It is now Yuletide, and Aelfric and his party are celebrating this holiday. While the hall was filled with merriment, a servant enters the hall and says that he is sorry to interrupt the celebration, but there is a man, two women and two children at his house and the man says he knows you, and asks you to grant him hospitality. He speaks like a Dane, and not like "us." As the children traveling with him were exhausted, he asks if they could come to your hall--his name is Snorra and he says you know him."
Aelfric agrees and goes to fetch Snorra, providing rides and a small (two man, Oslac and Oswy) escort. The escorts are not happy about working on a holiday but that is the cost of swearing to follow a lord, even a lowly thegn.
So the party fetches Snorra, Asa, her two children and Kolbrun, who is the seithwoman from the previous post. Kolbrun advises Snorra and Asa in spiritual things, and has malice toward Aelfric, and hence Aelfric's followers. Kolbrun, unbeknownst to the people in Aelfric's hall, is quit a powerful seithwoman, and has her own ideas on how things should go.
As the guest were granted hospitality, they were provided with food and clothing, but often received coldly, being Danes. All this changed when Snorra got up to tell of the exploits of Sygtrygg Hring. Here is the gist:
1) Syggtrygg held off a band of vikings in West Geatland through a ruse: when the band arrived, he acted like he was going to assist them in looting his host Knut's steading. He told them where they could find the treasure they sought and was leading them there. After gaining his trust, he got them into a sturdy barn, closed the door and burned them alive inside. Knut was happy and rewarded him greatly.
2) Won the hand of Asa by defeating a giant in a series of Taffl games. The games lasted through the night, and all the while, Sygtrygg was bargaining for more time, saying they should play one more game. As he was playing each game, he would first seem to lose and then come back and win. This made the giant surley, but Sygtrygg would offer to play again, giving the giant a chance to win. The giant eventually won and was glad, and so he agreed to let Asa go on the condition that Siggtryg bring him a gold ring from a barrow. Sygtrygg agreed and so got the name Hring after opening the barrow and fighting a draugr.
3) Beat Hubba Ragnarsson in a holmgang. Hubba had, while drunk, insulted Sygtrygg's honor by comparing him to a piglet. Hring immediately drew his knife and went for Hubba, but some of the guests stopped them--after which Sygtrygg challenged Hubba to holmgang. The fight was to the first blood, and Hring scored first after much verbal sparring and exchange of blows.
Though suspicious of the pagans, and of the fact they are Danes, the crowd loves the stories of Sygtrygg's exploits--who doesn't like a good story? Snorra is visibly saddened, as he remembers his lord Hring, but the mead and roast pigs flow. As it happens, Giodgifu, Aelfric's sister, is smitten by Snorra, giggling like a schoolgirl when he speaks with her.
As the celebrations die down over the next few days, it is apparent that Aldhelm, the infant son of Aelfric, is ill. As things take a turn for the worse, Kolbrun offers to cure Aldhelm. This riles Fr. Perwyn when he gets word of it, but Haella is torn. As little Aldhelm is getting more ill, Kolbrun asks Haella point blank "Do you want your son to live? Do you love your son? If you do, let me help you, and do as I ask of you. I do not ask much, lady Haella." So Haella is conflicted, she is torn between her religion and her love of her son. Ultimately, she does not agree to let Kolbrun cure Aelfric, but just barely! Aldhelm begins to get better on his own, or perhaps from the assistance of God or a saint. The townspeople want Kolbrun gone, but Aelfric more or less stands up for her, and says that she has done nothing wrong as of yet, and that she is his guest. However, she does go out into the local woods occasionally, which raises questions. Aelfric's men follow her, and not being detected, see nothing more than "typical" dabbling, which is more or less tolerated in any case. One day Aelfric decides to follow her, and this time something more happens. Aelfric sees and hears her casting, and a dark figure appears. While he could not make out all the words, the "shadow" was heard saying "You know the price!" and envelopes Kolbrun. She cries out in pain and and short while later begins to go back to the hall. This is a little too much even for Aelfric, and now even he wants her gone. So he and his men plan to capture Kolbrunn and arrest her. As Kolbrun is a guest, this becomes tricky--neither should the Danes be gratuitously offended. So Aelfric and his men wait until she is asleep--except she is not asleep. She stares for a long time at Oswy, one of Aelfrics man, and at Aelfric himself. Both fall asleep, and when they awaken Kolbrun is gone.
