12th September 2020
I'm logged into Skype in the living room and it's a Saturday evening.
Time for part 5 of Matakishi's Merry Outlaws campaign.
Location: The Forest of Caucy.
We had learnt that a column of French knights and soldiers led by Sir Gilbert would be travelling to Wedgemore via The Drumclog Moss road and they would be carrying a lot of money!
We knew it was going to be soon, in the next day or two and we wanted that money!
After much discussion, we formulated a plan.
For this to work we would need the help of our Welsh outlaws as well the foresters from Billige, fortunately, they were more than happy to join our cause.
Our plan would involve a two-part ambush at Drumclog Moss.
The first step was create some traps in the forest, close to the road.
Then we would split into two groups, one large and the other small. The foresters would be the smaller group and lie in hiding next to the traps, further along the road from the rest of us.
As the column passed the large group, the forester up ahead would appear on the road, shoot some arrows at the column and run back into the forest
Hopefully Sir Gilbert would order a detachment of his men to give chase, then the wily foresters would lead them into the traps.
Now that they were distracted and their numbers were lessened, the rest of us in the large group would lunge in and get the money.
That was the theory anyway.
For now our band consisted of twelve, we left our camp in the morning and travelled to Drumclog Moss without incident.
Drumclog Moss was an ancient forest, older than Caucy. The oaks were darker, thicker and more twisted with old roots than ran deep. The bushes and shrubs, denser and somehow more prickly, even the sunlight that shone through its branches seemed weaker. There was an undeniable gloom to the forest, it hung in the air and whispered in the rustling leaves.
The south-western edge of the forest had been deforested by Sir Clugney's men for their construction work, the rest however was untouched.
The road ran along the southern edge of the forest and that's where we set up our ambush and waited.
A few hours passed and the column came past, it was larger than we expected. There were:
Seven knights on horseback armed with spears.
Two dozen footmen, armed with spear and sword.
Thirty heavily laden mules and a equal number of 'civilian' handlers.
Truth be told, we hesitated when deciding whether to attack or not; but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
We signalled the foresters to do their thing. They stepped out on to the road and loosed some shafts at the column, one of the knights slumped to the ground.
Orders were barked in French, three knights and six footmen gave chase.
Was it enough? Could we deal with the remainder of the soldiers? Should we go for the money?
We were denied our decision suddenly, out of nowhere another band of outlaws from a different part of the forest jumped out of the bushes and swooped down on ropes to attack!
Their numbers were large, but they were even more shabby than us. With tattered clothes, they were covered in filth, many of them disfigured or missing limbs. They mostly wielded rudimentary wooden weapons and did not look like much of a match for the professional French soldiers they were attacking.
Quickly we assessed the situation: The knights chasing our foresters had baulked at the tree line, aware they would lose their advantage in the trees, they were currently wheeling their horses round to return. The footmen at least had disappeared into the forest.
Meanwhile at the column, a sprawling melee had begun, as the entire military company focussed on the battle at hand. Unfortunately as we had surmised, the other outlaws were taking losses and were on the back foot.
We saw that the handlers were struggling with the mules. We also saw that eight of the mules were carrying chests.
The distraction would not last much longer, it was now or never.
We charged in, our plan was simple, there were eight mules and eight of us, one mule apiece.
Brandishing our weapons we advanced on the mules and drove the handlers away, some required a 'touch more persuasion' than others it must be said.
As we were grabbing our targets, we slapped the other mules, hoping to panic them. Meanwhile the handlers had regrouped, they considered mobbing us, but too late! We had escaped into the forest.
Our plan now was to march through the centre of Drumclog Moss to the northern side. Hopefully this would dissuade any and all pursuers.
Few were the trails that we trod as they ran their ways through the deep hollows and otherworldly dells. The unaware could easily lose themselves in the quiet gloom here. Fortunately we managed to navigate it without mishap and eventually caught sight of the forest's edge.
