Two decades have passed since Albert Tomáš became lord of Grimness. There is still talk of the heroic deeds that he performed with his company before he took up his title. When he finally took his seat on the humble throne and accepted the sacred arms of his house, it marked the start of a time that many remember as a time of miracles.
The court only knew grief after the death of his first wife, but the arrival of Regina quickly bade it farewell. Courtiers were also relieved when Martin Jan left, ten years ago. Yet on the eve of the glorious tourney, strange guests are coming to the fort and all know that another chapter of the great history of Grimness will soon come to an end.
The court is mainly a place of intrigue, chivalric love, and dastardly betrayals. In our stories, cunning, deception, but also cool-headed wisdom belong mainly to female characters. Witches vie for ever more power and fair maids for the best groom. Married ladies are tormented by forbidden love, while remaining faithful to their duty and their house. Knights compete for honour and glory, and with the help of their wives, they strive for the opportunity to take part in the most important expeditions and move up in the world. All the while, old curses, glorious history, and times of darkness loom overhead like storm clouds.
Albert Tomáš of Grimness
“And so anon was the coronation made. And there was he sworn unto his lords and the commons for to be a true king, to stand with true justice from thenceforth the days of this life.”
Albert might have a few grey hairs, but apart from that and a few wrinkles, nobody would guess his real age. He may have been stronger and swifter in his youth, but today he is the epitome of a seasoned warrior and leader who has prevailed through countless challenges. In his youth... one would hardly imagine him without Jan Valerián, Berbrown, and Karel Ignác. They have been through many wild and terrifying adventures. They were not separated even when Albert took up his new duties as a ruler - on the contrary, they stood by his side and became godfathers to Martin Jan.
Then Martin Jan's mother died and Albert sunk into gloom. Yet his grief was soon completely forgotten thanks to Regina, who also gave him a beloved daughter, Hana. After a short night, the sun came back to Sychravo and all was good.
Of course, then Martin Jan grew up and tensions grew with him - until they exploded ten years ago. The exile that was supposed to humiliate Martin Jan, drive him out, and perhaps even destroy him completely, did almost the opposite. Albert’s old friends abandoned him and left to accompany his son. Now he is coming back.
A challenge lies in the air. Albert Tomáš is not going to give up his domain, he is not going to bow his head, and he will have to think twice before he decides on how to deal with his fallen son. Yet he will always have the glorious court of Grimness on his side, led by his beloved Regina, the most virtuous lady of the land.
“Stay your flow for only a moment, ye sands of time. Full of wonder was the life that brought me here - and only a few lines remain to be written.”
Kateřina is a wise woman nearing the end of her journey. She has lived an eventful life filled with service to God and care for her neighbour. She has survived the Communist persecution of the church and in the end, she found her peaceful place here, at Grimness. She was present when all the young people of the fort were born and helped raise most of them. She is leading the local Venerable Sisters, but her time is running out and she knows that. Her game is about finding the right successor and about passing on what she knows to the next generation. There is also one thing she never accomplished: finding a knight truly worthy of the Holy Grail, which may be hidden somewhere in the woods around Grimness. So far, even the most hopeful have failed. If Kateřina is to leave in peace, she will also have to do something about the curse of the house of Hardenwick.
The role of Venerable Kateřina is quite specific. She is a very wise and powerful woman, but she will often have to be the bearer of ill news.
“To find beauty in the sad, hope in the midst of loss, and dignity in failure is great poetic art.”
Michael wields great magical power. Or he at least did wield it in his prime. Well, that's what people say anyway - or rather it's what he says whenever anybody takes pity on him and listens to him. And what does he tell people about his power?
That he never got anything served to him on a silver platter; quite on the contrary. As a child, he was a poor orphan in Šumava; a vagabond without a home. Sometimes he'd beg for food; on the less successful day he'd steal. But then he wandered up to the Black Mill and everything changed. He became an apprentice and learned not only hard labour, but also magic.
It was known that nobody ever left the Black Mill - every apprentice found their death there, unless they managed to defeat the Master and take his place. But Michael was obviously not like other apprentices. Rumour has it that the Black Mill still stands somewhere in Šumava, but sometimes after the war, Michael appeared again and became a loyal servant of the lords of Grimness. His difficult childhood taught him playing by others' rules would not bring him any happiness, and so he climbed over the backs of other apprentices to freedom. It's better not to know how much he dirtied his hands in the process. One thing is certain: shortly after the war, he already had a reputation as a wizard, which was quite rare in a land where magic usually only opened its gates to women. His magic, however, did not draw on the forces of nature and old tradition, but on books and mystical words. Then he reached a diplomatic agreement with the Witch of Šumava and his power kept growing.
