10th October 2020
Saturday has rolled around again and I'm in the living room, logged on to Skype.
This means it's time for the final session of Matakishi's Merry Outlaws campaign.
Location: The Badger's Set.
A day ago Sir Nigel had confronted Sir Gaston in his camp at the southern side of Hexham. This was a matter between knights, so we left them to it and went back to the forest.
Now, the next day had come. Dawn sunlight glinted off the dewy landscape and cast long morning shadows as we marched northwards out of Caucy forest and through the heathland to Hexham.
Sir Nigel's forces were nowhere to be seen and it seemed as if Sir Philippe's and his men had departed. Something must've occurred yesterday.
Upon entering Gaston's camp, we were confronted by guards. After showing them Lady Margaret's ring, they granted us access to Sir Gaston.
Gaston was curious, he wanted to know how we came by this ring. We replied that Lady Margaret had gifted it to us after we helped to recover her wedding gown and foiled Conrad's poison plot. He was surprised as he thought Clugney had recovered the dress, however he seemed satisfied by our answers.
Now that the small talk was out of they way, we asked Gaston what had happened to Sir Nigel?
Gaston explained; after Nigel had issued him a challenge, Philippe had taken it upon himself to attack Nigel. They exchanged several volleys of arrows, which resulted in Philippe's death. Nigel had also been struck down by an arrow and his men retreated, carrying him off. Gaston was unaware of Nigel's fate. Following this, the majority of Philippe's men had packed up, left and headed east, some had stayed and joined Gilbert's or Gaston's camp.
Next, we spoke at length about Sir Michael Somerville. Gaston was aware that Michael was at Hexham's north gate. He was unsure of Michael's motives and feared that if he attacked Hexham, Michael might wait for him to do all the hard work, then sweep in to finish the job, seizing all the glory.
Gaston was considering attacking tomorrow.
Quietly, Gaston confided that he would not be unhappy if Michael were to meet with an accident. He promised to pay us a thousand coins apiece and make us officers in his army if we took care of matters.
We agreed to his terms, in truth we were undecided about how to deal with Sir Michael, but felt there was no harm in complying with Gaston, at least for now.
Since there was no news about Sir Nigel, we decided to learn whether he lived still or not. This took us along the road through The Forest of Caucy and past the Knavesmire ruins.
It was a quiet journey. Once this leafy forest road had carried a small but constant stream of travellers and peddlers, then it became host to bands of roaming soldiers, now it had become all but unused.
The only people we encountered were our own diligent outlaws, dutifully but vainly watching the road for potential targets.
Soon enough we reached The Fork and decided to go to Wedgemore first. Wedgemore was the same as always, fortunate to survive this conflict unscathed.
We found a small number of Nigel's archers in Wedgemore, they informed us that Sir Nigel did indeed still live and was convalescing at Wenham Castle, on account that Wedgemore Castle was still uninhabitable. So to Wenham we went.
Crossing the River Scarmore we entered southern Wenham and approached the castle. The damage suffered by Wenham was still in evidence everywhere, but the oppressive gloom that had been cast by the Teutons and Osric had evaporated. People were slowly returning and the residents were now busily going about the tasks of repairing and rebuilding Wenham.
More of Sir Nigel's men were guarding the castle gates and even though they recognised us, they denied us access.
"Sir Nigel is not seeing any visitors at this time," they told us.
There was nothing more that we could achieve in Wenham, instead we decided to observe the Sir Michael's army north of Hexham.
Leaving Wenham behind, we entered the forest once more and headed eastwards to its furthest reaches.
Sir Michael's besieging army was unchanged. Whilst observing them, we noticed that various foraging parties had been sent out to feed the camp.
Once again, the farms of Little Wenham were forced to endure the pillaging of an invading army. Foragers were also moving west along Caucy's northern border, they did not venture very deep into the woods though.
As we were watching them, we concocted a plan.