We stopped here. our next move was to wait for nightfall before returning to our camp. If we were lucky, the hue and cry would have died down by then.
A few hours passed uneventfully, but the silence was broken by the distinct crack of a snapping twig. Leaping to our feet, shocked that we had been ambushed; we prepared to fight the soldiers.
We were most definitely not expecting who we saw next.
There stood a small ragged looking man, covered in sores and infections, he was also letting off an incredible smell.
He introduced himself as 'Leaking Sam' a member of 'The Drumclog Few' and that he spoke for their leader 'Hugh the Silent'!
Sam politely explained that the mules belong to him. We disagreed, stating that they were ours, we had them, not The Drumclog Few.
As we were speaking a giant of man appeared behind Sam, about seven foot tall and carrying a club, we noticed that his ears had been cut off.
Sam explained that this giant was Hugh, he led The Drumclog Few with his charisma and leadership.
Hugh silently looked at us.
Behind Hugh, we saw many more people emerging from behind the shadowed trees, like Sam and Hugh, they were disfigured or sickly and dressed in rags.
They may have been named The Drumclog Few, but in number they were many.
We noticed amongst the crowd our four foresters held prisoner, they were bound and struggling.
It also did not escape our notice that these were possibly the most impoverished people we had met and surely deserving our at least a portion of what we had stolen, they had certainly paid a price for it.
We made them an offer of two mules, but Sam refused it.
Sam then glanced at Hugh for a few seconds then announced that there would be a contest for the mules. The Drumclog Few champion verses our champion.
Hugh pointedly stared at Mopsa.
We negotiated the terms of the contest with Sam.
In the end we agreed to give five mules to The Drumclog Few and keep two for ourselves, the contest would be over a single mule.
Our champion was Randulf, surprisingly their champion was not Hugh, but Sam!
Both were given a quarterstaff and the contest began!
Sam was quick, surprisingly so in fact and they rapidly exchanged strikes and blows. Randulf's experience held him in good stead here and he managed to land several telling blows on Sam. Who stepped back and yielded, complimenting Randulf on his fighting skills.
Victory was ours, as was the third mule and the foresters, now freed.
With that, The Drumclog Few bid us farewell, slipping away back into the remote part of the forest that they inhabited.
Now with three mules, we waited until night finally came and exited the forest. Circling Drumclog Moss, we travelled cross country, avoiding all contact as best we could.
Soon enough we arrived at the Drumclog Moss Road, crossing over would be the riskiest part of our journey.
Cautiously we watched both ways on the road and had to avoid a torch-carrying patrol before crossing over and returning to camp.
Even though it was quite late, we counted our spoils, there were six thousand French coins in all, two thousand per chest.
As was fair, we gave one chest to the foresters, who after splitting it four ways were very happy with their haul. We warned them to be careful, flashing around so many french coins around so soon after the ambush might draw suspicion on them.
As they sauntered off, they rather unconvincingly told us that they 'would bear it in mind'.
We still had four thousand coins to distribute!
Morning arrived and we had decided to take a chest of coins to Friar Nicholas in Hexham.
The journey was unremarkable, but upon reaching the town gates at mid-morning, we saw more guards posted here than usual. We would need to exercise extra caution with them.
Our concern was unfounded and we entered Hexham without a hitch, the guards were barely paying us any attention and were focused on watching the inward bound road .
Something was up, was this to do with the ambush?
Before going to visit the good friar, we thought it prudent to hear some local news. This of course meant frequenting the local tavern, a reluctant task for all of us.
Chat and gossip spread as freely in Hexham as anywhere else, which means to say; it spread a lot! Several rumours and stories were 'doing the rounds':
- Lady Margaret was pregnant.
- Building work has been undertaken at Knavesmire. Sir Clugney intends to rebuild all the cottages there.
- There was an unsuccessful attack on a convoy led by The Drumclog Few.
