The idea behind Lions & Leopards has always been to give players the feeling that their choices, successes and failures in a game will have an impact beyond that one scenario. It’s goal is to tell a story, even if players won’t play an active role in every aspect of that story. And the Prologue is no different! So, to get us ready for Friday night, here is the story so far…
Disclaimer: While Lions and Leopards is inspired and based on historical events and locations the characters are fictional. The scenarios and plots are meant to capture the look and feel of the time period while reflecting the character of the two emerging nations locked in over one hundred years of near continuous warfare.
The war for France has been raging for years. The chevauchée’s of the Black Prince and his father King Edward III have lead to the Treaty of Brétigny and, while kings may claim peace and victory, ambitious men seek advantage in the chaos wrought by devastating warfare. Caught in this struggle are two noblemen residing on either side of a border that appears far more tractable than it did just a few years earlier.
On one side is the French nobleman Viscount Cedric Dufour, a loyal supporter of the French crown, who rallied to King Phillip’s banner and fought at the Battle of Crecy where he was severely wounded in the cavalry charge against the English ranks. He was able to make his escape thanks to the help of Bohemian knights, with whom he subsequently developed a friendship. He returned to his home in Loudun to convalesce and raise his two sons and daughter with his wife, who he loved deeply. When the Black Plague gripped his lands Lord Dufour called upon his friends to help his people knowing they had close ties to the Knights Hospitalier. While many were saved thanks to their aide, the disease took its toll, including the life of Lady Solenn Dufour. In his grief Lord Cedric became more and more of a recluse and left the stewardship of Loudun in the hands of his sons with the guidance of his closest friend, the Bohemian baron Sir Ottaker. Years went by and, once again, the English were threatening the crown. This time it was Cedric’s sons that heeded the aerriere-ban proclaimed by King John and were ultimately killed in the tragedy at Poitiers. In the aftermath of France’s defeat large swathes of land were given to the English in full sovereignty. Cedric found himself the father of a single child, his daughter Claire, and steward of a town threatened on three sides by the hereditary enemy.
One of those enemy was the English lord Victor Huntington, a man of modest birth who was knighted in the chevauchée of 1346 and later brought his four elder sons on the campaigns of 1355 and 1356 where they earned their spurs. After the Treaty of Bretigny was signed he was awarded lands and titles in recognition for his undying loyalty to the English crown which gave him control of Thours in the region of Poitou. With five sons to share his inheritance he set his sights on Loudun to expand his holdings. Wishing to annex the town through marriage he sent his eldest son, Oliver, along with a small retinue to propose marriage to lady Claire Dufour. The union would increase their share of the wine trade and bring yet more titles to the growing nobility of the Huntington name.
Upon arrival at Loudun it quickly became apparent to Oliver that Dufour and his advisors were not warming to their English neighbors and the offer of marriage was harshly, and publicly, rebuked. His honor was insulted and he wished nothing more than to strike out at the viscount, but he was severely outnumbered and in decidedly unfriendly territory. It being far too late in the day to attempt a return trip given threat of routiers lurking in the countryside he instead invoked the code of chivalry to gain shelter for himself and his men. Making the viscount’s retinue extend him hospitality was at least a victory of sorts, albeit minor. He vowed to drink their wine that night and the return for the rest another day.
Among the viscount’s retinue was a young knight bachelor, Sir Fabien Bacque. As he listened to the proposal he could barely contain his dismay and anger. When his lord declined the offer he was thankful for the reprieve as it meant that he still had a chance to earn Claire’s hand. But to do that he first needed to improve his station. He knew in his heart the English would not accept refusal. They would be back, over and over, until they had their prize through coercion or force. But he also could not betray the granting of hospitality, so he hatched a daring plan, one that required some insurance to ensure his safety from Oliver’s retinue. At one of the town’s inns he met with a band of soldiers, men out of work thanks to the disbanding of the armies in the wake of the treaty. Their leader was eager to help the young knight and, in the early morning hours, they slipped out of the town and waited.
As Oliver’s retinue followed the road back to Tours the young lord was a torrent of emotion. On one hand his anger seethed at the verbal assault he had endured from the tongue of the viscount. On the other he was thoroughly smitten by the Lady Claire. Her beauty had unsettled him in a wholly unexpected way. He wished nothing more than to have her at his side when he inherited the mantle of lordship from her father. He could picture them walking the vineyards and caring for their people as they built a legacy for their family. It was a future so desirable that he knew it had to be made reality.