Marching back south across the Scarmore, we searched for some of Sir Gaston's own foragers from the shady confines of the forest.
It did not take long to find a foraging party of seven and we ambushed them.
The battle did not last long after unleashing a couple of volleys of arrows upon unsuspecting foragers.
Quickly we hid their bodies and their cart in the forest. Then we searched them, the cart was filled with food, but more importantly, the dead men all wore Sir Gaston's colours, so we took their badges.
Once again we marched, this time back to the north edge of the forest again and once again we watched for foragers from the shady confines of the forest - this time for Sir Michael's foragers.
Once again, it did not take long to find some and once again we ambushed them. This time it was different though!
We were wearing Gaston's colours and tried to speak with French accents when we attacked! We took down four of them and allowed the others to flee, deliberately missing them with our shots.
Hopefully when they reported back to their camp, they would report that they had been attacked by Gaston's men.
We then hid the bodies and cart of Michael's men and took their badges too!
During the remainder of the afternoon, we harried all of Michael's foraging parties that we encountered. Never intending to kill anyone, but to convince them that they were under attack from Gaston's forces.
We hoped provoke Michael into attacking Gaston.
As the day began to close, we did not see any response from Michael's army. We had to learn if we had been successful, remembering that Gaston might attack tomorrow, time was not on our side. We needed those answers now!
We had badges in Michael's colours and one of his carts, so we disguised ourselves as foragers and approached his camp.
Sir Michael's camp was well guarded, but no one suspected anything and we easily infiltrated it. Even so, we had to tread carefully, we were now surrounded by three thousand soldiers who would not hesitate in killing us if they ever discovered our identities.
The onset of night was nearing, the day's colour was fast draining out of the sky. Numerous campfires had been lit and their hazy orange glows held back the twilight in illuminated spots throughout the camp. Food was being cooked and men were gathering round, turning their hands and feet to the warmth.
It was a perfect opportunity to hear some gossip and we were not disappointed.
Talk of attacks by Gaston's men was rife in the camp. 'We were supposed to be in it together' was a common sentiment. Soldiers also questioningly spoke of how Gaston had managed to get his men on this side of the river and navigate through the forest?
We realised that no one in the camp was aware of the two fords in the forest that crossed the Scarmore.
Finally, men spoke of Michael's reaction: Upon hearing of the attacks, he was now considering attacking Hexham without delay in the morning.
We had indeed provoked Michael, but not in the intended manner.
This was not the best of news. Could Hexham resist the advance of both Gaston and Michael at the same time? This could not be left to chance.
Finding Michael's tent was not hard, it was the only tent in the camp with guards. They did not however, guard the rear of the tent.
We waited and night came, Mopsa slyly went to the back of Michael's tent. Slowly and quietly she cut an opening in the tent wall and crept in.
Michael was asleep and undisturbed. Silently, Mopsa approached and slit Michael's throat and took his signet ring as proof.
Then as a sign that Gaston was culprit behind this. Mopsa took Lady Margaret's ring and dipped it in Michael's cooling blood, then pressed the seal against his forehead. After this, she left the tent, no one was the wiser.
If we remained in the camp when Michael's body was recovered, the guards would prevent anyone leaving and then, sooner or later we would be found out.
The long, long hours until dawn passed uncomfortably, we were restless, wary and on edge. Eventually after an interminable wait, smudges of pale light began to appear in the eastern sky.
We returned to our cart and headed out of the camp, telling the guards that we needed to make an early start on our foraging, they were not unduly suspicious and did not hinder our exit.
Once the camp was out of sight, the cart was abandoned and we turned south and headed back to Gaston's camp.
Dawn had come and gone by the time we arrived, there was a noticeable bustle as soldiers were up and about, busying themselves with various tasks.
Gaston himself was easily found, shouting commands to the scurrying soldiers. When we gave him Michael's signet ring, he seemed most pleased and ordered his paymaster to give us three thousand coins.