- Drumclog Castle is also being rebuilt by Sir Clugney, once the largest castle in the region, it might be again in days to come.
Some of this was not news to us, but the rebuilding of Knavesmire was something we had not heard of until now.
Next we sought out Friar Nicholas and handed over a chest of two thousand French coins to disperse as he saw fit.
Finally we decided to go and see Lady Margaret. The ring that she had gifted us granted passage to her chambers in Hexham Castle.
Lady Margaret was in a foul mood.
We asked what vexed her so? She replied that Sir Conrad's patrols were roaming Sir Clugney's lands and picking fights with his men. Sir Conrad had also threatened Sir Roland by sending men into his lands.
It seemed to us that Lady Margaret championed Sir Clugney, was cold towards her husband Sir Roland and was contemptuous of Sir Conrad.
As she spoke we noticed a new object in her chamber: It depicted a strange little house or cottage with two stones outside it, perhaps it was a shrine of some sort? Although definitely not Christian in origin.
Lady Margaret saw us looking at it and explained that it was a gift from Osirc, he had called it a 'lare', a symbol of good luck from his country.
As she had told us this, she made the same gesture we had seen from Osric.
Whilst looking at the lare, it seemed as if the front of the house might open up...?
It was at this point that Lady Margaret distracted us away from it by saying she was busy and ushered us out of her chamber.
After our abrupt exit, we looked for Krea. Unable to spot her, we inquired with the other ladies-in-waiting?
Krea had been cleaning some curtains in the castle and had fallen out the window, tumbling to her death!
"She was flighty, but could not fly." Lady Margaret had commented darkly.
Things did not seem right here at all.
There was nothing left for us to do in Hexham, so we discussed our next move. The news of construction work at Knavesmire had piqued our curiosity, we also wanted to check in on our friend Emlyn.
So, off to Knavesmire we went.
We followed the Drumclog Moss road westward until it headed through the forest. A mile or so out of Knavesmire, rising up through the gaps in the trees, we saw a column of curling black smoke, the acrid smell of burning also hung in the air.
There was a big fire ahead, it had to be in Knavesmire.
Driven by urgency, we quickened our pace and hurried onward.
Our arrival was met with what could only be described as a apocalyptic sight.
Smoke, thick and black lingered above the village, shrouding it in darkness, the sun had been reduced to a hazy dim orange globe. Walking into Knavesmire was like walking into a hellish red twilight lit by the roaring conflagration that was consuming nearly every house. The heat was immense and our eyes were stung by the smoke, even the maypole was burning
Leopold and his family were desperately hurling bucket upon bucket of water on to their inn. Thus far, it had not been reached by the fire.
As fast as the fire was spreading, so was the panic. Soldiers in Sir Conrad's colours were here; unbelievably some of them wielded flaming brands and were torching the houses. The remaining soldiers were caught up in a prolonged melee with an enemy dressed in all black! The Crow Folk no doubt, who had emerged from the forest to battle the soldiers.
Caught in this crossfire were the hapless villagers, the fighting left them unable to save anything except their lives and even there, they were failing.
In between filling and emptying buckets, Leopold managed to tell us that Sir Conrad's men had rode into Knaves mire bearing already lit torches and began setting houses alight. Soon after that The Crow Folk appeared and fighting broke out.
Even we were left staggered by what we saw. Who should we help? Conrad's men, or The Crow Folk? Both seemed equally bad.
Before long however, the tide of the battle shifted and The Crow Folk began gaining the upper hand. Sir Conrad's men were pushed back and forced to retreat.
We found one of Conrad's soldiers left behind, he was badly wounded and in a bad way. We moved him from the burning buildings and bound his wounds as best we could.
Before he died, he told us that he had been ordered here and Sir Conrad was 'fighting back' against Sir Clugney.
By now The Crow Folk had disappeared and only the villagers remained, hopelessly trying to end the fires.
It seemed a lost cause though, even the piles of building materials bought into the village for the rebuilding we had heard about were burning.
