19th September 2020
Saturday evening had come around again. In the living room, I'm logged into Skype.
This means it's time for Matakishi's Merry Outlaws campaign.
Location: The Badger Set.
A few days had passed since we had raided and gutted Wedgemore Castle.
Billige was filling up with Knavesmire's refugees. News that Conrad and Clugney were practically in open war had reached the village.
More neews that Sir Roland had closed the gates at Hexham in preparation for a siege had also reached Billige.
There was a lot of nervous talk, people were worried and understandably so.
It was time to see what was going on at Wedgemore. It was quiet journey through the remote deeps of Caucy forest, a respite of calmness from the chaos unfolding around it.
Wedgemore looked as affluent as before, the people looked happy and well fed, farms were well stocked with cattle.
The town was quiet, there were a few people about, along with some soldiers.
As we watched from the tree line, we saw a group of riders coming into the town from the north road.
Three knights garbed entirely in black armour, armed with warhammers headed a retinue of likewise dressed mounted men-at-arms, equipped as they were with axes and flails.
These were no English or French knights.
I recognised them, the three of them were 'Teutonic knights'. Hailing from north Europe, it was said that they did not follow the knightly code and were shunned by other knights.
The few townsfolk and soldiers in Wedgemore cheered as the knights rode in. As they were distracted, we took the opportunity to quietly slip into the village.
Then we watched as the riders dismounted and stretched their limbs, their journey at an end. The knights issued orders to two of their men, one small, the other massive. They must have been sergeants for the men-at arms.
We also noticed overhead; a pigeon, unusually flying straight to the castle. It had come from the north-east - the direction of Hexham...
The three knights went off in the direction of the castle. The men-at-arms headed for The Looted Chapel. We decided to follow the men-at-arms.
Inside it was heaving, arrival of newcomers had filled the inn to capacity, so loud we could feel it shaking our guts.
The locals were cheering and buying the newcomers drinks.
We bought ourselves drinks and listened:
- The newcomers, the knights and man-at-arms called themselves 'The Black Company' and they come from Osric's homeland.
- They were here to fight the 'unjust king', he was but a boy who did not know his own mind and was looking to reinforce his own power.
- Thanks to the 'Magna Carta', it was the Barons who should rule.
- Once Wenham has been taken, then Hexham will be next.
Caldor approached the smaller sergeant and offered to buy him drink, the sergeant readily accepted.
He introduced himself as 'Beorn Ironhand' of the Black Company, he was armed with a large hammer.
Beorn explained that he had journeyed far and crossed the sea on an open boat. Summoned here by Osric who was calling in a favour.
The journey had been long and tedious, leaving him eager for a fight, he was looking forward to tomorrow.
The only 'action' he had enjoyed recently was burning down an inn on the way to Wedgemore, because the look of it offended him.
This concerned us, we asked Beorn where the inn had been. Beorn told us it was along the forest road a few miles before reaching Wedgemore.
This news did not leave us happy...
We also took the opportunity to listen to the general news on the progress of Sir Clugney's efforts against Sir Conrad:
- Wedgemore Castle had been gutted by fire. Sir Clugney and his household soldiers now sleept in tents, in a place known as 'The Camp'.
- Conrad still holds the bridge.
- There are plans to take Wenhan and them Hexham.
- They are waiting for 'northerners' to join with Clugney.
- The Black Company goes into battle tomorrow. The soldiers would be billeted with towns folk for the night.
No one seemed to know who northerners referred to, except that it did not mean The Black Company, they were somebody else?
It was time to leave and discuss our next move. We had learnt as much as we could learn in The Looted Chapel. As we left, Randulf turned his head and gave a 'knowing smile' to the massive sergeant, who looked about with confusion!
We agreed that our next destination was Wenham, 'northerners' might refer to an attack from the north.
We also agreed to detour towards Knavesmire and check on the state of the inn.
The journey to Knavesmire was short. The sight that met our eyes was a grim one.