Well, at least that's what the filthy old wreck, who is only at court because of Albert Tomáš's pity or sentimentality, claims.
Nobody can recall the last time he has taken part in an expedition. Some say that it's because he is too old for such ventures, while others claim that his magical power has left him altogether and he would not be of any use. Now he is retired at the fort, getting ready for the scrap heap. Sometimes he helps out with a few chores, sometimes he gives out some unsolicited advice, and he is allowed a place on the far end of the lord's table. Will Michael's eyes ever light up with hope for the future, or will he drown in the glory of old stories?
“‘As for a knight I will make you,’ and therewith smote him in the neck with the sword, saying, ‘Be ye a good knight, and so I pray to God so ye may be, and if ye be of prowess and of worthiness ye shall be a knight of the Table Round.”
If there was any knight in the company of Laurenc František of Richston that you could always rely on with any task, it was Swindler. A good man, a decent fighter, a brave heart, and an excellent singer and musician whose songs often told the stories of his company's great adventures. But that was in the past, when Swindler bore a different name - before the fateful night when he lost his honour and everything else with it. Let's get back to that later though.
Swindler may not have been the best swordsman and his shots missed the target more often than his comrades-in-arms would like, but when push came to shove, everybody would be happy to have him by their side. They all knew Swindler would rather risk his own neck than leave any of them behind. He lived for chivalry, honour, duty, and his loyal service. And with all that service, expeditions into unknown lands, and battles with Šumava's wild creatures, he never really found the time to get a wife, settle down, and build a place he could call home.
Then the night that destroyed his life came. A spectre appeared before the gates of the fort and tormented all of its inhabitants with its unnatural shrieks. Lord Albert sent out his best man against it: Knight Captain Laurenc František. But Sir Laurenc failed shamefully and refused to come out. Instead, the gates opened for Swindler. Only two things are certain: Firstly, Swindler defeated the spectre. Secondly, he did it in a way so despicable and dishonourable that he could not call himself a knight any longer. And thus, he could not bear his old name. For the first time in a long time, the people of Grimness had a good night's sleep - but in the morning, nobody would look Swindler in the eye. That night, Swindler lost his honour and his name.
Today, he is a dishonourable former knight, who entertains others with his music, but clearly sees the contempt in their eyes. He has no honour, he has no name, and at meals he has the place of a lowest servant. How long will he live on this edge? How long will his lord allow him to keep his sword?
The Abbess has already said that the decision must be made by the end of the tourney. Either, Swindler will gain honour and a name, or he will become a court jester, its lowest servant.
Yet Albert Tomáš is a wise ruler. Though he was the one to strip Swindler of his honours and his rank and banish him to the lowest place at the table, he also swore he would find him a new name. There is only one way for Swindler to get that: by marriage. But no house, no matter how far away, can accept a dishonoured man, for they would tarnish themselves and all the generations of their ancestors... and so the lord of Grimness decided to send his knights to fetch the enchanted maid Jasmína. She can give Swindler a new name and honour, and she obviously has no family of her own, because otherwise they would have saved her from her fate. Jasmína must accept Swindler willingly, however.
For the role of Swindler, you need to know how to play a musical instrument that you can bring with you, although you definitely don't need to be a pro. You'll be expected to play a few bits in the evening.
Tadeáš (of Hardenwick)
Waves in low tide,
Sons of the night
And my memories echo back again.
Stranger that I am
In my own land
where no one will remember my name.
Tadeáš's original full name was Tadeáš Jiří of Hardenwick. Yet the name of Hardenwick has not been used at this fort for a long time. Tadeáš is the last descendant of the old house of Hardenwick, which originally ruled here at Grimness in the past. Then his ancestors tried to gain more power and broke their oath to the Lords of the Rose, and only Albert Tomáš stopped the whole thing from turning into a complete tragedy. In exchange, Albert's family was granted the rule over Grimness by the Lords of the Rose, while Tadeáš's family fell into disgrace. The traitors were executed and the rest of the family lost their titles and had to serve the new lords of the fort - or more specifically, that was true for the only survivor, Tadeáš's mother.