We helped the villagers extinguish the fires, but the damage had been done. No house had escaped the burning and barely any even still stood. Only the inn had survived untouched - and that because it stood apart from the houses.
Knavesmire was littered with the dead and the homeless, these survivors set about the grim task of burying the fallen.
After some discussion amongst us, we decided to lead the survivors to Billige. We would give them a thousand coins from the final chest we had 'liberated'. They could use that money to buy lodging in Billige until more housing was built. Hopefully the materials from the Drumclog Castle could be used for this.
It did not take the people of Knavesmire long to prepare for the short march, most of their belongings had been reduced to ash.
The blackened remains of the village were left behind and it was late afternoon by the time we all reached Billige. Our arrival had stirred quite a commotion as well as unease at the fate of Knavesmire.
Still, the people of Billige were generous enough to put up the Knavesmire folk, at least as long as the coins were flowing anyway.
It had been a long day, but as late as it was, the day was far from over.
Even though we were away from ruined Knavesmire, we were not beyond the reach of Sir Conrad. As the sun sunk behind the western horizon and night was nearly upon us, we spied the approach of riders, closing fast along the trail from the north. With them they carried lit flickering torches, the torches numbered perhaps a dozen and the riders double that.
Sir Conrad was brazen to strike so deep into Sir Clugney's domain.
The Knavesmires survivors had seen this scene scant few hours before, they fled Billige screaming and running for the shelter of the forest.
We knew that there had to be at least a small company of Sir Clugney's men at Drumclog castle, the village's fastest runner was dispatched to fetch them. Meanwhile we told the women and children to flee towards the castle.
We did our best to quickly arm any volunteers who remained, luckily the foresters numbered among them.
The gloom of night was beginning to settle in, but the rider's torches made for an adequate target for our arrows.
We loosed two volleys at them and cut down half their band, our foresters proved their worth here, landing many a telling shot.
Their charge faltered and halted, they milled about, unsure of how to proceed.
We could not and would not relent, we had to press our advantage and loosed off another volley. The riders turned and fled, we continued attacking. By the time they were out of range, only two of them had escaped.
Quickly, we scooped up their weapons and handed them out to the villagers. Swift and emphatic had been our victory, so swift in fact that the reinforcements were nowhere to be seen!
When they did arrive, we realised that they were French? Mercenaries? We thought it best to avoid them and melted into the night, only the villagers' accounts of our actions remained.
To our camp we returned, a place we had now named as 'The Badger Set'.
It had been a long day, but before retiring for the night, we discussed the day's many events.
We came to one conclusion: all three of these rulers were corrupt and unworthy.
- Sir Clugney was hatching some nefarious plot which involved a foreign power.
- Sir Conrad was a thug, plain and simple.
- Sir Roland was indifferent to the suffering around him.
We decided that all three of them 'needed dealing with and had to go'!
On the next morning we awoke with invigorated vigour, driven by our new sense of purpose.
Little time was needed in choosing our next course of action: We had denied Sir Clugney sixteen thousand coins! Now was the time to twist that knife in the wound.
The journey to Wedgemore was quiet and uneventful.
When we arrived, we did not immediately enter; a host of soldiers had congregated in the town.
We saw Sir Clugney's tatty household guard, Sir Gaston Chatsworth's men and a company of mercenaries.
They were milling about listlessly, waiting for marching orders no doubt.
From the outskirts, Wedgemore seemed a prosperous town, well made cottages surrounded a pleasant town square. There was a nice looking inn too, 'The Looted Chapel'.
Since this was the seat of Clugney's power, we were thus unsurprised to see one of Osric's maypoles here.
Only the church was run down. The irony of the inn's name had not slipped by us.
Despite the town's apparent wealth, Wedgemore Castle was as dilapidated as the church or the uniforms on Sir Clugney's men. It had seen better days and was partway through a renovation, woodwork constructions dotted the curtain wall and inner keep, like oaken bandages covering over the castle's failings.