The Three Stoats and a Weasel had indeed burnt down. Black smoke still rose from the ruined inn, the fire had been very recent, embers still glowed deep from within the pile of ash. The walls had collapsed in on themselves and only the thickest scorched timbers survived.
Even grimmer were the bodies that were strung up along the road. It was a morbid task, but we had to try and identify them. We did not recognise them.
Knavesmire was silent, the inn had been the last part of village still standing. Now it was as devastated as the rest. Knavesmire was as much of a corpse as the poor souls along the road.
There was nothing else to do but to double back to Wenham. The road could not be trusted these days, so we stayed beneath the shaded cover of the woods and headed west until we reached the Scarmore River, from there we followed it until we got close to the bridge.
The furthest reaches of The Forest of Caucy stretched to the bridge to Wenham. This was fortunate as it allowed us assess the situation from within the safe confines of the trees.
Conrad still held the bridge, while Clugney's forces, mostly consisting of Gaston's men were camped out a way back from the bridge.
There were signs of fighting here, scores of spent arrows dotted the area around the bridge and the span between the warring factions, a number of bodies floating in the river here, caught up against the banks.
Clugney's forces lacked the strength to break through the defensive position on the bridge. Meanwhile Conrad's forces lacked the numbers to break out and face Clugney's on the open field.
Whilst Conrad's forces were clearly outnumbered, the battle appeared to be at an impasse. At least until tomorrow, when The Black Company waded in.
None of this mattered to us right now though, they was no way we could cross the Scarmore here. We had to double back yet again and cross at the westernmost ford in the forest.
We knew this part of the forest was roamed by The Crow Folk, but we also knew the forest quite well by now and the location of their settlement.
So we quietly moved along the winding trails, cautiously pushing through the thickets and bushes. Pressing on until we heard a shrill scream!
Shrill screams were not something that we associated with The Crow Folk, nevertheless we reached for our weapons. Perhaps somebody was in trouble?
Listening carefully, we heard the sounds of a petty squabble! This was no Crow Folk, we stepped out of hiding and revealed ourselves.
There was an arguing man and woman and some children, the man looked around nervously and the women visibly flinched.
They seemed quite fearful, we assured them we meant them no harm.
The man introduced himself as 'Thomas Mossman' and his wife as 'Elsbeth'.
Their farm north of Little Wenham had been invaded by 'The Peasant's Army' who were travelling to the south to attack The King in London. Thomas said they numbered in the thousands.
Thomas and his family had been forced to flee into the forest and had gotten lost.
More refugees it seemed. We gave gifted them some coins, gave them directions to Billige and bid them a safe journey.
This Peasant's Army had come from the north, could they be the northerners we heard about in Wedgemore? It seemed likely.
After the Mossman family headed south, we turned and went north. Without any further mishap or incident we forded the river, exited the forest and marched cross-country. It was the afternoon when we got close to Little Wenham.
Across the flat fields and farmlands, families and bands of people were heading southwards, carrying whatever they could as they fled the encroaching enemy.
Distant as it was, we could just about make out The Peasant's Army on the horizon. They had stopped for the day in farmland north of Little Wenham in amongst some houses.
As Makeshift tents were being erected, the foragers were out looking for supplies, taking whatever food and cattle they could find, breaking into any building they encountered.
Calder had experience at soldiering, he estimated their number at three thousand.
We headed into Little Wenham wondering if anyone had any further information. Much of it had emptied in expectation of what was to follow. What we did find was small band of Conrad's soldiers, they were desperately trying to fortify the village in a futile attempt to somehow thwart the invasion.
'Sergeant Martin' was the man in charge, he spoke to us whilst ordering his men about their work. Martin explained that The Peasant's Army had been slowly marching south for months. They were being pursued by knights loyal to The King and he hoped to slow them down enough for the knights to catch up.
