean, watching the gulls soar on the sea breeze and the peasants busily toiling away on the land below. Yes, this was going to be the beginning of a very profitable relationship.
  5. 7b. Palisade As the summer began and more people began to settle in Prenmôr, the peasantry became a little more anxious about their safety. Rumors abounded of lizard people taking human form, drow looking to invade again, the Mitgardian civil war reigniting, and to top it all off, there were rumors of the nearby Enchanted Forest harboring an evil elven sorceress who had been twisted by magic into a grotesque beast. A town wall was planned for around the community, but it would be a few years before all the stone could be quarried, cut, and finally built into a permanent stone structure. In the meantime, a temporary palisade was built, made of logs sunk into the earth with the skyward ends sharpened into points, held together with boards and tied near the top with rope. Unlike a wooden fortress, this temporary wall lacked wall walks and other features of a permanent structure. Simply meant as a deterrent to any potential attacks while the stone walls were being built, the palisade had a rudimentary wooden gate and was shored up with supports from the rear. While the foundation of the castle rested mostly on solid bedrock and overlooked steep embankments, the town wall was different. It was to be built surrounding the adjacent farmland with a foundation on the flat earth there. Thus, the laborers dug a ditch in front of the wall foundation where the palisade now rested, carrying out dirt and rock to be piled behind the palisade. This ditch would remain once the stone walls were in place, forming a dry moat around the town to add to the layered defenses.
  6. 7a. Rumors Lady Gwenllian was surveying the progress on the town’s palisade when she heard a commotion from one of the nearby farms. Quickly heading over to see what was the matter, she found a farmer obviously terrified. “What’s going on?” she asked the farmer. “M’lady!” the farmer said, and quickly bowed. “It’s the chickens! Please, come see!” Lady Gwenllian followed the farmer over to a small grassy area where his chickens and a few pigs were milling about. A man with a black beard, dressed all in green, carrying strange odds and ends strapped to his belt, stood watching the chickens. The man, however, was not the strangest part of the scene: in fact, the man was watching one enormous chicken amongst the others. His head turned to watch Lady Gwenllian and the farmer approach. “M’lady, this huge chicken came over to my flock today! I’ve never seen anything like it! It has to be some sort of demon chicken!” Lady Gwenllian looked over the chicken, which stood some five feet tall. Besides being a monstrosity, it appeared to behave like a normal chicken, pecking at the ground for bugs and plants like the others. The man with the green hat spoke. “This is no demon, my good man,” he began. “M’lady,” he said, tipping his hat to Lady Gwenllian. “It is in fact what magic users refer to as a dire animal, one that is enlarged unnaturally by a magical malady of some sort.” Lady Gwenllian looked at him. “And are you the wizard responsible for this bizarre creature?” she asked bluntly. He shook his head. “No, m’lady, I am not. I am here, in fact, because I am trying to track down the source of this beast. It is not the only dire animal I have encountered in this region, and I would like to know the source. There is word of an evil sorceress in the Enchanted Forest who, once a pure and good elf, has been twisted by powerful magic into a ruthless, power hungry monster. If this is true, these realms could be in peril.” Lady Gwenllian considered him, then the chicken. “What is your name, good wizard?” she asked him. “I am Razin, the traveling wizard, at your service, m’lady.” “It so happens that my household is in need of a wizard, Razin. How would you like to become Razin, the grand mage of Prenmôr? I have a very keen interest in solving this mystery and finding out if there is any truth to this rumor of an evil sorceress in the forest.” Razin bowed. “I would be honored, m’lady.” “Good, then it’s settled. I will have your belongings brought up to the temporary housing for my personal household.” She gestured to the wattle and daub houses on the high rock outcropping above. “Now what about this chicken?” she asked. Razin shrugged. “Other than being extremely large, it is just a chicken.” Lady Gwenllian looked at the farmer. “Get a spear. We are having chicken for dinner tonight.”
