5th September 2020.
It's Saturday night and I'm logged on to Skype in my living room.
This means it's time for the next chapter Matakishi's in Merry Outlaws campaign.
Location: The Forest of Caucy.
Some time had passed since we gave half of Sidon Lister's money to the needy and it had been a quiet time.
Too quiet for our liking, we discussed matters and decided we would to head out to Billige. We had friends and allies there who might be able to give us news or pass on rumours.
Billige was bustling, there were twice as many people in the village than usual. The flow of carts to Drumclog Castle had dwindled somewhat and now they mostly carried food and supplies for the workers and builders.
The village folk grumbled and complained, the increase in traffic had driven up the prices of everything.
Randulf sought out the foresters he had befriended a few weeks ago and asked them what their thoughts on the situation were?
Initially, the foresters were unhappy; the intrusion of Sir Clugney's own foresters had made their activities all the more difficult. However demand for meat and food in general had increased, they had cut a deal with the village pie-maker to supply him with meat for his pies. The pies sold well and they all made a tidy profit from it.
Meanwhile, Calder had gone to speak with Alice the herbalist.
Ever astute; she wondered where all the money was coming from for all this construction? The materials and the labour?
Alice said that she had been to Wedgemore and the town didn't look particularly well off. Sir Clugney just didn't appear to have the wealth to make it all possible.
This information was intriguing, but not very helpful.
Next, we decided to pay Emlyn a visit and see how his recovery was progressing.
Eschewing the forest route, we took the road to Knavesmire, the journey was unevenful.
Soon enough we were back in the village, bleak and dismal as we remembered. There was something new here though - a maypole! Osric has been busy.
The only ray of light in Knavesmire was the inn, we hurried towards it.
The road than ran through Knavesmire was often travelled by people and many of them frequented the Three Stoats and a Weasel. Consequently it was always busy, today was no different.
It was chatty, noisy and crowded, looking around, nobody out of the ordinary was here, save for one man.
Sitting at a table was a young man, we did not recognise him but he bore Sir Conrad's livery, one of his squires.
Our curiosity was piqued, we decided to approach him. Mopsa offered him a drink and some conversation, he seemed suitably amenable.
He was plied him with more beer and pies, as always the food here was surprisingly palatable. Once he was sufficiently inebriated, we discovered his name was 'Falkirk'. Leaning in towards us and talking in what he considered hushed tones, he shared some information with us.
He said he was on a 'secret mission' for Sir Conrad.
We asked him the nature of this secret mission?
Falkirk confided that Lady Margaret was now pregnant and was suffering morning sickness, Falkirk went on to say that Sir Conrad had tasked him with delivering 'medicine' to her.
This was definitely an interesting turn of events! We asked Falkirk to Elaborate.
He told us that he had been instructed to go to the priory at 'Little Wenham', collect the medicine from 'Mother Benevolence' and the 'Sisters of Contentedness', then take it to his sister 'Krea'. She was a lady-in-waiting for Lady Margaret.
Krea would then 'surreptitiously' give the medicine to Lady Margaret in one of her drinks.
Mother Benevolence was a person I recognised. She was not known much as a healer, however she did reputedly supply lethal poisons to be applied to the nearly dead to 'help them on their way'!
It was fair to say that our suspicions were raised.
Next we asked Falkirk why this was done secretly?
Falkirk paused for a moment, clearly considering his words. He said that Lady Margaret was a little 'strange' and believed in the 'old ways'. Sir Conrad had insisted that it would be unlikely that she would want to take this medicine willingly, so it had to be given secretly.
Falkirk said she was too young and beautiful to be a witch obviously. He added that he didn't believe that Sir Roland knew any of this.
We then asked why would Sir Conrad become involved in this? Falkirk replied, "Sir Conrad is doing his Christian Duty,".
Finally Falkirk explained to us that he had first taken medicine to Lady Margaret a week ago, this was to be his second delivery.
By now Falkirk was well and truly drunk, loudly cheering Roland and Conrad to the other patrons whilst cursing Clugney. He seemed to be attracting quite a few sideways glances! Eventually he slumped face first on to the table with a thump, a few seconds later he began loudly snoring.
Putting his feet up, we moved him into a better sleeping position and while doing this, we slyly searched him, making sure no one else here noticed our actions.
We found a phial, it contained a curious looking liquid. We obviously needed someone with the appropriate knowledge to examine it.
The choice was obvious; Alice the herbalist.
We made a request of 'Leopold', the inn's proprietor and he provided us with a watertight container, into which we poured this liquid.The phial was re-filled with ordinary water and slipped back into snoring Falkirk's possession.
It was time to head back to Billige.
Upon leaving the inn, we heard a momentary whistling sound.
Faster than we could think, a volley of arrows struck us!
We were ambushed!
Peppered with arrows, we dived into cover, these were black feathered shafts. Crow Folk! How had they known we were here?
Cautiously, we peered out of cover and there they were: Across the road from the inn, skulking in the shadowy places between the small houses. and hiding behind corners were eight Crow Folk.
