The Merry Badgers of Billige
Our merry band consists of:
Calder Winterbourne a.k.a Mouse Eater - played by Mark.
Swift footed and skilled with the bow.
Mopsa Hiems a.k.a Mopsacle - played by Michaela.
Silver tongued and sharp-eyed.
Randulf the Red - played by Kevin.
Handy with both fist and mace.
Wystan Blackbourne a.k.a. Black Stan - played by Giro.
Wilderness traveller, well-informed and keeper of this chronicle.
The county of Hexhamshire
Brother is pitted against his kin
And Teutons travel from frozen lands
Families are driven from their homes
By peasants ranged in raiding bands
The Black Company
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 news 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 a quiet journey through the remote deeps of Coucy forest, a respite of calmness from the chaos unfolding around it.
Wedgemore looked as affluent as before, the people were 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, the arrival of newcomers had filled the inn to capacity, it was 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 came 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 would be next.
Caldor approached the smaller sergeant and offered to buy him drink, the sergeant readily accepted. He introduced himself as 'Bjorn Ironhand' of the Black Company, he was armed with a large hammer. Bjorn 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 Bjorn where the inn had been. Bjorn 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 slept in tents, in a place known as 'The Camp'.
- Conrad still held the bridge.
- There were plans to take Wenhan and them Hexham.
- They were 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 the 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!
Knavesmire no more
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 Coucy 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 woman 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 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 a 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 Ploughwright', if someone was to kill him, it would leave the army in disarray and without direction.
We informed Sergeant Martin about the attack coming from the south. He told that he had to stay here, but he would send a 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 Ploughwright.
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.
The sudden death of Piers Ploughwright
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 Ploughwright. 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. Ploughwright 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 Ploughwright. 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 Ploughwright 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 Ploughwright. Calder gripped his knife tightly and bent low. Quietly, he slit Ploughwright'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.
The violent death of Sir Clugney of Wedgemore
Like spectres we had made our way into and out of the camp unseen and struck at Piers Ploughwright in the heart of his 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 passed until 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 was 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 to 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 around 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 and following his men to the bridge.
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. Calder, 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.
Some good news
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.
You can buy your own copy of Merry Outlaws here:
These write-ups by Giro can be read on his excellent website Three Spellcasters and a Dwarf before they appear here.
In this RPG, players follow in the footsteps of Robin Hood. Robbing the rich to pay the poor, fighting the injustice and corruption that persists in sunny England.
Merry Outlaws is definitely a 'lite' RPG. It runs to just over twelve pages - including evocative illustrations. The rules are well laid out to view on screen and simple to understand.
Everything is handled by rolling one or two six sided dice, the higher the better. When rolled this will produce one of four results that are analogous to; very good, good, fail, and critical fail.
Combat is handled in the same way.
Character creation is as simple as can be roll for (or pick) a personal code, two abilities and two starting items and a weaon.
If a PC has a pertinent ability or some other advantage, they have an edge. Conversely, if a PC has a disadvantage, then they have a setback. This is a advantage/disadvantage mechanic.
Finally we have character progression, this is where the game stands out. Merry Outlaws eschews the usual XP or level-up paradigm. Instead players are forging their own legend through the creation of a ballad!
At the end of every adventure each player creates a stanza - a four-line poem to add to their ballad.
As players continue their adventures, their balled will lengthen. Additionally, as they accumulate stanzas, they will acquire new abilities.
Once a character has ten stanzas in their ballad, they retire.
All in all a short, sweet and simple RPG. Worth trying if that's your cup of tea.
Because of lockdown, we're playing over Skype.
The Ballad of Mopsa Hiems 'Mopsacle'
Rumble rumble in the village
We shout and perform in little Billige
Down the road and through the woods
Defeating great Giles, who thought we could?
Father and daughter reunited,
To save poor Alice we can’t be short-sighted
Back at the mill, held against their will
“Here they are, the real witches"
"Come Mr Merick and smack these bitches”
Wedding gown stolen,
Three feathers in its place
We rushed through the forest
There was no time to waste
Traps nor Crows could not stop us
We’d get it, come what may
400 gold for the dress returned
Priceless to save her day
Announced as outlaws
A friend sentenced to hang
To save his life,
We’ll go out with a bang
A nun walks into a jail
Three friends walk out free,
Face off at the dye guild
A crow lets out his final plea
An ambush by the inn,
The crows flock once again,
A plot to poison a friend,
A dastardly deed orchestrated by men.
A Dozen Badgers plan a heist,
Drumclog few get in on the fight,
Burning confusion within a village,
We stand proud an' strong at great Billige.
The day before battle they gather,
Foreign knights and uprising peasants,
Midnight and Dawn we struck,
Their leaders last breath, unpleasant.
The Ballad of Black Stan
Fine Alice from Billige, accused.
Blodwin gone, was kidnapped.
A witches trial we denied.