  7. Lady Gwenllian gave some thought to the Queen’s decree that all municipalities should participate in some sort of revelry. Prenmôr was still a fledgling community, and practical considerations had to be made. There weren’t enough townsfolk to staff an elaborate fair, jousting tournaments required large prizes and housing for more guests than Prenmôr could accommodate, and there were no traveling circuses at the time on the western coast of Avalonia. Thus, Lady Gwenllian settled on a concert. The stage was relatively simple to build and was adorned with the flags of each Guild. No seats were needed as the grass field served as a suitable seating arrangement while a special raised platform was constructed for invited guests of Lady Gwenllian. There was plenty of room for the crowd to camp on the undeveloped surrounding land, while Lady Gwenllian hosted as many of her invited special guests as she could in homes of her household. Two bands from Nocturnus were hired for the event: a zombie band, the Grateful Undead, opened for the headliners: the famous, ever-touring, centuries-old Rolling Bones. The day of the concert, commonfolk swarmed in from the surrounding countryside in the morning. The crowd swelled with the monstrous horde that followed the Grateful Undead from show to show. As the day wore on, fans from farther away, including Mitgardia, Kaliphlin, Varlyrio, and Nocturnus, began arriving to hear the famous bands play. Many of the lords and ladies of Avalonia made an appearance, and even some from Kaliphlin and Mitgardia as well. A few were flown in via dragon (courtesy of Lady Galaria, the mistress of dragons). The night grew dark and the skeletal band from Nocturnus made their way onto stage to the backdrop of magical fireworks provided by the band’s roadcrew wizards. The crowd was surprisingly large, having drawn from across the land. Lady Gwenllian’s family fortune had been built on brewed drink, and although she was unable to brew her own beer owing to the fact that Prenmôr had not yet seen its first harvest, she picked out the finest local beers, meads, and ciders for the concert, with some special wine in reserve for her invited guests. Some of the ladies of the guilds, Lady Eleanor of Bluevale, Lady Gwenllian, and Lady Galaria mistress of dragons, toasted one another with some spiced wine. Lady Seren poured wine for Lord Faladrin while Conrad the Sly waited patiently in line behind him for more drink. The guard lets Count Julian Arfelan back into the private section with his food. Naill chatted up a member of the local stonecutter's guild for leads on skilled labor for his community. Not all the concert libations were about the drink... Card tricksters hawked their game near the concession stand. A few of the concertgoers got a little wild. Visitors appeared from all over the realms. As the band played on into the night, a good time was had by all! Note: this build is 41x49
  8. The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 0. Introduction 1. The arrival of Lady Gwenllian aboard the Cedar Serpent 2. Scouting a Site 3. Early Spring in Prenmôr 4. The Fishery and Shrine at Prenmôr 5. Opening of the Prenmôr Quarry While Lady Gwenllian was helping the villagers of Flewd move to Prenmôr, the last of the winter snows had thawed, freeing the earth for work. The first order of business for construction was to open a quarry for the massive amount of stone needed. The local limestone was ideal for building, and its proximity to the castle site eliminated the need to transport stone from great distances, facilitating construction of the main fortress and necessary outbuildings. Lady Gwenllian hired a number of laborers and a few stonecutters from the areas around Prenmôr. The limestone was hewn in the traditional manner by hand with pickaxes, roughed into blocks, and then shaped by a stonecutter before being broken out with a wedge and trimmed to final shape. The finished stones were loaded onto a horse drawn cart and taken to the building site, while loose gravel was hauled out in baskets on the backs of workers.
  9. The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 0. Introduction 1. The arrival of Lady Gwenllian aboard the Cedar Serpent 2. Scouting a Site 3. Early Spring in Prenmôr 4a.(Prelude) Restoring the Shrine 4. The Fishery and Shrine at Prenmôr From her high rock outcropping, Lady Gwenllian had a good view of the coast and had watched throughout the spring as the villagers from Flewd had moved to their new home in Prenmôr. Now that it was early summer, Lady Gwenllian wanted to see how the villagers from Flewd were settling into their new life, and wanted to inspect the work that the elves and dwarves had completed on the shrine to Neptune. She and Lady Seren rode their horses the half mile or so to the rocky escarpment that defined the edge of the land, separating it from the beach. She found that the villagers had sailed their boats laden with their meager belongings down the coastline from Flewd, had assembled lean-tos for drying fish and set up a small net repair station on the beach. The dwarves and elves had done an excellent job on the statue to Neptune, which sat overlooking the sea and was already laden with offerings and gifts from the villagers. Lady Gwenllian smiled as she saw the villagers hard at work. Because most of the young men had been lost during the drow raids, the remaining elderly, women, children and the local village idiot all had jobs, from killing and gutting fish to shooing away the seagulls that inundated the fishery. The locals greeted Lady Gwenllian and Lady Seren warmly, happy to have a new home in a safer location. This is the original build that I had envisioned with the shrine that didn’t get completed in time. I think it was a little too ambitious. On the other hand, it’s nice to see the idea finally come to fruition.