Martin went on to tell us that The Peasant's Army was lead by 'Piers Plowright', if someone was to kill him, it would leave the army in disarray and without direction.
After telling Sergeant Martin about the attack coming from the south. He told that he had to stay here, but he would sent message with a fleeing villager to Sir Conrad. Finally he added that it wasn't Sir Clugney that was the true problem, it was his friends.
We left Sergeant Martin and his men to it.
After a lengthy discussion, we decided that we had to weaken Sir Clugney's position. If Clugney broke through the bridge's defences, he would quickly wreak havoc in Wenhem and be close to defeating Conrad.
This meant killing Piers Plowright.
It was decided that we would need some poison, so Mopsa and Randulf headed out, over to the Priory.
Randulf asked to speak Mother Benevolence, he asked her for some poison to deal with some injured dogs.
Mother Benevolence however, was skeptical of Randulf's motives and refused to give him any poison.
Mopsa then spoke to Mother Benevolence who took her into the priory, led her into a quiet room and sat her down.
Mother Benevolence tried to convince her to leave our band and join her at the priory, Mopsa refused and pressed for the poison.
Mother Benevolence asked Mopsa why she wanted the poison so much.
Mopsa explained that Clugney had recruited foreign knights in his war against Conrad, the poison was for these knights.
"Well, why didn't you say so," replied Mother Benevolence. She then went and gave Mopsa a hemlock potion. She explained that it would be potent against up to half a dozen people.
It had reached late in the afternoon and Little Wenham was bathed in the blazing light of a setting sun. The golden hue that warmed the village belied the violent threat from the north.
Before going into the 'lion's den' that was The Peasant's Army camp, we waited until was dark.
Infiltrating the camp was actually easy, they were an ill-disciplined, rough-looking, haphazard lot; we fited right in!
Without guards or lookouts, we could thread our way through the shadows cast by their billowing campfires. No one paid us any attention anyway, they were too concerned with getting comfortable for the night to notice the infiltrators in their own camp.
Somewhere is this sprawl of ramshackle tents was Piers Plowright. As their leader, it was likely that he would be somewhere safe, at least somewhere safer than these tents.
Numerous farmhouses and outbuildings dotted the campsite, but we could easily see that they were noisy and packed out with sleepers. Plowright was unlikely to be in any of those.
There was one small cottage however, that was quieter than the others. Crucially, we saw that there two guards outside the door. This had to be the place.
Calder decided he would be the one to sneak in and deal with Plowright.
Making sure we stayed out of the guards' views, we cased the cottage's exterior. There was a window at the back.
Cautiously, Calder crept in through the window. The inside was shrouded in darkness, a few weak shafts of whitish moonlight played across the interior and he could barely make out four men asleep.
Calder looked around; he was trying to discern who might be Piers Plowright when he spotted a smaller mezzanine above.
Carefully as he could, Calder climbed up to the gloomy mezzanine. Here was a sleeping man, he was alone. This had to be Plowright.
Calder gripped his knife tightly and bent low. Quietly, he slit Plowright's throat.
Hopefully with his death, confusion and dissention would be sown amongst his army.
Now that the dark deed was done, Calder needed to exit the cottage. Fortunately there was a window on the mezzanine level, Calder opened it and managed to climb down without making a noise.
Calder circled back round to us, he moved as silently as a stalking cat; even we, who were on the lookout for him could not hear his approach.
Once Calder re-joined us, we successfully escaped the camp.
Like spectres we had made our way into and out of the camp unseen and struck at Piers Plowright in the heart of their camp. He was dead and no one in the camp was the wiser.
A shining moon hung high in the night sky, there were still hours till dawn and this was no time to rest.
It was a hard march south back to Wedgemore. Dim moonlight made for a poor walking guide. The open ground was not challenging, but the inky depths of the forest were not so easily penetrated by those argent rays.
Under those heavy shadows we blundered, stumbled and blindly crashed our way through the trees. The noise would've woken the dead, had the dead been foolish enough to cross a forest at night!