And thus, Giles got slapped!
A horrific sight encountered.
Three feathers up the arse!
By crows, the bride's gown was stolen.
Saved, reward to folk, passed.
Emlyn unjustly imprisoned.
A pal not forsaken.
A crow and dyer conspire.
Justice and coin taken.
The errand squire we did find.
Poison plot uncovered..
To a Priory we did go.
An ally discovered.
Gilbert's coins, a generous gift.
Knavesmire 'tween a fight.
Conrad thwarted, Clugney attacked.
His keep we set alight.
A Peasant's Army encroaches.
Ploughwright stabbed in the face.
A Black Company advances.
Clugney kissed Randulf's mace.
The Ballad of Randulf the Red
Stand and listen gentlefolk
A giant cometh across the land
Let us speak of a grappling God
Randulf the Red, brute of his band
With a grin he wrestled the best
Tankards of mead followed a great draw
With sweep of his arms, bandits were battled
Until the ghastly one was no more
He climbed great oaken trees
To take the crow men by surprise
To save a maidens wedding day
He became the master of disguise
Loyal friends are captured
Rescued by friar and nun
Once three birds of a feather
One crow down, a traitor undone
A poisonous plot
And the swoop of the Crow
For such heroics toward Our Lady
A token of friendship she did bestow
A raid on the rich, a parley struck
Beside fellow outlaws, sorely deformed
As tension flamed, villages did burn
Against the oppressors, The Badgers then stormed
As Nobles prepare for war
Ironhanded knights join the fray
As Northern rebellion is halted
An arrow at dawn ensures Clugney’s last day
The ballad of Calder Winterbourne
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.’
Calder Winterbourne, archer bold
Born afar in Blackmore Vale
Full man o’war, full man o’peace
Far-sighted, swift and hale.
Served his lord full time in France
Gave all honour and duty.
Came back with naught but empty hands
Nowhere a sign of booty.
Returned to see the Vale closed down
The villagers all evicted
Saith he ‘I served ignoble lords
Now shall I never more’.
Calder has taken to his travels.
He wanders near and far
Trusts not the rich, befriends the poor,
Takes all men as they are.
To hear a blacksmith’s tale of woe
His daughter held by Giles
Another woman held for trial
A witch? A slander vile.
Four foresters guide to Giles tower
Outside henchmen in force.
All take stock and arrows nock,
A bold rush is the course.
Calder’s arrows fly and two men die
Giles slain in dreadful fight.
His henchmen turn and see the light
The blacksmith’s daughter is aright.
A witch is held for loss of flour,
The miller is distraught
The cause is naught but pilfering
Yet from a bloodstained thought.
A forester’s been done to death
His friends the guides are grieving.
A blackmailed man is stealing flour
To hide innocence with thieving.
Now truth is out and witch is freed,
No charge in any eyes.
Loot found, restored, in easy shares
And a new-named Calder Wise.
Now safely camped in de Courcy
They look t’ward easy living
A blameless life, an end to strife,
Days of gathering and giving.
But Black Crows are in the meadows
Wat Taylor’s going to burn
The Crows have stole a wedding dress
All honour do they spurn.
At Knavesmire side Wat’s wounds they bind
Carter Emlyn aids them.
They take their rest and full refreshed
By Odo and Crispin’s singing.
The village fills with gentry’d folk
To Hexham their road winds
A missing dress? Oh woe! Distress!
All are commanded ‘Find!’
Great search ensues as trouble brews,
For Mannering’s men are slacking.
Courcy’s crew their search renew
They need no other backing.
They track their foes, the evil Crows,
Black Stan has heard their calling,
And Mopsacle undoes their traps,
At all points Crows are falling.
To search Crows’ nest without arrest:
How, in a camp this size?
A simple feat for crew includes
Randulf, Lord of Disguise!
Now Mopsacle has found the dress,
To Hexham heroes hurry.
Return of gown lifts bridal frown
And frees her mind from worry.
In gratitude, reward is made
Wedding party is delighted.
Crew bids adieu and melts from view
Now troths can all be plighted.
The cost of dress drawn with duress
From common folk to vex them
A shadow falls within town walls:
Sheriff Rolfe, the curse of Hexham.
“Reward’s not ours – the people gave,
Now we can make amends.
Money goes to those in need
Through Friars and our friends.
News cross the land: all wake, all stand!
A holiday in season!
But dreadful word; for no good reason,
Emlyn will hang for treason.
To cast more dark on happy Saint’s Day
The friends are now all outlaw.
It frees their hands to make a stand
Fight injustice as they saw.
In Hexham town Emlyn is bound
And lies in reeking bower.
Stan and Wat are took by Sheriff’s crooks
All held in Eastgate Tower.
Their friends rush in to break them out,
There’s close and nasty fighting
All are now saved, rope’s end denied!
Now to Wat’s home, for hiding.