  10. With the weather warming, Lady Gwenllian decided to travel about to meet her neighbors. One of the nearest settlements was just down the coast from Prenmôr, the small fishing village of Flewd. Upon meeting with the town elders, Lady Gwenllian found that this village had been particularly hard hit by the drow raids (a terrible chapter in Avalonia's history that Lady Gwenllian was just learning about), losing almost half their population and over two-thirds of their buildings, including an ancient shrine to the sea-god, Neptune. Coupled with several seasons of poor fish harvests, the villagers had no money to rebuild and were beginning to starve. The sight of starving children and townsfolk broke Lady Gwenllian's heart, and she vowed to help the people of Flewd. Conferring with Lady Seren on the spot, she devised a way to help. Speaking to the village elders, she laid out her plan: Lady Gwenllian would help the villagers rebuild their homes in exchange for their work. She could afford to pay them to fish the waters around Prenmôr, and if the fishing was not good, they would have work as laborers helping to build her castle. They would use the money made from their fishing along with help from what coffers she had brought with her, to build new homes. Lady Gwenllian offered to let the villagers build new homes in Prenmôr as residents, or would rebuild their homes in Flewd, as they chose. The elders gathered a council of the entire village that evening, and Lady Gwenllian was invited. The villagers were grateful of Lady Gwenllian's offer, and after some discussion, the villagers were excited about the offer to move a short distance down the coast to continue their trade under the protection of a lord and a fortified town. Flewd held too many bad memories of loss, and its vulnerable position was highlighted by the drow raids. Most importantly, the villagers voted to move the ancient shrine to be rebuilt at Prenmôr. Lady Gwenllian agreed, and offered to find a dwarven sculptor to cut the main statuary out of stone and an elf to decorate the site surrounding the statue with copper scrollwork.
  11. Grover

    Scouting a Site

    The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 0. Introduction 1. The arrival of Lady Gwenllian aboard the Cedar Serpent 2. Scouting a Site Sailing from the northwest, Lady Gwenllian first sighted land on the coast of the Enchanted Forest of Avalonia. She and her small crew followed the coastline up the channel between the Enchanted Forest and DeVine Isle, stopping to resupply several times from villages, streams, and what resources as were available, all the while scouting potential sites for a new home. The horrible battles of her homeland's civil war taught her difficult lessons on fortifications, and she was determined to find the best possible site to build a castle. Ideally, she desired a site with a nearby quarry, accessible by land and by sea, on high ground, access to timber, and with ample farmland. After scouting several locations without luck, she and her entourage came across a rocky outcropping at the mouth of the Afondraig River on the northeastern coast of the Enchanted Forest. This flat, treeless area boasted steep rocky cliffs on two sides to deter attackers, and a narrow rocky strip along the shallows of the river that would make for a sheltered landing site. The rest of the high rocky area overlooked flat meadows that would be perfect for farms, and these ended about a mile away at the edge of a large forest. Anchoring the Cedar Serpent in the calm flow before the shallows near the mouth of the Afondraig River, Lady Gwenllian and her entourage offloaded supplies and set up a temporary camp. The fall colors were spotted about in the bushes that interspersed with the dried grasses, and made for a rather pretty scene. They could not be distracted by this beauty, however: after inquiring about local claims to the land, they would have to petition Queen Ylspeth for a charter to build, survey the land, and build temporary shelters for the winter. Over the winter, Lady Gwenllian and Seren, her Lady at Arms, would draw up the plans for the castle, whose construction was to begin in the spring. More pictures on Flickr.
  12. The Tales of Lady Gwenllian 0. Introduction 1. The arrival of Lady Gwenllian aboard the Cedar Serpent 2. Scouting a Site 3. Early Spring in Prenmôr Having received a charter from Queen Ylspeth to build and a license to crenellate, Lady Gwenllian and her small host made plans for a castle and built shelters for the winter. While temporary, these structures were designed to last several years while the main fortifications were built. The two-story, dirt-floored structures were framed out of timber (garnered by skillful negotiations of Myellan with the local elven tribes of the nearby forest), and the walls were sealed with wattle and daub. Because of the season of her arrival, it was too late in the year to establish quarries and there was no stone to be had. The thatched roofing was constructed from local plants and grasses, and a hole was left at the apex of the chimneyless structure to allow smoke from the central firepit to escape. In early spring, as the weather began to warm and the snows melted, the dead grasses began to give way to new growth. Alis was given the task of caring for the fowl, Chwyd took to sweeping up (having vowed to never voyage by ship again due to his seasickness), and Lady Gwenllian led by example, hefting supplies along with her people. The new Avalonian colors hung proudly over Lady Gwenllian's house. Over the winter, she and her lady at arms, Seren, had been planning the new fortifications. Quarries would need to be established, timber would have to be sourced, workers would have to be found, and all with the cooperation of the local elven and human communities in such a manner as to preserve the environment. Castwyr and Myellan had spent part of the winter getting to know the neighbors of this region. The winter had not been particularly harsh and Lady Gwenllian felt optimistic about the upcoming spring in her new home, deciding to name her small village Prenmôr, meaning 'refuge' in her native tongue. I welcome comments and criticisms, and I especially appreciate specifics--if you like/dislike something, please tell me why, and if you see areas for improvements, I would like to know what I'm missing. I'm trying to learn how to make my builds better, so any tips or advice is appreciated!