All that happened many years ago. Now, Tadeáš is the last of his house, tolerated at Grimness as a common man at arms. He had no part in the past betrayal, as he hadn't even been born yet, but still he must face many hardships in his difficult service. The hardships are not dealt to him only by the lords of Grimness - the ghosts of his ancestors still live in the walls of the fort and they are not willing to give up their claim. Tadeáš often hears their voices, their admonitions, and old hatreds.
Perhaps he could simply go somewhere else... but if he decided to leave the fort or if he even died, the house of Hardenwick would lose its last claim to Grimness. And the ghosts are obviously not willing to let that happen. The curse of his house binds him to Grimness, as if he also were a ghost, doomed to wander its halls. The court is benevolent towards him, but he will never be accepted as one of their own; that can never happen. Tadeáš is trying so hard, though! For example, he has been dedicating a lot of care, love, and respect to Hana of Grimness, making sure she is happy and has everything she wants. She has been repaying his service with friendship, though considerably less warmly than Tadeáš would like.
It is clear that under the current circumstances, neither of them are going to have a good future. Will they be able to change their unfortunate fates?
Well, maybe I'm a crook
For stealing your heart away
Yeah, maybe I'm a crook
For not caring for it.
There have been many powerful witches in Šumava, but none have risen to power as swiftly as Mariann. She is not much more than forty, which is very young for a witch, yet there is no doubt that she is at her most powerful. No doubt that there is no mightier witch at Grimness than her. Perhaps serving at a remote fort somewhere in Šumava might even be slightly beneath her? She could be weaving her spells and intrigue for Duke Petr Vok at Frymburk, or she might even find a place at the court of Archduke Vilém or in Prague. But still she stays at Grimness and there has not been any witch powerful enough to challenge her. She has also replaced Michael in his place at the lord's side, long ago.
But Marianna's power also brings trouble. The peak is a lonely place, and the peak of magical power especially so. Of course, Marianna can handle any danger, but her friendships at Grimness only go skin deep - she might only be close to Alena of Richston. And when it comes to men - well, most witches never marry.
Her power, too, will soon be tried. Marianna has always been a confident witch and now, at her best, she can squash many an evil spirit. Yet now she can sense a perfect storm coming, with enemies closing down on all sides. And she cannot yield a single step; she cannot show even the smallest sign of weakness.
Regina of Grimness
Oh the nights are long
But life is longer still
Oh the nights are long
But the sun’s coming over the hill
Some women are born as delicate maids who wait demurely for their knight to find and marry them. Other women don't wait; they go towards their knight, knowing what they want and how to get it. Regina is definitely one of the latter. She might not be the most beautiful of all women, but when it comes to wit, determination, and charm that can enchant many a man, she leaves them all in the dust. If anybody thinks that Regina only married Albert, the lord of Grimness due to luck, they don't know her very well. Regina knew well that the role of the lady of Grimness meant a privileged position and she spared no effort to get what she wanted.
Yet that does not mean she doesn't love her husband. She soon bore him a beautiful daughter, Hana, the pearl of her eye. For Martin Jan, Albert's son from his first marriage, however, she had no love to spare. Sadly, her instinct proved right - Martin committed a foul deed which almost destroyed their family, cast the boy himself into exile, and robbed Hana of any chance for a good future. Regina has tried to find some dignified position for her daughter at the fort despite that, but Hana's wondrous prospects as the most talented Venerable Sister in years were done for. Despite these challenges, Albert and Regina's marriage served as an example of a harmonic relationship for many and both still had many years ahead of them.
Yet in the last months, she has been plagued with an unknown illness. She has visited several hospitals, spent a week in the care of the Duke of Frymburk's best doctors, and went through various tests, but no medical professional could tell what was wrong with her or how to treat it. The Venerable Sisters also spent many days and nights studying their tomes, but found no solution for Regina. In the end, only Marianna could speak of a cure - and even she could only tell it would need to be found and its rough location.
Laurenc František, who'd just emerged from his humiliation with the spectre, did not hesitate and set off, together with Venerable Eliška, equipped with ancient knowledge. The expedition of Laurenc František of Richston is now Albert and Regina's only hope.
