Vessels - An Avallen Short Story

By Kurt Samson


Muireann and her fellow Pen Levi tribesfolk are crouched and silent in the swaying logboat. The blend of soft moonlight and ocean fog can only mean that the Ever Stranger blesses their mission. Muireann’s grip on the oars remains firm but relaxed.

Their eyes and ears surveil the horizon for any sign of the trade ship piercing through the fog. The Pen Cawr merchant Malo swore on his ancestors that such a boat was due for arrival to the town of Deva Victrix in two or three nights. To profit off this information, the tribe sent Muireann’s party in a boat painted like the black of night to stalk the coast where river meets the sea.

If the raid was successful, all Malo wanted in return for his counsel were two or three doliums, large clay jugs Raxians used to store wine, oil, and other goods the merchant intended to sell on the Vallonium black market without raising too many eyebrows. Muireann’s tribe was happy to oblige the duplicitous merchant.

“There,” Arran says from the bow. He points to the barest hint of a shadow appearing on the horizon. Nila and Nir nod. Muireann’s companions, too, were black as shadows, naked and caked in the dark mud of the swamp from which they sailed. The four warriors begin to row.

The logboat bears down on the Raxian ship from the rear. Seemingly undetected, the Pen Levi pause to observe their prey. The large-hulled ship has no oars, and the weak winds make progress towards the shoreline slow. The sound of three men talking and laughing drift down to their keen ears. The clumsy sound of the Raxian tongue is detestable to Murieann. Such voices emanating from the rotund vessel gives her the impression of a pot-bellied swamp toad croaking lazily, oblivious to the ravenous crows ready to swoop in and render idle flesh with talons.

Arran gives another signal, and they slowly align with the side of the Raxian vessel. Muireann slips into the water, holding on to their logboat’s wale while treading water. As planned, Nila and Nir follow suit, axes in hand. Muireann feels parts of the mud camouflaging her body dissolve into the cold water. She grits her teeth patiently as her body heat starts to slip away as well. She trusts Arran will do his work quickly.

Standing in the boat, Arran begins to chant. The words give the water around her form. She feels herself emerging from the sea, feet standing on waves firm as earth. She sees Nila and Nir readying their axes, eyes fixated on the boat while rising upon undulating waves.

“Ever Stranger, bless our blades,” Muireann whispers. The swirl of blue ink on Muireann’s body begins to glow as the deck of the boat comes into view. In a unison worthy of a Vallic reel, the three women jump over the side of the vessel to land with a harmonious thump.

Five Raxian men sit at a round table, engaged in some kind of game using wood and bone. She knew the Raxians were often much more uncomfortable with nakedness than her people were, and the sight of three bare women in their midst gave their faces such a dumbfounded look that Muireann could not help but laugh as the two glowing swords of blue light substantiate in each of her hands.

She dashes towards the sitting fools.

“Primum striga interfice!” one of the men yells as he draws his blade. His unpoetic tongue grates on Muireann’s ears as she parries the man’s sword thrust with her left hand.

Subsequently, her right hand feels the warm splash of blood piercing the belly of one still seated at the table, his awkward fumbling to unsheathe his weapon costing him his life. The other men are quicker to ready their weapons. Muireann turns her blades on two of the men while the remaining couple attack Nila and Nir on her right.

The orange of the nearby oil lamp intermingled with the glowing traces of her blades parrying iron fills her with an exhilaration only ever felt amidst the dance of battle. Her joyous laughter was madness to the men. Muirrean finds amusement in deflecting Raxian attacks as clumsy as their language, effortlessly brushing aside sword thrusts like strands of wet hair on her forehead. Exasperated terror begins to replace the mens’ initially fierce expressions.

The younger of the pair is handsome, she admits to herself. He was perhaps no more than twenty summers, and fights like a boy unpracticed in the rhythm of real battle. His contribution to her collection would be appreciated.

“You will not be forgotten,” Muireann sings, knowing he would not understand her. As the young man’s blade comes down for the last time, her left sword slashes out towards the boy’s neck. A moment later she hears the familiar, satisfying thud of a new trophy hitting the deck and rolling away.

"Fili mi! Fili pulcher mi!" the older man cries out, his anguish and rage at the death of his fellow warrior palpable.

“Do not be so quick to mourn him, my new friend. He has been blessed by the Ever Stranger. Soon, so shall you.” Even if he cannot understand, Muireann hopes the soothing tone of her voice will carry through to console the pitiful man as she prepares to usher him into Annwn by her own hand.

The Raxian’s renewed attacks carry the speed and strength of rage. She takes care not to meet his blows directly. Muireann muses that if the two men had attacked her with such equal fervour and concentration from the first, they may have stood a chance at victory. But as the old man soon begins to tire, he overextends himself after a tenth wild swing. In answer, Muireann extends her arm.

A second thud. A second trophy.

She looks to see how her kin fared. The other two Raxians lie still, their bodies riddled with gashes. Nila lays prone on the deck too, blood pooling from the large stab wounds under her belly and rib cage. Nir crouches beside the body, with Arann behind her. Their faces impassive stone.

“I was too late in arriving,” Arann says. “She feasts in Vedwyd Crannog now.”

“As we all will, someday,” Muireann said. “Annwn is graced with six more souls…” Muireann trails off as her eyes search for something on the dimly lit deck. She finds what she is looking for: a hatch that no doubt led to the ship’s hold.

Opening the wooden door, she hears a scream from within. Making her way down the steps, she is impressed by the numerous doliums of all shapes and sizes that fill the hold. Under the lamplight of the backwall, a bald man with a crisp white toga cowers by a table covered in papers. His ring bejeweled hand holds out a small dagger as a feeble threat.

“How did you know we were coming?” the man yells out in perfect Vallic. He was dressed like a Raxian, but it’s clear he was a Pen Cawr merchant of the most traitorous variety. “Was it that snake Malo? Bring me his head and I will bestow upon your tribe treasures twice the value of what surrounds us!”

Muireann saunters towards the Pen Cawr trader. “We do not need so much wealth, wouldn’t you agree? Or perhaps you’re unfamiliar with how freeing it is to be unburdened by excessive appetites.”

“By the Ever Child, just TELL me what you want—”

The Pen Cawr’s words become gurgles as a blue blade pierces his throat. Muireann’s face twists with righteous fury at the wide-eyed dying man.

“Do NOT invoke the name of the Ever Ones to save your hide, you worm! You cower amongst treasures while sending trespassers to our lands to fight for you! Your head is not even worthy of a trophy!” She twists the blade, then dispels it. The body falls forward with a thump.

She looks upon the corpse with disdain, remarking: “May your soul regret the unfaithfulness of your body, to wander across a wasteland for eternity.”

Upon reappearing on the deck, Arann asks, “What did you find?”

“Countless containers of treasures,” Muireann says, “And one emptied container not worth remembering.” Nir and Arann respond with chuckles.

“Very good,” Arann say. “After we’ve begun moving, throw overboard all we do not need, save for the rewards promised to Malo’s two faces. It will help us return quicker to honour Nila’s sacrifice.”

Nir’s face is softened and smiling now. “I will sing of my sister’s valour in battle when we feast in her honour.”

Without another word, the surviving Pen Levi raiders begin the work needed to change course. Taking her place by the steering oar, Muireann feels the cold ocean breeze on her face growing stronger. She smiles. Though she looks forward to feasting in Annwn one day, she is glad she can find joy in the simple blessings found in this world as well.


Adventure in the mythical Celtic world of Avallen in the Against the Faerie Queene campaign book! For Legends of Avallen and 5E. Available now with and Modiphius.US

Legends of avallen