We returned fire from cover.
Except Randulf; who of course chose to run yelling across the street at them, pumping his fists and waving his mace as he did so. I think he considered it a greeting of sorts?
He laid into them fiercely and Calder landed arrows with uncanny accuracy. Mopsa and I managed to also lay into them with our bows.
We had sustained some injuries ourselves, but in the end the Crow Folk had been dealt with, save one who Randulf chased, tackled to the ground and took prisoner.
Searching their bodies, we found nothing of note on them but for some coins. Once we were done with them, we left them to the villagers who came and stripped them of all remaining possessions.
The bodies were taken away, no doubt to feed the pigs!
There was a prisoner to question now.
He told us little, he did admit that there were spies in Knavesmire - not a surprise to us, but he did not know who it was. He had been dispatched here directly from their camp in the forest.
we let him go with a good kick up the arse! As he fled into the forest, I shouted. "Tell the brothers that we're coming for them. And we're going to send them to hell!".
Now that it seemed safe, we set out for Billige and arrived without mishap.
After finding Alice, we handed the liquid over to her and she agreed to examine it. It did not take long, but we took the opportunity to recuperate a little. Alice came back and informed us that the liquid was a 'hemlock preparation' - poison.
Someone was trying to poison Lady Margaret.
Could it be Falkirk? He had the opportunity to switch the medicine for poison. He was also quite open about his role in this. The poisoner would not be so forthcoming. He seemed an unwitting accomplice.
In our minds there were two suspects.
Was it Sir Conrad? Had he asked Mother Benevolence to provide a poison to administer to Lady Margaret?
Or was it Mother Benevolence? Had Sir Conrad asked her to provide medicine and she instead switched it for poison?
Conjecture was pointless, we needed to investigate. The priory at Little Wenham would be our first call.
Before heading out, we took a diversion to our camp and collected the monk and nun outfits.
We set out for Little Wenham and decided to avoid the roads. We little desire to be ambushed twice in one day.
After leaving the southern half of The Forest of Caucy, we followed the track and forded the River Scarmore, once again passing Watt's burnt out cart.
From here we walked into the northern part of the forest, fairly certain that we would not be hindered by The Crow Folk were concentrated on the other side of the river. Our plan was to head westward and cross through the forest to arrive at Little Wenham.
Despite my knowledge of the forest, we lost our way!
It turned out that there were few to no paths or trails that travelled the deepest, quietest and shady parts of the forest. There was however, an abundance of greenery and shrubs to hinder our passage, branches and bushes to snag our clothes and roots to trip our feet.
With no path to follow we stumbled and blundered clear of the forest. After we took stock of our bearings, we realised that we were north of the forest instead of west. We marched cross country towards the afternoon sun until the shadows lengthened, the day cooled and darkness was beginning to creep up behind us; it was nearly dark when we reached the road and Little Wenham.
It appeared to be a well-to-do and respectable town, houses were clustered round the church, a gibbet sat in the town square and there was of course, a priory.
It was very unlikely that we were known here, we could safely pass through.
Before approaching the priory, Calder, Mopsa and Randulf assumed their disguises. We decided to present ourselves as travellers in need of a place for the night.
The priory was a sturdy stone building with an equally sturdy heavy wooden door. A minute after knocking, an eye appeared at the small viewing panel, taking the measure of us.
A woman's voice asked us our business?
We explained that we were travellers in need of shelter for the night.
The eye turned to face me and asked who was I?
I explained that I was their guide. There was truth to that.
Our answers seemed satisfactory, the eye disappeared and the door opened. A nun was here and we were granted entry.
With a lowered voice she explained that we would be given an evening meal and taken to our rooms for the night. Inside the priory there was an air of quiet calmness, our footsteps sounded uncomfortably loud as we walked down the sparsely decorated stone corridors.
Before were taken to our meals and as politely as possible we requested a meeting with Mother Benevolence. The nun turned to us and revealed that she was who we were looking for.
We asked the Mother Benevolence if she had supplied medicine for Lady Margaret. She was quite taken aback and surprised, she did not know what we were talking about?
Perhaps this required a slightly different approach.
So we asked her if she any given any medicine to Sir Conrad's squire, Falkirk?
She had not, but she had given him poison!
This was surprising We asked Mother Benevolence to tell us more.
She told us that the poison was for some of Sir Conrad's hunting dogs that needed to be 'put down'.
Mother Benevolence went on to explain that this request had come directly from Sir Conrad when they both attended the Feast of Saint Beatrice last week.
We thanked Mother Benevolence and retired to our rooms.
It seemed that we possibly had an answer.
Sir Conrad was using Mother Benevolence to produce poison, using Falkirk to deliver it in the guise of medicine and using his sister to unwittingly administer it secretly.
It was an impressively elaborate plan, but what did he gain from the death of Lady Margaret?
We could not consider moving against Sir Conrad, not at least directly. He was too powerful and too influential.