The castle itself was relatively small and surrounded by a dry moat.
After evaluating the situation, it did not seem dangerous to enter Wedgemore, we were far away from Hexham and Drumclog Moss.
Strolling in we noticed a significant number of lares, they were spread throughout the town, by the maypole, the inn and many of the houses. Seemingly identical to the one we had seen in Lady Margaret's chamber, only these were open and the two little statues were 'inside' the house.
We also noticed fewer townsfolk about than we would have expected for a town of this size, perhaps they were indoors?
Even so. this gathering of soldiers was source of much talk in the town and we easily learnt that Sir Clugney had ordered the 'southern road' from 'The Fork' barricaded, he was mustering forces for a counter attack. In two days hence, Sir Gaston would arrive from the south and they would be ready.
We headed into the inn, the innkeeper saw us enter and gave us a 'Roman greeting gesture'.
It was an unusual place: the walls were decorated with old, faded paintings that depicted ancient Roman gods and mythical creatures. The floor partially consisted of a Roman mosaic.
The innkeeper introduced himself as 'Sestus'. A Roman name he explained, there was a Roman villa here long ago he continued and the inn had Roman heritage. Parts of it had been built with masonry from the villa.
Like much of the town, the inn possessed a lare. Sestus saw us look at it, we gave him Osric's gesture and he responded in kind, smiling and satisfied.
Having scouted out both the town and castle. We now had a plan in mind and departed Wedgemore; in two days we would be back.
For most of these two days we made preparations and gathered our allies before returning to Wedgemore.
After we arrived, we waited.
Waited until Sir Gaston arrived with another column of troops. They joined the other soldiers here.
The next day, at mid morning amongst the blaring of trumpets and flying of flags, the soldiers marched north out of Wedgemore, towards The Fork and war with Conrad.
With the soldiers gone, the town seemed almost unnaturally still and silent.
Clugney Castle had been emptied of soldiers, we estimated that there were twelve soldiers left. Four on the gate, four on the walls and four on patrol.
It was time for the first part of our plan.
With our allies we numbered twelve. Eight of us disguised ourselves in Clugney's colours. The remaining four dressed as Conrad's men and their hands were loosely bound, giving the appearance of being much tighter.
Now in disguise, we approached the castle gate. There were four guards there and they converged on us.
Mopsa stepped forward and explained to the guards that we were returning with four 'prisoners' for the cells.
It was a convincing lie, the guards congratulated us on their capture and called for four other guards to escort us to the keep.
These guards led us to the grimy, dim cells within the keep and then asked us to hand custody of our prisoners over.
Pausing for a moment, we locked eyes with each other before pouncing on the guards. The ambush was successful and we subdued them before they had any opportunity to raise the alarm.
We were now free to search the keep unhindered, soon enough we found Sir Clugney's money chest. A sturdy box that was bolted to floor.
Opening it revealed a small, shallow layer of coins, only contained seven hundred coins at our estimate. Clugney must really have needed the money we denied him.
Seven hundred coins would not last him very long, that didn't stop us taking all of them though!
Now that we had Clugney's money, it was time to leave. There was no need for subtlety here, the twelve of us went up to the four guards at the gate and demanded they surrender. Outnumbered three-to-one, they wisely decided not to fight.
We then did the same with the remaining four guards on the walls.
Then there were no guards.
We had considered occupying the castle, the look on Clugney's face would have been exquisite, but it was not to be...
Our last act before leaving Wedgemore Castle was to set light to it, the stonework would survive with some damage, but all the wooden additions would be reduced to dust.
From the safety of the forest, we could hear the wood crackled as it burned and watched the flames lick the sky.
It was a start, we had weakened Clugney, but who knew the strength of his allies abroad?
Now we had to wait for the outcome of his battle with Conrad before planning our next step.
So ended the fifth outing 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.