He was snapped from his reverie when they rounded a bend and found themselves confronted by a group of men at arms. Hands went to swords and metal began to clear sheaths when he took in the relaxed posture of the soldiers, their visors up and lances resting on their shoulders. The knight at the front of the band was also familiar, it was one of the viscount’s retinue. He ordered his men to stay their hands and nudged his horse forward.
“I am Sir Fabien,” the young knight announced, “and I challenge you to combat until submission for the hand of Lady Claire!”
“Who are you to make such an offer?” Oliver demanded, a spike of jealousy pushing aside any thought as to the absurdity of the implication that Fabian would have any sway over who would go to the alter with the lady. “What do you hope to gain here?”
“You are the eldest son of a nobleman, your ransom will be significant,” Fabien answered.
“True as that may be I see no reason to accept the challenge of a man who’s sword has only seen tournament,” Oliver responded, earning a few chuckled from his men.
“If you defeat me I swear an oath to tell you of the secret door of Loudun. After all, I know you will return with all your brothers and every Englishmen you can find who has discovered a taste not just for our wine, but our blood. With the secret you will be the conqueror of Loudun, a hero to your savage people. But if I vanquish you here then your ransom will steal the coin from your father’s war coffers and your shame will bring disgrace to your banner such that no man will rally to your cause. I will be the hero of Loudun. I will have the hand of Lady Claire.”
At that repetition of her name Oliver swung from his saddle, drew his sword and hefted his shield. Fabien did the same and the two men squared off a few paces apart.
“Let every man here know that the challenge is accepted and the terms agreed upon,” Oliver shouted.
And with that the men dropped their visors and touched swords. At first each man tested the other in simple attacks, back and forth. It was clear that they were both of great prowess and victory would not be easy for either of them. As the fight began in earnest the clang of metal on metal rang out. Bits of cloth shaved from Fabien’s tabard and the St. George cross painted on Oliver’s alwyte armor began to chip away. So engrossed in the contest were the two men that they did not immediately notice the shouts of men and screams of horses. When they did they pushed away from each other and the shock ran like an icy chill down their spines.
The whole scene was chaos. A group of crossbowmen were reloading near the tree line and a chunk of Oliver’s retinue had been knocked from their horses, bolts protruding from various parts of their bodies or that of their mounts. As the surviving men at arms on the ground attempted to right themselves and those still on their mounts attempted to establish a formation the second volley tore into their ranks. This was followed by a thunderous charge by Fabien’s retinue. The slaughter was nearly complete.
“Treacherous dog!!” Oliver screamed at his opponent, then, with a wordless cry, fell upon the man with a flurry of blows. His enemy’s visor was still down, so he failed to take in the look of utter confusion on Fabien’s face.
Lord Huntington stood at an arrow slit leaning on the cool stone of his home and taking in the swathes of land lit by the early morning sun. His home. Years of fighting, campaigns, hardships and sacrifice had brought him here and, soon, his eldest son would have lands of his own, joining England and France in the bonds of marriage, and, hopefully, peace for at least a time.
The moment was shattered as the doors to the chamber burst open. He turned to see Sir Roger Fitzwalter, one his most trusted knights, leading a bloodied and battered man towards him. It took a moment to see past the grime and recognize the man as one of his son’s retinue. His gut tightened.
“My lord,” the man said, his voice trembling. “I…I’m sorry, m’lord, it happened so fast..”
Over the next few minutes Victor’s blood turned to ice and his resolve to stone. Dufour’s treachery would be repaid in kind and Loudun would bleed.
Sir Ottokar knelt in solitary prayer at the alter of the church. He preferred it here to the chapel in the keep. The expanse of the place was more humbling and his arrangement with the priest made sure he could enjoy it completely alone and in peace. So it was with mild irritation that he rose when the doors to the church crashed open. He turned to see Sir Fabien walking up the aisle, his tabard tattered and slashed with a bright streak of red, a color that man only produced in a singular fashion, one with which he was all too familiar.
The young man came within a few yards and then dropped to his knees before the baron. The look in his eyes was all he needed to know that the lad had done something rash, the consequences of which were now beyond his ability to control. Given the prior day’s events, the looks that the knight stole at the viscount’s daughter and their “secret” rendezvous, it did not take much imagination to determine the nature of those consequences, if not the details. Placing a hand on Fabien’s shoulder Sir Ottokar resolved, “Worry not, my son, we will prepare for the English together.”
Their Fate in Your Hands
What will happen to the town of Loudun? Will Fabien earn renown enough that her father favors him with his only daughter? Will the Huntington name be ascendant in Europe? It’s now time for YOU, the players to decide with dice and guile as you determine who will be the ultimate victor, Lion or Leopard. And the first die will be cast this Friday, August 12th at LRPG’s Guild Night!!!