Regina's declining health has not stopped her from managing the domain of Grimness. Quite on the contrary: now that Regina is painfully aware that life is short, she is doing everything she can to make things work as she wants them. She therefore did not yield a bit when the stubborn Tereza of Morrowdale, the wife of the legendary Knight Captain Slavomír Markvart, came to Grimness. The two ladies soon came to resent each other as only two powerful women used to having their way can.
None can then imagine Regina's humiliation when Albert Tomáš - perhaps to spare her fragile health, perhaps at Slavomír Markvart's behest - decided that Lady of Morrowdale would be the first lady of the upcoming great tourney! A demanding role, to be sure; but also an honour that almost always belongs to the lady of the fort that hosts the tourney.
As if that was not enough, she will also have to contend with the return of Martin Jan - Albert's son from his first marriage, who sullied her daughter's honour and destroyed her life. One injustice after another. But Regina never forgets; she has her method and her weapons. Her time will come.
Tereza of Morrowdale
"Ah ! Marianson, my beauteous dame,
Where is your lord and master gone"
"My lord rides to the battle-plain ;
I know not if he'll come again."
"Ah ! Marianson, my lady fair.
Lend me your rings of gold so rare."
"In the iron chest beside my bed
You'll find the rings," she sweetly said.
Tereza of Morrowdale used to be the fairest maid of the court and the gem of every tourney. Many were in love with her and now she is not only one of the most beautiful ladies, but more importantly the most successful. In the end, her heart chose Slavomír Markvart and their marriage was the event of the decade. At their wedding, many a handkerchief was ruined by tears and many a boy and young man felt his face burn with jealousy.
Tereza quickly got used to her position and to the power that being Slavomír's wife gave her. Whenever she wanted anything, she could easily make her husband take care of it. And when she asked for something, the other party would often rather comply than risk a possible conflict with the famous Knight Captain.
Slavomír did gradually start spending more and more time outside of their fort, but Tereza did not notice in the least and it changed nothing about her demands when he was present. That did not change even when they came to stay at Grimness at guests. Perhaps the only one who never yielded an inch of ground to the whims of the Lady of Morrowdale was Regina of Grimness. Soon, the ladies developed great resentment for one another and they never miss an opportunity to humiliate or even harm the other. Regina almost burst with rage when some time ago, Lady Tereza used her connections to make sure she would be named the First Lady of the Great Tourney. This honour that has always been reserved for the lady of the fort that hosted the tourney now belongs to a lady from one of the smaller villages! Tereza of Morrowdale simply always knew how to secure a fairy tale life. Well, that is all over now.
The company of Lord of Morrowdale is now returning from another expedition, but the sorrowful knights are coming back without the fallen Slavomír. How will Tereza deal with the loss? Suddenly, she will be reduced to a mere widow of a mighty man and it is certain that those who were afraid to stand up to her as long as she stood under Slavomír's protection will now pay her back... It is high time for Tereza to remember the times and battles of old.
Hana of Grimness
“‘Wit ye well ye shall not scare me. As for world’s shame, now Jesu defend me; and as for my distress, it is welcome whatsoever it be that God sends me.”
Hana is the daughter of Albert Tomáš and Regina of Grimness. A coddled child with a clearly outlined future - a good marriage with one of the best knights of Šumava. The knights were well aware of the excellent match they could have in Hana and did their best to keep her happy since she was a child. But then the first twist came. The Venerable Sisters agreed that Hana was more talented than most women they have ever seen - and Regina and Albert were very happy to hear their daughter was to be exceptional.
Grown-ups might plan for many things to happen, but youthful passion can be reckless, foolish, and often very, very dark. Within one night, the barely eighteen-year-old Hana lost all the dreams of her future, and on the very same night, Martin Jan left Grimness for ten years.
Ten years, in which she could have married like any other woman. Ten years that she spent dreaming about a career as a Venerable Sister and bearing the pressure and injustices of her own father. Her only sanctuary was her mother Regina and her loyal friend Tadeáš, who vowed to serve her faithfully. Ten long years of waiting and tension, as she aged and the world flew around her, forgetting to take her with. Many a time she has helped the Venerable Sisters; often she would stand in for her parents at meetings; and more than once she sneaked out into the woods to find out what was going on in Šumava.
Now the time of waiting is coming to an end. The Great Tourney is starting tomorrow, and Hana of Grimness will stand as one of its most beautiful ladies; as the living embodiment of patience and womanly power. Yet every single path that unfolds before her is thorny and full of pain.
Content warning: Please note Hana’s story will include themes of sexual assault and incest.