So much for the better! So as the day winds down, and the sun goes below the horizon, a loud shriek is heard from outside. It does not seem to come from any particular direction, but it is not local. The people in the hall, including the remaining Danes, are fearful, as the uncannyis wont to make people feel. Oswy went outside to check, and it was pitch black. He brought out a lamp, and while it lit up the area somewhat, the light did not seem to penetrate very far. The door was barred, and Fr. Perwyn tried to calm the more panicked people in the hall. As the night wares on, a series of knocks were heard at the door.Aelfric peered through a knothole and saw a man-sized figure move by, but nothing else. Soon the pounding became more persistent, and the door begins to buckle. Enter an animated body, waiting to do Kolbrun's bidding!
While there are four warriors and a priest waiting for it, the fact is that fighting the undead can make one freeze in panic, or run away. The children of the hall, their mothers and the servants all ran to a far corner. The light inside the hall was dim, only lit by some lamps and the hearth fire. Two gesithas, Oswy and Oslac, freeze in terror. Snorra and Aelfric do not panic. Fr. Perwyn begins trying to perform an exorcism, so far to no avail. The people on the far corner scream in terror as the fight begins.
Snorra takes the first whack--a success! The problem is that the thing is really a desiccated corpse, so edges do not harm it much--a small sliver of bone and tried muscle and skin fly off the monster. Next the monster strikes, trying to grab Aelfric, who successfully blocks this with his axe, the one he received from King Eadmund of East Anglia before he died. Some say it is imbued with the power of the saint, others deny this. None the less, when Aelfric counterattacked, like Snorra he only damaged the thing a little. Another tactic was required.
The two gesithas were still frozen in fear, and the mothers and children were screaming in terror with each blow. Oswy was struck on the head and lay bleeding out, Aelfric decided to wrestle with the thing, and luckily succeeded. He grabbed the thing by the arm and then also grabbed it by the leg, throwing it onto the fire. As it stood up, and moved, to the astonishment and terror of all in the hall, to attack again, one of its legs, damaged in previous attacks, gave way. This made finishing it off easier. The hall now stinks of burnt desiccated flesh, no one wants to stay there. It will take a while for Fr. Perwyn to cleanse the hall, and by now it is mid-winter.
Interestingly, a lot of the way things turned out depended on narrow wins/losses on opposed skill rolls. For instance, the wrestling match, Haella's passion conflict, Oswy having his head busted open, Syggtrygg Hring bleeding out just before the players found him etc. A couple of marginally different rolls and e.g. Haella dabbles in seithr, Syggtrygg lives (and we have a different campaign...) and Aelfric has his head twisted off. Good stuff!
Also interesting is the "social conflict" resolution I have been using. Basically, as this is set in a nominally mid-Anglo-Saxon milieu with fantasy elements added, people are more or less only REALLY loyal to their own kin, and as a secondary loyalty to their communities possibly up to the shire level. Loyalty to e.g. Wessex is there, but it is ot too strong. This means the traveling players have to follow social conventions or they risk offending the locals. This could be anything from eye-rolling to attempted murder of the PCs if the motivation of the NPCs and social conflict resolution rolls are sufficiently bad. I have been adding this slowly, and it seems to work and makes going into a village, say, and bossing around the locals rather dangerous, especially since any local authorities--who are likely members of the community--will take a dim view of any interlopers. Having said that, staying at someone's hall and helping them with the chores and maybe intimidating some local brigands has a salutary effect on the locals' opinion of the new comers.
My son got really creeped out, which I thought was cool.
Syggtrygg Hring is an NPC (Now dead) with a detailed background, which will fuel further adventures.
Finally, I originally saw this as a very low fantasy setting, but the players like fighting the supernatural, so I will give them more of that!