He then went on to yell even more orders and commands at his men. Gaston explained now that Michael was out of the picture, the siege at the north gate would end. This meant that Sir Roland would be free to leave via that route. Gaston said he had no choice but to attack soon.
It seemed that no matter what how hard we tried, the assault on Hexham would proceed.
We politely refused Gaston's invitation to join his army and left them mobilising for war.
We had to find a way into Hexham and warn them of the impending attack. Hexham was a city built on both sides of the River Scarmore, which travelled its way through the heart of the city.
The defensive walls of Hexham only reached as far as the riverbanks, riverboats could freely travel through Hexham. This could be the way in we sought.
We followed the river upstream into The Forest of Caucy. Dotted along the banks and close to the easternmost ford lived some fishermen who eked a living out of this stretch of the river. We found one and paid him some coins for the use his boat.
From here, the waters flowed downstream into Hexham, with the fisherman's boat we took to the river and allowed the current to bring us to the city.
Some of the besieging forces were close to the Scarmore, but they paid scant attention to the sight of a mere three commoners in small boat on the river passing into Hexham.
Once we had drifted beneath the bridge, we began rowing to the riverside and found a place to moor.
Our landing had not gone unnoticed and after tying up the boat, a band of Hexham's guards came down to the river and demanded that we state our business.
We told them that we bought important news about the army outside the city gates. They agreed to take us to the sheriff.
As we walked through Hexham, it did not seem as despondent as we expected. None of the buildings appeared to have been boarded up, there were no dead-carts plying their trade through the city.
Soon enough we arrived at the sheriff's office at the East Gate, we spoke with the sheriff and he explained to us that there was no plague in the city, it was a rumour that had been spread to misinform the besieging forces.
After this, we tried to convince the sheriff of what was coming, that we needed to speak with Sir Roland, we even showed him Lady Margaret's ring. He refused to listen and this was evident when he ordered a score of his men on us. They did not attack us directly, instead they kept us at arm's length en masse with their spears and we were forcibly herded down the stairs into a familiar dungeon and locked up!
Two long hours passed until we received a visitor. The face of a man we did not recognise appeared the door's small window. He spoke to us and asked us several questions, finally asking us what we had to do with his wife?
Sir Roland! It could only be him.
It was no time to be coy, we told him everything we knew. We even showed him the note that Lady Margaret had sent to Clugney about how she was about to strike. It was surprising then, to see that he found it all quite amusing?
It was enough to convince him of something though, as he ordered the watchmen to unlock our cell.
Then under the watchful eye of his own guards, we were taken to Hexham Castle and down into the dungeon?
Sir Roland led us to a cell, within it we saw Lady Margaret! When she saw us, here eyes widened, perhaps she was hopeful we would help. She silently mouthed 'help me'.
Sir Roland could not conceal a smirk, he waved her note to her and said. "These fellows seem to think you sent this!".
It was staggering, if Lady Margaret hadn't send the messages... Then he had to have been Sir Roland.
We had thought that Lady Margaret had been 'playing' Sir Roland, instead he had been playing her!
Returning upstairs, Sir Roland explained that he had been sending the messages, spreading false rumours and misinformation, spreading inaccurate stories of the plague. It had been good enough to give them second thoughts on attacking. Sir Roland went on; all Hexham had to do now was hold until tomorrow, then all these matters would be resolved.
Sir Roland the thanked us for our service and invited us to stay and to help defend Hexham.
We had no love for Roland, but the welfare of Hexham's population did concern us. If Gaston's forces broke through, the people would be the ones to pay the price. So we decided to take Roland up on his offer.
Before we took up our posts, we sought out Friar Nicholas and gave him the money that Gaston had given us.
Gaston did not disappoint and soon enough at three past noon, his forces attacked.
Fighting was fierce and the clamour of battle loud. During the fight Gaston would attack and be driven back, regroup and attack again. Hexham's defences held steady as assault after assault broke like so many crashing waves against the defences.