Instead we decided to seek out Lady Margaret and warn her.
Morning came and streaks of dawn sunlight blazed through the windows, we woke to our cool stone rooms lit by a hues of gold.
We rose and dressed; simple as it was, it had been sometime since we had slept in accommodation such as this.
Morning in the priory was as equally subdued as evening, the sisters went about their chores with a quiet busyness and spoke in hushed voices.
After breakfast, we gave our thanks, took our leave and headed for Hexham.
The journey to Hexham required trekking east back across the countryside, following along the northern perimeter of The Forest of Caucy.
It was a quiet trip, there were no settlements close by and we did not encounter a single soul during our march.
Now that the flow of traffic through Hexham had lessened, the guards would be more vigilant.
As expected, we were stopped and questioned. Mopsa spoke for us and we were allowed entry.
Hexham Castle was open on the ground floor, but in order to reach Lady we had to get past the guards and go up to the first floor.
Mopsa was on top of things and persuaded the guards that we were here to see Lady Margaret on important business.
We climbed the stairs to her quarters once again. Outside her door was the same lady-in-waiting we encountered during our last visit.
She seemed confused when we explained that we were here to see Lady Margaret. It took some convincing to allow us to pass.
We entered Lady Margaret's chambers, she immediately recognised and greeted us, once the pleasantries were dealt with, she announced to us that she was 'with child'.
Discreetly, we informed Lady Margaret that we had uncovered a plot to poison her during her morning sickness.
She was aghast that we knew about her morning sickness.
Pressing on, we explained that it seemed that Sir Conrad had concocted a scheme whereupon poison was delivered in the guise of medicine to one of her ladies-in-waiting who secretly and unwittingly administered it to her by Krea.
It transpired that Krea was the woman outside her door.
Lady Margaret thanked us for our help, she remarked that it was the second time we had provided her with assistance and she was grateful. She then provided us with a ring, with this ring we could gain access to her at any time.
Before leaving, there was one question we needed an answer for: Why had Sir Clugney been credited with the return of her wedding gown.
"Dear little Clugney," commented Lady Margaret. She went on to explain that she had seen him so unfairly bullied by Sir Conrad that she felt that sorry for him and took the opportunity claim that Clugney had returned the dress so that Sir Roland would reward him.
With that, we took our leave.
One question was answered and another took its place.
Why had Lady Margaret chosen to help Sir Clugney? Her reason did not sit well with us.
We were leaving Hexham Castle when we passed a knight with a small retinue entering, we could see their horses had been driven hard to get here.
The knight caught our eye, his livery was 'lozengy argent and gules', it was a livery I recognised as belonging to 'Sir Gilbert of Gascony', a French knight.
Gascony? The King's brother-in-law, 'de Montford' ruled in Gascony, rumour had it he was planning a revolt against The King. Why was a knight from Gascony here?
We also recalled that Lady Margaret called Gaston, was there a connection?
Cautiously we shadowed Sir Gilbert, he went to Lady Margaret's chamber as we expected.
Krea was still at the door, we could not hope to eavesdrop with her there. We knew that she might be easily distracted, so Randulf entertained her with a few coin tricks while the rest of pressed our ears against the door.
Voices were muffled, but we picked up some of a conversation.
Sir Gilbert stated that he had arrived with 'the money'.
Lady Margaret stated that he should take it straight to 'him' at Castle Wedgemore.
Sir Gilbert replied that he would meet up with his men who were behind him and take it to Wedgemore via the 'Drumclog Moss Road'.
With that, we left.
This raised more questions.
Who was 'him'? It seemed logical that it might be Sir Clugney, but why were they helping him even more? Was the money to pay for the rebuilding of Drumclog Castle? What did they hope to get out of it?
If it was someone else in Wedgmore, who could it be? Osric?
In truth none of the questions mattered, all that mattered was that it appeared that a sizeable amount of money that was coming down the Drumclog Moss Road, money that we meant to to take!
The road that Sir Gilbert would take would lead him through The Forest of Caucy, north of our camp. It was time to plan an ambush.
So ended the fourth adventure of The Merry Badgers of Billige.
The Ballard of Calder Winterbourne 'Mouse Eater'
It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’‘It is unclear where or when the ‘Ballad of Calder Winterbourne’ originated. No copy exists with provenance earlier than the mid-fifteenth century (and that only a fragment). It is likely that early versions have been adapted by others over the centuries and sections re-written or entirely new text added, perhaps to add contemporary references, incorporate unrelated fragments or cover situations likely to be familiar to new, later readers. There is, for example, an oblique reference to a possible act of enclosure in the prologue, which must either be a poor transcription or later addition to a supposedly ‘medieval’ text. No reference to Calder Winterbourne exists in the historical record and it is therefore likely that, if he ever existed, his story has been greatly embellished or his tale is a combination of several stories combined in a convenient narrative thread.’
The Ballard of Mopsa Hiems 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
The Ballard of Randulf The Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
The Ballard of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
I play, I paint.