Barbora of Woodford
Then for pure anger and for great love of fair Igraine the King Uther fell sick. So came to the King Uther Sir Ulfius, a noble knight, and asked the King why he was sick.
‘I shall tell thee,’ said the King. ‘I am sick for anger and for love of fair Igraine, that I may not be whole.’
Barbora is a young and fair maid from a rich and honourable house that has no male heir. She is the one all the single men and boys in the area desire. And she can have her pick. There are several knights at the fort who could be good husbands to her. Yet Barbora keeps them all in suspense. One time she let herself be seen with one; another time with another; but then at a tourney, she gave her kerchief to a third. She spends a lot of time with Tereza, who stood before a similar decision a generation earlier and scored a definitive victory - and Barbora wants to be just as lucky.
Yet only Barbora truly knows how important this choice is, for her and only her. With the sword of destiny hanging over her head, she is well aware that choosing her husband badly will not only mean an unhappy life. It is much simpler than that: a bad choice will cost her her life; and perhaps not only hers. That is one of the reasons why Barbora has been putting off her decisions, keeping all her suitors on their toes at once.
Her story will therefore be focused on her fear of choosing from too many options, and on her ability to accept all the consequences that come with the big decision. Yet it will inevitably also bring disappointment, and the sorrow and resentment of those suitors she eventually rejects, after keeping them hopeful for so long. And most importantly, primarily, it is a great romantic story; the story of a woman courted by all those around her, worshipped and adored.
Gabriel Dominik of Richston
“Wherefore I will make here a vow, that tomorrow, without longer abiding, I shall labour in the quest of the Sangrail, and that I shall hold me out a twelvemonth and a day, or more if need be, and never shall I return unto the court again till I have seen it.”
Gabriel was lucky. He was born as the son of the best swordsman, Sir Laurenc František. Well, at least most of his friends think that's lucky. But Gabriel is now well aware that the path of Laurenc's son is thorny, rather than rosy. Any time he made a mistake or indulged in boyish shenanigans, he was reprimanded - it was shameful for the son of Laurenc František to do something like that! And any time he succeeded, it was taken for granted. He was the son of Laurenc František, after all! Many have also often said that he always had everything easy and never had to work hard for his achievements because of who his father was.
Gabriel, though, decided not to give any cause for this kind of talk. He started working on bettering himself, training every day to become the best swordsman he could be. As soon as he got old enough to make the other knights take him along for expeditions to Šumava's dark and uncharted corners, he stood on the front lines, not showing his fear in the least. Soon his determination, valour, and skill with a sword started to show and Gabriel gradually started gaining the respect and appreciation of others. But still, the praise he heard most often was: "If you keep going on like that, you might be just as good as your father one day."
Perhaps Gabriel Dominik wants to prove that he is much better than his father. When the spectre of the White Lady stood before the gates and Laurenc František failed, Gabriel left his company and said he would rather fight by the side of his lord Albert Tomáš than in the company of his father. And Albert Tomáš appreciated Gabriel's fearlessness. He named him the Court's champion, allowing him to prove his strength in the upcoming tourney.
There is one more path that he will have to set off for, to prove he is pure of heart. The path his father failed to walk to the end; the path that his mother Alena so wishes him to succeed on.
Alena of Richston
And oh, poor Atlas
The world's a beast of a burden
You've been holding on a long time
And all this longing
Alena has always been close to the spiritual world and her family expected her to join the ranks of the Venerable Sisters. She remained a fervent believer even when she eventually became the good wife of Laurenc František of Richston, the best knight of Grimness. She soon gave her husband a son, Gabriel Dominik, the joy of his family and the whole court.
Alena supported Laurenc in failure and grief and shared his joy when he won. Yet when he refused to obey Albert's order, she was very upset and it is said that before Laurenc František swore to leave for his expedition, she refused to say a single word to him.
Alena knows how to achieve her goals, and she doesn't always rely on silence. She is close to the Venerable Sisters, but her best friend is Marianna and Alena often helps her with her spells. She writes many letters every week and at the same time, almost nobody really knows what she did before she became Laurenc František's wife. She only came to the fort as a beautiful, mature woman, whose thin scars and gaunt figure showed she had been through a lot. After the arrival of the Animals' company led by Jan Sladký of Hojsa's Watch, more of her past will show. Alena is tied to the Animals with much more than one might expect from a lady of the court.