As the day grew long, Gaston ordered his men to build gigantic bonfires and lit by flame, fighting continued into the night.
Eventually though, Gaston's forces had to fall back for the remainder of the night.
Having earned our respite, we slept fitfully and too briefly. Just before dawn we were woken and took up our posts. In the dimness and from our vantage point we could just about make out the activities beyond our defences.
Gaston had gathered all of his soldiers into one formation, it looked like he was planning to one final massive push.
As the dawn broke, his soldiers gave a bellowing roar, the ground seemed to tremble from their charge.
Gaston held nothing back and struck at the defences with his full force.
This time they did not fall back, nor could we push them back. As time passed, our defences weakened and finally broke. We flew to the streets and fought Gaston's men face-to-face. They were outnumbered and could press their advantage, however in this war of attrition, we could not hope last forever.
It was midmorning when when beyond the melee, along the Knavesmire Road we saw another sizable army approaching, they displayed no colours.
The column stopped at The Green and began to form up into battle order.
Word had reached Sir Gaston that something was up, he had ordered his men to pull back, returning to The Green, to confront this new arrival.
As Gaston's men were regrouping, the new army revealed their colours, unfurling The King's banner.
This changed everything. Gaston could not hope to win against The King, who also blocked any route of escape, nor could he retreat into Hexham. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place and was left with only one option.
Gaston and Gilbert surrendered to the King's men. It was over, Hexham had prevailed. The pair of them were marched off in shackles.
Sir Roland quickly set about organising a feast of victory - and to thank The King for saving Hexham!
It was a feast of grand size that emptied Hexham of much of its food, leaving the residents low on supplies. Some things we could not change.
To Sir Nigel, he gave Wenham and Wedgemore.
To Sir Michael's army which still lingered at Hexham's north gate, The King appointed a new Warden of the North. Soon after, the army left Hexham and returned north.
Finally, as a reward to us, The King rescinded our status as outlaws and gave us Drumclog Castle and the freedom of Billige. We were now free to live in these places unmolested.
Perhaps in the annals of Robin Hood, the deeds of The Merry Badgers of Billige would only warrant a footnote.
Even so, a fine summer day had dawned for the simple peasant folk who were now free from the threats, violence and machinations that they had suffered. Billige and the surrounding settlements no longer felt the yoke of corrupt and oppressive lords. At least for now; who could know what the future might hold.
It's true that no summer could last forever, not even an English one. Autumn will come and it too must yield to winter, but for now; there are days enough left to enjoy the summer.
So ended the ninth and final adventures of:
Calder Winterbourne, the wise and mouse-eater.
Mopsa Hiems, Mopsacle
Randulf The Red
Forever known as The Merry Badgers of Billige.
Matakishi's campaign perfectly blended together the 'Merry Outlaws' rules and the style of play he used for this campaign.
Merry Outlaws is a straightforward, unobtrusive light set of rules, there are no feats or special moves and never at any time did we feel like supermen. For most of the campaign I was no better at fighting than any guard. The only advantage we all had over our opponents were our hit points and to be honest; a couple of bad rolls and they would easily be whittled down to a dangerously low level.
All of this served to give the rules a grounded feel.
Meanwhile, Matakishi's campaign felt well researched and authentic (Not necessarily realistic which is arguably a different thing.). There was enough flavour to make it feel like a medieval setting, but not so much detail that it felt bogged down. The campaign was plotted in such a way that our influence and decisions had impact. Sometimes our actions influenced events, sometimes they spiralled out of our control, the mixture of the two felt compelling.
All of this served to make us feel invested in the setting and campaign, which I think is very important, maybe the most important thing. I noticed that as a result we generally always remembered the names of NPCs, we remembered because we had a stake in the narrative.
This combination of these two different factors led to a very enjoyable and memorable campaign.
As a final final note, I'll add that we spent a lot of time learning how to write bloody stanzas!
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.