What seemed an incalculable amount of time must have passed when we eventually broke out of the forest, found the road and continued south.
As we neared Wedgemore once more, a rosy, wispy glow in the east promised that dawn would soon be upon us.
The bustle of activity at the camp was apparent, even in the murky half-light of the small hours.
The location of the three Teutons were known to us, even their tents were black!
We had planned to try and poison the the Teutonic knights' food or water supplies before they began their attack.
It was clear that Clugney was mustering all his men for a dawn attack against Conrad's defences and alas, it was too late for poisoning.
We needed a new strategy and fast!
There was no time for subtlety, after a quick confab we came up with a more direct plan.
We retreated north, back to the woods close to the bridge, except this time on the southern side of the road and waited, hidden in the foliage with our bows.
Little time passed before Sir Clugney led his force along the road. We continued to wait. They stopped short of the bridge and were grouping for their attack. Still we waited, timing was critical.
At the head of the group were The Black Company, in the centre were Gaston's and Clugney's men and at the rear were Sir Gaston and Sir Clugney themselves.
As we waited, Sir Clugney gave the word and the the advance began. From the soldiers rose a thunderous roar and cheer that almost shook the ground as they began their attack on the bridge.
Now that they had committed to the attack and could not afford to pull back, we could strike!
The soldiers surged past us at the bridge, as the rear end of the column passed, the four of us loosed arrows at Sir Clugney. He was struck several times and swayed alarmingly in his saddle.
The din and clamour of charging men masked our action, we could see Gaston desperately looking amount as he moved forward, but no one spotted us.
A second volley was launched at Clugney. He toppled from his horse and hit the ground awkwardly with a resounding crash.
some of the soldiers at the back were now shouting and pointing, they had made us out.
Sir Gaston was visibly torn, he could not allow his men to advance leaderless. He ordered a squad of men-at-arms to attack us and check on Clugney before wheeling his horse round the bridge and following his men.
A group of men-at-arms advanced on us, but we dropped several of them up with our bows and the remainder retreated.
We had a moment to breathe and take stock.
The noise of battle carried over from the bridge. Not much could be seen over there in the chaotic churn of soldiers, but clearly the defences had collapsed. Soldiers were streaming across the bridge.
Turning back to Clugney, four men-at-arms were entirely concentrating on attending the barely moving prone man. The two closest had their backs to us.
Conrad, Mopsa and I fired off arrows at them and they both slumped to the ground.
At the same time, Randuf charged in yelling, wielding his mace high above his head.
As Randulf reached Clugney, the two soldiers, still kneeling stared at him, wide-eyed, mouths agape and empty handed.
For the briefest of moments, Randulf made eye contact with both of them. Then, with all his might, swung his mace down on to Clugney's head!
Clugney convulsed once, twitched and stopped moving altogether; he was dead, most definitely dead. The two men-at-arms realising the game was up, jumped to their feet and fled.
Beyond the bridge, The Black Company had led Clugney's forces into Wenham, the clanging clash of weapons carried over the river, as well as the screaming and the crackling of fire. Thin columns of smoke were beginning to rise. It would be a bad day for Wenham.
The morning shadows were long, the sun had cleared the horizon and was brightly dawning on a bloody day.
There was nothing else we could do now. We could only hope that the death of Sir Clugney would stall the attack on Sir Conrad.
It was time to return to The Badger's Set. It had been a long day, the forced march through the night had taken its toll and we were exhausted.
The journey back to our hideout was uneventful. When we arrived, there was a small sliver of good news awaiting us.
In our camp were Leopold and his family, as well as Emlyn. They had survived The Black Company's brutal assault on their inn and fled to where so many Knavesmire refugees had gone; Billige.
Wat Taylor had been in Billige on some business when he spotted them and bought them to The Badger's Set.
They were welcomed to our Band of Badgers.
So ended the sixth 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.