The Dyers Guild sold Wat to Sheriff:
They are due a reckoning.
The crew close in on Guildhall door,
Trader’s entrance is a-beckoning.
Calder holds the staff enthralled,
Speaking words of honey.
Friends search the house, creep cat and mouse,
All following the money.
Guildmaster Lister speaks in whispers
Dealing with Edward Crow.
Crow brethren leader mocks and jeers –
Ranulf fells him with one blow.
“Tis done, Crows hate no more or less
Than when that man was living.
Good Friars still take what we gain
And see the poor are shriven.”
Carter and all the Taylor folk,
Subject to lies unseeming,
Must leave the town and join the camp
Beneath the oak trees greening.
And what shall be this brave band’s theme?
All sett – the Billige Badgers?
Clad in simple Hexham Green, their role –
A knee in the Sheriff’s nadgers!
Notes from the expanded second edition of the renamed ‘English Folk Songs, Ballads and Verse’ (1895):
‘The author (or authors) now appear to regret the choice of third person as the voice of the ballad, with the appearance of apparently direct speech from Part 2 onward. Almost inevitably this will be complete fiction and should not be taken as reporting of actual conversation. Part 3 ends on a rather coarse and vulgar note, possibly reflecting the limited range of rhyme available for ‘badger’ and the author’s frustration at possible future limitations. If inclined toward sympathy, readers should note first the (unverified and probably apocryphal) comment attributed to Christina Rossetti: ‘At least they weren’t a French gang living in Orange’
The world is in a turmoil
Badgers seek and snuffle round.
There’s money in the villages
Noses to the ground!
Where’s the money coming in from?
Why are maypoles growing here?
Which lord is up, which lord is down –
Let’s think on’t over beer.
Why is Conrad’s squire in Knavesmire?
A physick for Lady M?
For she has the morning sickness
It’s a panacea for them.
But the potion is of hemlock
Just a foul Socratic brew
Badgers know a milder herbal
Goodly Alice tells them true.
Badgers now in Wenham find
The potion brewer’s lair
But they dally and they tarry
Deal in nothing but hot air.
So they’re off to Lady Margaret
Nought must upset the borning
She grants them all her favour
In gratitude for warning.
But why are Gascons in the bailey?
Why did Klea take a fall?
Foreign cash abounds for Clugney –
Will the outlaws hear it call?
So the Badgers make a plan to seize
The treasure train from France
Coin here will feed the poor once more
Badgers prepare a merry dance!
Badgers lurk on Drumclog Moss
‘Til treasure train appears.
Their eyes are fixed on mule-packed gold:
All ready, no-one fears.
But the trap is sprung by a ragged band,
A mob that no-one knew.
A starving group down on their luck
The undaunted Drumclog Few.
Hugh is the leader of The Few
Badgers challenge, Hugh defiant.
The quarterstaffs spit fire, and then
After hurricane, the quiet.
The treasure shared, all part as friends
Money now with friars to share.
But Wenham’s full of stranger tales
Almost too much to bear.
Lady Margaret’s Clugney’s friend
And will not hear of Conrad.
More shrines appearing all round town
Must drive good Churchmen mad.
Now down the road Knavesmire’s alight,
Black Crows defend it stoutly.
Badgers shepherd the villagers
To Billige for their safety.
Horsemen from Hexham harry home
Billige is all a-fever.
Badgers stand, protect their friends
And help defeat the reivers.
In Wedgemore’s where it comes together
Waiting for Chatsworth’s presence.
Though shrines are found all round the town
None can explain their essence.
(Editor’s note: there appears to be another stanza, or possibly two, here but the only existing copy of this section is badly damaged. It appears to mention a raid on castle, but the text is near illegible.)
In Wenham, world turned upside down;
Retinue poor but people wealthy.
Now Clugney's brought in Teuton knights -
They're brash and never stealthy.
They come to aid in Clugney's fight
He says 'gainst unjust king,
But here local lords oppress the folk
And cause balladeer to sing.
A northern host of unwashed rage
Closes on the county
Demagogue fans flames of war
With promises of bounty.
The rabble to north, Clugney's to south,
Conrad's in a vice.
The innocent poor of Wenham town will
Be those that pay the price.
Can Badgers few stem the tide alone?
Could they be a small town's saviour?
They'll try by landing careful blows -
Not bludgeon but a rapier.
To northern host in dead of night,
A stealthy undertaking.
Calder finds their leader's bed, and
He'll never more be waking.
All of a dither now south of the river
Black Company falls on Wenham.
To thin their ranks, ease townsfolk's lot
Badger arrows fly from woodland.
Now Clugney rides in sight of all
And the shooting heeds the call.
Sebastian-like he's pierced by shafts
But no martyr, a tyrant falls.
Weham's taken, town is sacked,
Misery for Badgers' friends.
O where is justice, where the right?
And who shall make amends?